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GLORIOUS GARDENS

To kick-start our gardening feature this Spring, Peter Wrapson, organic gardener to Jamie Oliver, shares his top tips to getting you started in the garden…

I started gardening because I moved into a house with an overgrown vegetable patch and no television. I wasn’t entirely clueless, having been press-ganged into service at a tender age in my parents’ garden, though my interest in those days was purely money-driven (they hid small change in the soil when I wasn’t looking; I dug like mad, marvelling at the financial incompetence of the previous occupants).

It seems hackneyed to extol the benefits of growing your own food. You all know them and you probably avoid Kenyan mange-tout or Peruvian asparagus anyway. I do it because I get to eat like a king more often than not and I love being able to feed a dozen friends at the drop of a hat. And, as someone with more than a passing interest in the natural world, it’s fascinating just to watch things grow. If you’ve never grown stuff before, here’s the thing: with some care, it really isn’t that hard. You only have to look at the forgotten potatoes sprouting in the bottom of your fridge or at the buddleia bushes growing out of the brickwork of railway cuttings to see that plants want to grow.

Not everyone has an allotment or even a garden but that doesn’t matter – you can be immensely proud of a single herb plant on a windowsill. And if space is really limited, I’d say grow herbs: they transform meals and they’re expensive to buy fresh. I would start from seed with soft herbs (coriander, parsley, basil, dill etc.) and buy plants from a nursery for the slower-growing perennials like thyme and rosemary. Chives, parsley and mint tolerate some shade. Potted supermarket herbs are seldom tough enough for life outdoors, though they’ll last longer if you pot them up and keep them on said windowsill.

Another good option is salad plants. They’re fast growing, compact enough for life in pots and troughs and, once again, costly to buy. Sowing small amounts regularly keeps you supplied throughout summer and autumn. I favour loose-leaved types of lettuce where leaves can be taken as and when needed. Of the many other crops suited to this cut-and-come-again treatment I would not be without either rocket or spicy oriental mustard leaves (especially ‘Red Frills’). Beetroot, spinach, chard and even kale are all good eating at baby leaf stage.

When space is less of an issue it just boils down to personal taste. I view tomatoes and garlic as essential but I don’t care much for radishes, despite being easy to grow. Onions I largely ignore since they’re cheap. Shallots on the other hand aren’t. Unusual things such as orange beetroot and purple carrots I find enticing simply because shops don’t sell them and they look pleasingly odd on the plate. Experimentation is part of the fun so enjoy what is out there.

With the soil warming up nicely and the days still lengthening it’s an optimistic time of year. Even so, the gardening window is brief for some crops, so if you’re harbouring good intentions it’s time to make a start.


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