A few summers ago a ceramic strawberry container sat on the whisky barrel by the back door, with a bright crop of lettuces I’d grown for summer salads. At the time my husband and I were big on the Atkins diet and meat-laden salads were a great favourite. I was fascinated that they grew so easily from seed and did come again after cutting, and the feel of their firm leaves as I rinsed them under the tap was hugely satisfying.
Less satisfying was my husband’s reaction. “It’s…fine,” he said. “I think I prefer the bags from Tesco.”
This feedback aside, I probably would have tried lettuces again if the strawberry pot hadn’t perished that winter, because they were beautiful. Truthfully, vegetable growing — and can I just say that I cannot abide the word “veg” — leaves me cold. Seeing vegetable coverage in the media is like contemplating my tax return; I glaze over. Partly this is because my attempts at peas, carrots and potatoes have given hilariously small yields, but mostly it’s because I’ve seen so few lovely examples of vegetable growing. Come hit me, Alys Fowler, with your TV series in January, because I desperately need convincing that I can do edibles beautifully.
Did you see this month’s Gardens Illustrated profile of Alys — the one that calls her “steely” — where she opines that it’s “slightly immoral” not to at least try to grow some of your own food? Yes, yes. My garden’s lack of fruit and vegetables makes me feel ashamed and unfashionable, all at once. But 9.5 out of 10 examples are visually awful and make a strong feature of bird netting and horticultural fleece. There’s no part of my garden I want to see draped in prophylactics.
So I’m now devouring information about doing vegetables beautifully, and my interest is piqued. I thought this planting (pictured) of kale and marigolds at RHS Harlow Carr this summer was a great example of what can be done. But I constantly garden against the clock — am I crazy to think about creating a potager-style space, edged with herbs, stuffed with edibles and beneficial flowers? I could make it easier on myself by siting my vegetable experiment in the sunny, sheltered square between the driveway and back gate and by using raised beds; I saw how fertile these can be when I helped with my local school garden.
I think I’m going to get out the pencils and measuring tape and start putting something on paper. Those stripey tomatoes, frilly asparagus peas and funky red Brussels sprouts in my Good Ideas for Your Garden book do look comely. I think, just maybe, I could even grow to love them.