Posted by: lialeendertz | May 4, 2010

A matchy matchy veg garden

All vegetables must match nicely with my new cirsium

All vegetables must match nicely with my new cirsium

This post should perhaps come with a warning. What is described herein is not especially good gardening practice. I have been planting things in places where I shouldnt, crossing my fingers a lot and trying not to think about consequences too much. As you may or may not know, I am planting my garden with perennial fruit and veg, and then planting pretty stuff among to make a kind of a small, colourful, urban version of a forest garden, edible and beautiful and not hard to maintain. This, particularly the perennial veg part, is not an especially well-trodden path, as it turns out. The annoying thing about this is that it is quite hard to track down many of the plants I want. Air potato source, anyone? Tree collards? On the plus side, this means there is a fair bit of experimentation and improvisation involved, which makes the whole enterprise feel rather more edgy and exciting than I had anticipated.

The improvisational fun began with the arrival of the asparagus. I have shamelessly chosen ‘Pacific Purple’ for its colour. I am imagining purple, ferny foliage dotted through with the purple pinpricks of Verbena bonariensis (a long-standing stalwart of this garden) and the blood-red thistle flowers of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ (a brand spanking new acquisition, see pic, above). I made the mistake of getting out my RHS encyclopedia to tell me how the planting ought to be done, then stood looking from page to garden and back again with comedy frown and sinking heart. The RHS version is all deeply dug, arrow straight and hummus-rich trenches. The trench where I was to put my asparagus wiggled between a paulownia and a small box hedge, and then kind of around a corner just to make the point. And the soil was recently under lawn, so is a bit rubbish too. It is not ideal asparagus country, shall we say, but I girded my loins, manfully pushed the book away from me and pressed on. They’re in the ground at just about the right depth. They are covered with some soil. They probably wont produce RHS standard spears, but they’ll be fine.

In my failure to track down the weird stuff, I am turning to the ‘normal stuff we don’t treat as perennial’ and first among these to go in is shallots. The ‘Perennial Vegetables’ book on which I am most relying has four and a half pages on all sorts of weird and wonderful perennial onions that I could spend ages tracking down, grow and not like, but mentions that shallots (which I know I love) are perennial, but are usually dug up, divided and replanted elsewhere to avoid a build up of onion diseases. Egging me on mercilessly it then says this: ‘On a small scale, it would be very interesting to experiment with growing these plants as perennials by leaving them in the ground for several years.’ So this is what I will do. I reckon if any onion, anywhere, is going to succumb to an onion disease, it will be on my damp, clay soil, but hey! we’re experimenting, right? Not everything is going to be perfect. I went for ‘Golden Gourmet’ purely because it said it was resistant to bolting, which I imagined in my information vacuum might be quite a handy trait in the perennialising stakes. Dont you think? Maybe?

Next in line is a runner bean. I know…me neither, but here it reads: ‘Plants in Britain have been known to live for 20 years or more’. Who knew? They are perennial and hardy, so it says, to -5C. This would have been no good in my garden this past winter, but with a thick mulch and a prayer to the global warming gods I might just be able to get them through. Being able to find absolutely no information on which runner beans perennialised best, or which are hardiest, I plumped for ‘Celebration’ because it has pretty pink flowers, and will go with my cirsium and verbena much better than your garish old red types. As I said, I am completely making this stuff up as I go along, based on a vague idea of a colour scheme and ideas that have flitted briefly through a confused mind and could easily be wrong. Dont take any of this as in any way informed, and whatever you do don’t even imagine just how smug I’m going to be if it all comes off.



  1. Sounds fun – I always like to hear of experiments! Let us know how it works out.

    • I enjoyed reading your earlier posts. I hope you pick up the blog again soon.

  2. Damn, yours is a wordpress blog…I will get around to getting rid of the Boris avatar soon…

  3. I have some Welsh onion seeds and some (small) Babington’s Leeks if you like some.

  4. I take it you have rhubarb if you like it? I have so much I could give you some at Malvern if you want some, practically disappearing into a forest of the stuff.

  5. The gardening expert in the Guardian makes it up as she goes along. I love it. And invents words too – perennialise, it’s not pretty (unlike your cirsium) but it works.

    On a serious note, why worry about perennialising runner beans, which are so easy to grow from seed anyway and you never need that many? As for the asparagus, having made a complete hash of sticking to the ‘rules’ and still getting lovely spears, I would say just make sure it never gets encroached on by anything with clumpy roots, like grass. Martin Crawford says to grow it through a low carpeting plant.

    I sympathise with where to source some of these plants, not easy. I look forward to following your progress, and if I sound like I know what I’m talking about, that’s the ‘little learning is a dangerous think’ syndrome. Probably best if you ignore me 🙂

  6. You manfully pushed the book away? What’s wrong with womanfully? Much better, don’t you think? 😉

    Like your approach to gardening as it very closely resembles mine. Have you seen my tulip experiment on t’blog? A riot! So go ahead and experiment to your hearts content. I’ve found that you often get away with breaking the rules if done with flair.

