The Good Life


One of the most thrilling moments of our first summer in this garden was our first harvest. It was a crop of cute ball carrots that were given to us as plug plants by my father-in-law. My just-three year old daughter had the pleasure of pulling them out of the ground, seeing their orange heads peep through the crumbly brown soil, and shaking off the roots. She posed proudly with her orange bounty, and this is still one of my favourite photos of her.

Since then, our veg patch has moved twice and more than doubled in size. We now have four raised beds in the front garden and one in the back, which will be moved to join the others in autumn when the sweetcorn has been harvested. It seemed a bit radical when I first thought of growing our veggies in the front garden because not many people do it, but it’s a perfect south-facing spot and has always been a pain to mow so I’m keen to lose the lawn. Eventually I’ll put bark down around the beds (when we have the money to do it).

Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner because it seems a veg garden can be a rather lovely thing to look at. The homemade compost we used to fill the beds was full of opium poppy seeds, which germinate when soil is disturbed, and I just allowed them to carry on growing in amongst the plants wherever they appeared. As well as having incredibly beautiful, vivid pink flowers, they attract pollinators to the raised beds, which improves cropping. I also popped a few nasturtium seeds (collected from last summer’s plants and stored in a brown envelope until spring) around the edges and corners of the beds, and they have romped away nicely.

This year we have grown: purple-sprouting broccoli, garlic, courgettes and pattypans, broad beans, dwarf beans, climbing and runner beans, sweetcorn, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, spring onions, beetroot, radishes, Charlotte potatoes, strawberries and blackberries. I tend to grow food that is expensive to buy fresh in the shops, like broad beans and new potatoes, or more unusual yellow or purple varieties. I feel like a bit of a traitor growing my own green beans. Having grown up in Kenya myself I always liked buying veg that had ‘Grown in Kenya’ on the label but the lack of air miles makes it a no-brainer. We had a bit of a battle against blackfly earlier this year (much worse than previous summers) but the ladybirds have now arrived in the garden and are eating handling the problem.

I am considering building a fruit cage. I netted the strawberries which saved them from the blackbirds, who always seem to swipe them a day before they’re ripe enough for us. But the red and blackcurrants I grew in the flower borders were decimated by wood pigeons and we barely got a handful. This made my husband sad as he loves blackcurrants apparently, something I have only just learned about him, and we’ve been together 19 years.

The best part of growing veg is harvesting and eating it! We have had quite a few meals this summer when all the veggies have come from our garden and if I could just grow a salmon or steak tree then we’d be sorted. I occasionally imagine I am in The Good Life (I always identified more with Tom than Barbara, in case you’re interested). It feels so wholesome to nip outside with my wooden trug and a knife, slice off a yellow ball courgette or snap off a few peapods. The sound they make as they drop into the trug is wonderful. Actually, sometimes the peas never make it back to the kitchen as I can’t resist eating them immediately, splitting the pod open and using my thumb to push the little lovelies out into my palm. Nom!

The garden also has quite a few fruit trees. Some were planted by the house’s previous owner: an old Victoria plum, a multi-stemmed damson, a couple of small unnamed apple trees (one may be a Cox’s Orange Pippin), an edible cherry and a gnarly old elder tree. We’ve eaten the fruit of all of these in one form or another, except for the elder, which we’ll hopefully try this year. I’ve also planted a couple of trees: a little Morello cherry tree, which I bought for less than a tenner in Tesco, and a Red Sentinel crab apple that holds its bitter fruit until February, when the blackbirds are finally hungry enough to eat them. The crabs are large and bright red, and they provide a welcome bit of colour in the garden on gloomy winter days, so I’m loathe to pick them for eating.

We are currently eating lots of peas, beans and courgettes. There were some delicious-looking recipes for anyone with a glut of beans in The Guardian last weekend; I want to try the recipe for bean chutney. The broad beans are pretty much over now, and soon I’ll cut them down to make way for the sweetcorn that I planted in the gaps in June. Fresh sweetcorn will be wonderful but I’m not confident that it went in the ground early enough and the weather has been pretty dreadful for the last week or two. Fingers crossed for a warm, sunny August. Ooh and we’ve still got blackberries to look forward to!

Yellow ball corgette