greedy planting and uses for poppy seeds

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Have been sitting by the woodburner browsing seed catalogues, dreaming of planting chop suey greens and nigella persian jewels. With a mug of tea, or better still, glass of wine handy, planning tasty and attractive plant combinations has to be one of my favourite winter evening activities. Maybe the fresh lime green of lettuce seedlings next to red cabbage, dill amidst cornflowers or the lovely rich Autumnal colours of curly kales combined with red ‘Treviso’ chicory.

Clearing more ground in the garden in readiness for all my planting I keep stumbling on lots of burgeoning life. Snowdrops of course, sunny yellow celandines, hellebores and a few cowslips keep taking me by surprise. And lots of hardy perennials; both veggies and flowers are showing strong signs of bursting into life.

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It all encourages me that I must get my own act together. So I’ve been stirring from the warm sofa next to the woodburner to sort out my seed box. I once dropped very heavy hints, with a birthday approaching, about this lovely Burgon & Ball seed box.

seed packet organiser burgon & ball

This is what I was given: DSC04045

Decorated by Ruby, with copious amounts of glitter (which leaves a trail whenever my seed box is moved) it’s obviously a lot more personal than the stylish seedbox I’d coveted. A seedbox with character. Looking at the state of it now, with my packets of seeds crammed in any way they’ll fit, it’s probaby more suited to me too.

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I always start off at this time of year with good intentions towards my seeds. Sorting through them, discarding any that are out of date and putting the remaining seed packets in order of when they’re ready to plant (I have cardboard dividers for each month) is very satisfying.

They obviously don’t stay like this for long though. Once I start planting, I don’t know quite how it happens but my seed box rapidly descends into chaos. Many packets live in the pockets of my old fleece a bit too long, rarely even making it into the.seed box. But ever optimistic, I’ll be filing my new arrivals with all good intentions.

There are some really interesting seed companies that make browsing for seeds particularly addictive. I love the way that it’s not uncommon now for descriptions of vegetable seeds to emphasise looks, not just productivity.

Otter Farm waxes lyrical about Polestar runner beans: “Good looking with beautiful and delicious flowers, this is my desert island bean.”

Scarlet Emperor runner beans are described as, “..usually purple with dark mottling, encased within long, slender green pods but they are most famous for their beautiful scarlet  flowers – they were originally grown as an ornamental plant, so you can be sure they’ll add something beautiful to your garden.” They taste good apparently too!

I’ll definitely be growing Crimson Flowered broad beans again – they scored highly on  looks, productivity and taste in my garden last year.

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The Organic Gardening Catalogue also has a great selection of heritage veggies that will look as beautiful in the garden as they hopefully will on the plate.
This is where I’m going to concentrate my efforts this year; after a dismal potato harvest and pathetic tomatoes, I’m trying to think carefully about what grows easily here, what we love to eat and what looks beautiful.
accidental harvest
Much as I’m tempted by all the wonderful heritage varieties of tomatoes and tomatilloes, they’re going to have to wait, along with aubergines, peppers and chillis until we have a greenhouse. If I find myself drawn towards a particularly tempting packet of tomato seeds, I’m going to remind myself of the tasty (and cheap) tomatoes grown by a great farmshop just down the hill.
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Instead, I’m going to continue to grow lots of chard, cavolo nero, kale, salad crops and herbs, obviously all mingling with pretty flowers – some edible, some purely for frivolous decoration. Talking of which, I’m very tempted by the lovely looking Flamingo Pink leaf beet but wondering how much less productive it will be than the white stemmed variety, which is still going strong after the snow.
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Lots of beans too. Runner beans, french beans, broad beans and borlotti are all popular to eat in this family, and they freeze well if there’s a glut. We’re still eating some of the broad beans and runner beans I picked last summer.
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The borlotti tend to be productive in rubbish soil too so are useful for those newly cultivated areas that we’ve run out of compost for. And the novelty value of the purple varieties of beans tends to go down well with Ruby. With me too; varieties such as Blauhilde or Purple Teepee snaking up a rustic wigwam definitely add beauty to the garden in my view.
I fancy making a tall wigwam of runner beans with a den for children underneath too. But will have to see if my thoughts on this are more enthusiastic than they are practical.
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Below the beans, apart from rambling patches of nasturtium and calendula, I’m going to grow squash. Having reluctantly decided that butternut squash (one of my favourites for flavour) doesn’t like our hill, I’m going to try Hubbard, Uchiki Kuri and Kabacha Squash this year. In the hope that I’ll have a bountiful supply to last through next winter, enabling me to cook lots of noodles with squash and try more of Louisa at chez foti’s lovely squash recipes.
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Seeds of Italy have some great salad seeds that would grow quickly while my squash get established. Something about their website makes me dream up meals to cook with my harvest and I’m also drawn to the ‘Easy to Grow’ range, including delicious endive, chicory and basil. There are pictures of a mother and daughter happily planting together on the packets of this range but I have to admit that the appeal of the  ‘Easy to Grow’ label has more to do with my shoddy gardening than it does to my motherly instincts.
seeds of italy chicory
More cabbages and brussels are on my list too, particularly as there are so many of Trine Hahnemann’s lovely Nordic recipes I’m keen to try. Obviously not grown in stark rows on their own. I’ve been getting inspiration from Joy Larkcom’s brilliant ‘Creative Vegetable Growing’ and loving her ideas for planting red orache among red cabbage or interplanting red cabbage with spinach, flanked by leeks and with rows of lettuce at the edge. I like the idea of making use of the space between slow-growing brassicas and leeks with crops which will grow (and be eaten) quickly and look attractive in the meantime. And I’m totally inspired by this description by Joy of Hadspen garden:
“the sort of exuberant, carefree garden where nasturtiums romped through the sweet corn, self-sown verbena bonariensis struck a purple pose alongside red cabbage and pumpkin tendrils saucily embraced the runner beans … seedling rhubarb stood out starkly against the giant umbelliferous heads of angelica.”
I can dream!

