Recipe: A busy garden that’s good enough to eat

Ripe pear with blue cheese, toasted walnuts and garden leaves

Ripe pear with blue cheese, toasted walnuts and garden leaves - Credit: Archant

Alys Fowler is a gardener who loves food.

Alys Fowler with Sue Newell after her talk at the Woodbridge Horticultural Society

Alys Fowler with Sue Newell after her talk at the Woodbridge Horticultural Society - Credit: Archant

She has an allotment and an urban back garden with two chickens (Gertrude and Alice B. Toklas), lots of flowers and plenty of vegetables. She is author of several books and writes a weekly column on gardening for a national newspaper. You may have seen her on Gardeners’ World, and her book The Edible Garden has been made into a TV series.

She recently visited Woodbridge Horticultural Society and gave a talk on all things edible and beautiful, talking passionately about her own garden. Alys wanted to be able to have a meal a day from the garden: perhaps some apples in alcohol or a cucumber sandwich. Gradually she has fashioned an entirely edible garden. (She also allows flowers and shrubs which attract the pollinators).

She spoke about the polyculture she practises – using multiple crops in the same space in imitation of the diversity of nature – in both her garden and allotment, and explained how this method of planting allowed her crops to be less susceptible to pests.

The visual impact is stunning; she showed us pictures of brightly-coloured Swiss chard next to Italian black cabbage with the soft green of almost-translucent lettuce. Flowers are dotted about throughout the vegetables and salads and she picks a little of everything for the kitchen. She plants and grows everything in modules so she can fill the gaps as she eats her way through the garden.

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She has a very healthy obsession with worms and compost. Natural predators are encouraged to feast on aphids and apparently 10 worms in a spade of earth means a very healthy soil.

She had lots of great suggestions for different leaves and edibles; Mexican tree spinach is one I’ll be trying this year, along with the crimson broad bean, mountain spinach and cottager’s kale. She had lots of fabulous ideas for edible flowers and even pickling young nasturtium seeds for eating like capers.

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Herbs, lettuce and leaves of all kinds can be harvested every day, and as well as eating them as traditional salad you can pop them in sandwiches. Leaves can be also be cooked simply by throwing them into risottos, stews and soups.

At the end of the talk she answered questions and even picked the raffle tickets. A most enjoyable and inspiring evening – and it left me itching to get planting. Now the weather is finally beginning to warm up, why not get planting yourself and enjoy fresh and tasty produce from your outside space?

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