  7. This is pioneering stuff indeed!
    There will be a book in this I can see.
    All gardening is to some extent trial and error. As I am this year discovering with my idea to have teasels in some borders. And how!
    Look forward to following.
    Best Wishes

  8. I’m not sure I would have any advice, but I would point you in the direction of the wonderful RHS book “How to Grow Practically Anything”. I believe it’s by Zia Allaway and… oh, what’s that other woman’s name? Oh yes, Lia Leendertz. She’s jolly good!

    Seriously woman, I’m not buying this ‘Goldie Hawn does gardening’ approach you’re trying to pedal here. The whole, “I’ve no idea if it’ll grow, but it just looks SOOO PRETTY” is a little suspect!

    I say all this partly because I’m embarrassed to admit I’m growing ‘Celebration’ too, just based on its lovely pink flowers. I suspect Germaine Greer would NOT approve.

  9. You might enjoy this, Lia.

    XXXx Anne

  10. New shoot – I will indeed keep you informed, as long as the outcome reflects well on me. The Boris avatar is truly quite distressing. Please deal with it at the earliest opportunity.

    BlundstonedLove – Yes! Please. Are you going to Malvern? I will try to email you or DM you.

    elizabethm – Thanks but no. Have plenty of rhubard.

    Gilly – that is great news with the dodgy asparagus planting. was also going to plant a geranium through it, so that can be my low carpeting plant. I suppose the point with perennialising the runner beans is ‘cos I can’ and also to see if they crop earlier, bush out more etc…
    And it wasnt me that made up the word perennialise. It was Sarah Raven.

    Yolanda – I think I was just in a manly mood that day. I have now read your tulip piece and in response to your question: who are the fashion police? I have to say: I am! As i said above, I very much like things matchy matchy and cant be doing with your gaudy colour clashings. One can take this experimenting lark too far. How dreadful.

    Lesley/Robert – Thank you! Finally, a little recognition…

    Dawn – that ‘Goldey Hawn does gardening’ comment is the most horrendous I have ever had! How could you?! I would like to apologise if I in any way painted myself as ditzy or kooky. I feel slightly ill even writing those words.
    And also yes, you are right. Here I am setting myself up as anti-establishment when I actually AM the establishment.
    You keep me in my place.

    Anne – I did enjoy that, thank you.

  11. I’d probably sit and stare at the Cirsium blooms all day long and never get around to planting another thing. I love the colour and the thistly look of the blooms (as I inch ever so slightly over to my gardening book for zonal info).

    I had no idea that runner beans were perennial. Have you ever grown hyacinth bean vine (Dolichos lablab)? They have fabulous deep-purply seed pods. They are edible if cooked for a long time.

  12. I reckon the asparagus will be a triumph! I once had a short term rent on a place with an overgrown garden, and went out one spring day to find a veritable forest of the stuff had appeared all over the ‘lawn’ – definitely no rows and not well-dug or rich – and I’m sure it tasted better for it

  13. Ive got about 50 asparagus plants I sowed in small pots in a plastic tray with standing water as it’s in the polytunnel which gets watered from above. I never seem to get round to planting them somewhere sensible and every year they come back up a treat. I declare my incompetance and inability to plan in order to reassure you that yours should be fine…or athe very least that you know where to get some more from if yrs dies

  14. gosh that cirsium is just beauteous….I love the idea of perennial veg…very appealing to the lazy gardener…(me)…Is there a pic of the whole space on your blog?….must have a look.

  15. My theory in gardening is…. read about where a plant will do best (if you can be bothered) & then plant it where you want to.

    A year or so ago I planted 3 tiddly asparagus plants for an elderly client. It was fit them anywhere in a garden which is frequently flooded in winter & rock solid in summer. They are amongst roses & all sorts of other stuff. Last summer 2 of the plants gave several spikes of asparagus each, enough to delight client & husband & provide the accompaniment to several meals.

    Yes, i did know runner beans are perennial – but why bother.

  16. Hi Lia i have a rebellious asparagus that has escaped from the vegetable garden and taken up residence under the shade of a holly tree and has produced a fair number of spears over the years. its not just the gardeners that are breaking all the rules, the plants are doing it all the time…

  17. Kate – thanks so much for coming back, after I was so awful to you last time. I’m sure no-one else cares, but we have since made friends behind the scenes and I wanted to say thanks, publicly.
    Yes it is a real beauty. Not sure if I will bother with the lablab beans. Sound like a faff.

    Frugilegus, Mark, Ms B and Hazeltree – this is all very encouraging news on the asparagus front. Thanks.

    Laetitia – have been avoiding taking any overall shots as it all looks a bit…new. But shall try to be brave soon.

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