Encouraged by Joy Larkcom to think of more combinations of veggies and flowers that will romp happily around the garden together (or fight for space could be more likely in my case!) I’ve been very tempted by Benjamin Ranyard’s lovely selection of flower seeds at Higgledy Garden.

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Higgledy Garden has a great collection of bee friendly flower seeds; as our bee population are declining at an alarming rate they seem a great idea – they come with free postage and in compostable packets too. And there are some lovely hardy perennials, my favourites to fit in with lazy gardening ways.

It’s also worth a look at the Higgledy website purely for a good read. I fear that just as I”m drawn to vegetable varieties by descriptions of their showy/often blowsy flowering qualities, Benjamin’s wordsmithery is encouraging me to blow my seed budget on flowers for cutting. For instance, on Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’:

“Not all Aquilegias are much cop for cutting. Not true of ‘Nora Barlow’ who despite her rather dower name is actually one of the most striking Aquilegias I have ever come across. Flower heads start of as tight green buttons and then explode into cream and purple fireworks. Ding dong!”

Then there’s cookery books. My current favourites, ‘the Nordic Diet’, ‘Jerusalem‘ and Sarah Raven’s ‘Garden Cookbook’ have so many recipes I’m keen to eat this year that they’re influencing my seed planning as much as gardening books. And surely that’s just as it should be.

What’s the point of growing masses of productive plants that aren’t exciting to eat? Whereas looking at recipes for kale salads, broad bean kuku (a lovely frittata-like dish from ‘Jerusalem’) and borlotti bean brandade concentrates my mind on what I’m keen to grow and eat this year.

Having been dithering over whether to grow maincrop potatoes following such a wet summer  last year (and plenty of blight) I read a great article in The Telegraph by Mark Diacono on how to ‘Grow spuds with your cook’s hat on.’ Mark’s ideas about choosing only really delicious varieties to grow that suit your favourite recipes convinced me to concentrate on varieties of new potatoes that are particularly delicious freshly dug and waxy salad potatoes that are cropped before blight has chance to appear.

Dreaming of bringing those first few precious early summer goodies into the kitchen in fact.Summery food for rainy days

But before I get too carried away with new varieties of seed potatoes, perennial flowers and new vegetable and fruit seeds, I’m also determined to make good use of what I already have. Looking at the envelopes of seeds I saved myself last year (mostly the very easy nigella, calendula, poppy) I’m reminded of the poppy seeds I kept for the kitchen. The needs of my tummy mingle with gardening planning again and I’m planning culinary uses for my poppy seeds. Would welcome any new ideas. These are my current favourites:

Uses for Poppy Seeds:

– Sprinkle on home-made flat bread and white rolls

– Make the Garden deli’s mixed seed loaf

– Nigel Slater’s Beetroot and Poppy Seed cake

– Try this easy looking bagel recipe and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Think I’ll quickly use up my poppy seed stash if I try all of the above. Good job they’ll soon be self-seeding generally around the garden again. And that this messy state of affairs is pleasing to both my eye and belly!

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Lazy Gardening

While I love having a garden that I can pop out into to pick dinner from, really enjoy having space for children to play in and like it to look pretty, I have come to the conclusion that I’m never going to have a neat vegetable patch with orderly rows of prize onions, carrots and cabbage. And although I admire other people’s herbaceous borders, they’re not going to make an appearance here.

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Much as I’m addicted to pottering around picking weeds for the pigs, gathering herbs for the kitchen and getting carried away dreaming up the meals that my edible garden is going to lead to, I obviously need to do other things too.  And besides, I’m quite partial to a ‘natural’ look in the garden – chaos, others might call it.

