The Cottage Smallholder

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The magic of seeds

Photo: Spring violas

Photo: Spring violas

This has been a weekend of feverish digging and preparation. The new potato bed has such wonderful soil that we have ripped up half the rose walk to have a similar sized bed beside the spuds. This will be the brassica bed this year – cauliflower, calabrese, Brussels sprouts and sprouting broccoli. Although we won’t harvest the latter until April 2010.

It’s our first year for cauliflower and Brussels sprouts so there has been quite a lot of thumbing through the vegetable gardening books. I can highly recommend Joy Larkcom’s excellent book Grow Your Own Vegetables , the belt and braces bible that I turn to again and again packed with all the information that you will ever need. My brother picked it up in the award winning Aldeburgh bookshop when he was last over from New Zealand.

When I opened the book I knew instantly that I had to buy it. It’s more of a text book with simple line drawings. If you want inspirational photographs and information, keep a beady eye out for The Organic Salad Garden   by Joy Larkom. This is well worth adding to a wish list. Lots of pictures and vumpf along with her steady advice and expertise. With this book at the hip you can easily grow interesting and unusual salad crops all year, save yourself loads of money and eat ultra fresh salad crops. Supermarket salad leaves are expensive and not a patch on leaves grown at home. If you don’t have a kitchen garden, a grow bag or a pot will do very well as an alternative.

Someone emailed me for plans on how to start growing vegetables in your garden. I’m no expert but when I looked up Joy Larkom’s books on Amazon I spotted this tempting book Creative Vegetable Gardening: Growing Vegetables with Flowers in the Classic Tradition  by Joy Larkom. Up until now I have seperated flower borders from vegetable  ones. Mainly from a watering perspective. The veggies need loads of water and are tended by our automatic water butt watering system . The herbacious borders have to survive on rainfall and the occasional top up from a watering can.

We have spent most of our time preparing the kitchen garden beds rather than setting seed so we are a bit behind with the latter. The tomatoes have just germinated in the electric incubator (in four days). I’m always dazzled by the possibility that each of these teeny seedlings might grow into large healthy plants, taller than me. And then go onto to produce a harvest of at least 3 kilos of fruit if it’s a good summer and all goes well. 

Spring is so heartening. The garden is full of buds and birds and the brightest of fresh green leaves. But the best sight of all is watching the germinating seeds perk up, unfurl, and reach up towards the light.

  Leave a reply


  1. I’m adding my voice to the recommendation of Creative Vegetable Gardening. Superb book. The picture are gorgeous and inspirational.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Magic Cochin

    We are thrilled with the extension to the vegetable garden. Now we have the space to get really stuck in. I suspect that it might be extended further in the autumn. Thanks for your book recommendations – it’s a bit of a jungle out there.

    That course sounds fabulous. Joy Larkom and Anna Pavord are two of my favourite gardening writers. Danny takes The Independent on Sunday and Anna Pavord writes a weekly article – always excellent and inspiring.

    Hello Z

    Good point. I tend to keep my veg and herbs separate as I love the ‘confusion’ of cottage garden borders and the neatness of the kitchen garden. Although we grow strawberries in every border that will accommodate them. Guzzled mainly by Dr Quito and sometimes by me if I find them before he does.

    Hi The Organic Viking

    Nasturtiums and Marigolds are incredibly useful in the veg patch.

    I love those beautiful pottager gardens. Ours is a much more belt and braces affair. Six beds with a traditional yet haphazard rotation system. But we think that it’s great and that there’s a beauty in the symmetry.

    Hello Kate (uk)

    I so agree. The recent sunshine has lulled me into (probably) a false sense of security.

    It’s only April and already my hair is bleaches and my face and hands are brown ?

    Let’s hope that we have a decent summer this year.

    Hi Domestic Executive

    I reckon that I have the largest collection of gardening books in Europe so don’t feel bad!

    Hello Steve

    Thanks so much for this tip. Generally we have naturalised nasturtiums that come up every year. The winter frosts clearly killed them off so we have ziltch.

    However I found a pack of seed in the green house and will plant them tomorrow. I love nasturtiums especially when they detract butterflies.

    Hi Catalina

    Thanks for dropping by. You cant beat pansies!

  3. I enjoyed reading this. we’ve tried hard this year to plant more veggies & herbs & after a massive clear out of the shed…found 2 packets of seeds right at the back, 1 tomato & 1 hollyhocks from 1988, so we stuck them in…they’ve come up 1st lol
    I couldn’t believe it! Didn’t know seeds would last that long.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Lesley

      Sell by dates didn’t exist when I was growing up.

      If something looked or smelt tacky they were thrown out.

      When my aunt died we found seeds that were over forty years old in her dark desk. We planted them, they germinated and we ate the peas and beans. Now I’m kicking myself that we didn’t save the seed as they must have been great varieties.

  4. Catalina

    Wowee! I love that picture!
    Good luck with your cole crops!

  5. I always use Nasturtions as the “sacrificial Lambs” on the allotment, planted in buckets, and placed at strategic points, they get absolutely massacred by the Butterflies and Caterpillars, whilst the Cabbages and Cauli’s and other “goodies” are left totally untouched. Yellow and bright Red work best, but any will do!

  6. Domestic Executive

    Well that’s blown it. As if I didn’t have enough vegetable growing books. Thanks for these recommendations. Good luck with the expansion plans for your vegetable garden.

  7. kate (uk)

    Mad rush in the garden- this is make or break week- everything racing into growth after rain and warmth. Very behind with my seeds too- last year was so disheartening, but looking at the garden in the early sunshine this morning I’m inspired to get the tomatoes going and bother the possibility of blight!

  8. The Organic Viking

    Hurrah for spring! I just got my first seeds in (late) this weekend, and I am most envious of your extension.

    I visited a traditinal French pottager garden last weekend in the Loire valley and was quite fascinated by its mix of flowers, ‘ordinary’ veg and decorative vegetables. Perhaps the book you cited is working in the same kind of tradition? It struck me in the French case that the secret was perhaps more an mixture of vegetable beds and flower beds within the same area of the garden, rather that mixing flowers and vegetables in the same bed. Should be good for companion planting as well.

    Personally, I don’t get much further than sticking a few nasturiums and marigolds in the vegetable planters.

  9. I’ve often grown a few flowers in the vegetable garden, usually either for cutting without spoiling the borders or as companion planting, but I’ve never been able to see how growing vegetables in the flower garden will work for me. Unless I have a constant succession of replacements coming along in pots, cutting a cauliflower or lettuce would leave a great big space, and since I like things to grow close together so that I can’t see the soil, I don’t think it would give vegetables room to thrive when they’re young.

  10. magic cochin

    Your vegetable garden extension sounds very very exciting Fiona.

    I’ll second your recommendation of Joy Larkom’s books. ‘Creative Vegetable Gardening’ has been my inspiration for many years. I can also recommend her book on Oriental Vegetables – even if you don’t grow them it’s invaluable if you visit Asian grocery shops.

    I once went on a day workshop at the Chelsea Physic Garden about creating decorative veg gardens – the tutors were Joy Larkom and Anna Pavord – two national treasures.

    Let’s hope this will be a great growing year 🙂


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