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So I’ve got into the habit of making things easy yet appealing (to my eyes anyway!) in the following ways:

Natural gardening – Luckily I prefer lots of our small flowered native flowers to the more exotic blooms that need more attention. It makes sense to me to have lots of native British plants in the garden, whether self-seeded or planted by me. They tend to thrive easily, aren’t needy, and butterflies, bees and other wildlife like them too. The Natural History Museum has a great section on its website where you enter your postcode and are given a list of plants native to your area. Obviously some are weeds, but you’ll also find herbs, wildflowers and old cottage garden plants that will probably grow with virtually zero attention in your garden.

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Flowers and vegetables – Companion planting such as growing borage and calendula near beans to encourage bees and nasturtiums near brassicas to deter cabbage whites is also great for covering the bare earth. I can’t see why you would have long rows of vegetables with bare earth between that constantly needs hoeing when you can plant blocks of veggies with pretty flowers around them. Having bare earth covered saves on weeding, acts as a living mulch and looks great. Okay so my calendula have now seeded everywhere and I’m not the most ruthless person when it comes to pulling them up. I have to admit that in some areas they’re smothering my borlotti beans, while the garlic’s getting a raw deal. But we have plenty to eat from the garden at the moment so I’m happy to sacrifice a bit of productivity (I’m sure I benefit from the bees elsewhere) for looks and ease. And the dark leaves of cavolo nero look so dramatic emerging from a mass of calendula!

Competing with tenacious weeds – I’ve heard people complain that plants such as mint, borage, lemon balm and comfrey are ‘terrible for taking over the garden’ and decided that as I love having plenty of lemon balm and mint for tea (especially the Moroccan variety of mint) and tabbouleh, am partial to ice cubes made with borage flowers for elderflower cordial or pimms and have become very appreciative of the nutrients in comfrey for feeding the garden, I’ll take the risk. In fact in some areas I really want plants like these that will give the weeds a run for their money. One side of our back garden borders a lovely old meadow and much as I adore looking over at the rampant cow parsley in early summer, the docks and nettles that are constantly making their way through are pesky. So I’ve planted comfrey, borage and mint right up against the fence.  And variegated lemon balm to spread prettily in some of the weed prone areas around the raspeberries. If the comfrey starts to encroach too much on areas of the garden that are destined for other things, I happily fill up a wheelbarrow with surplus plants and either use them as a mulch around veggies that are just getting established or add it to the compost heap.

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Hardy perennials – I’m a big fan of flowers that come up year after year and look beautiful with next to no attention. But I’m gradually finding more vegetables that fit into this easy but productive but easy category too.  Jerusalem artichokes seem to grow anywhere and are great in soups in the Autumn or winter, they’re always  a great vegetable for patches of ground where not much else will grow. I’m looking forward to planting an asparagus patch next year. And Egyptian walking onions are a recent perennial veg discovery for me. They look majestic with their tall, sturdy stems and spikes of onions at the top, are great amongst flowers, but they have so many edible uses and seem particularly suited to lazy gardening. You can use the onions that grow on top as you would spring onions. Eventually they get top heavy, topple over and take care of replanting themselves. You can dig up the little onions in the ground in Autumn or maybe eat some, leaving others to grow.

Herbs – I love the fact that many of my favourite herbs for taste (thyme, lovage, sage, rosemary, oregano, sorrel) not only look great but grow so easily. Thyme, rosemary and oregano even love rubbish soil, so you need zero effort in improving the area they’re planted in.  Lovage grows gigantic each year and you only need a leaf or two to add a celery flavour to dishes. And if you have a few perennial herbs in the garden there are always salads to be picked. Even in the winter/early spring, if I haven’t got round to planting cut-and-come again salad leaves (another lazy favourite) sorrel (particularly the buckler leaf variety), winter purslane, lemon thyme are great added to the baby leaves of any beetroot I haven’t got round to pulling up, for a quick salad.

At the moment, despite lots of things being drowned by the rain, I love the rampant look of my garden. A lime green band of chard edges the sugarsnap peas but the order is interrupted by a few rogue calendula. Self-seeded plants are going crazy – some in a slightly planned way such as the dill and vivid blue cornflowers that look so pretty together and smell wonderful when I walk near them to pick broad beans. Orange and yellow calendula, red orach (the leaves are great in salads), borage and poppies have arranged themselves nicely in one corner. And although I had to  put my foot down when too many poppies self-seeded around the raspberries (I’m determined to enjoy lots of raspberries this year and don’t want too much competition for nutrients around them), I’m very happy with the lovely magenta and lilac coloured ones that have landed accidentally but beautifully near the hollyhocks and nepeta.

When the pigs are bacon and I plant more of the back garden, there will definitely be an easy mass of wildflowers amongst fruit trees. And I’m already thinking of some beds for more perennial veggies. I would like to add a little order to the chaos with edging of some step-over pears and apples and rows of Sweet William or other flowers for cutting around the veggies. And I’d like to plant a rainbow bed with Ruby (each curve of the rainbow planted with seeds of pretty flowers of the right colour). But I’ll do my best to ensure my planting doesn’t need labouring over all weekend. Pretty and edible would be great but time to play hide and seek in it is essential. And some decadent time to lounge in a hammock between the trees would be nice.

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