Home produced fruit and vegetables have a special quality. Nothing you buy tastes quite as good yet many people go through life without ever having picked an apple from their own tree, shelled their own plant-fresh garden peas, savoured the crispness of a lettuce which has never been through a market, smelt the wonderful fragrance of their own strawberries as they are gathered, or felt the soft plush of a newly-ripened, sun-warmed peach. Yet, all these delicious things and many others are easy to grow and can be fitted into the smallest garden if there is no room for a special kitchen plot. And no one need be without fresh herbs. Many, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, savory, are evergreen or ever-grey shrubs and can be grown like any little bushes, in groups, at the front of mixed borders, on a rock garden, as an edging for a rose bed, as a small dividing hedge or in the paving of a patio. Alternatively, mixtures of these and other kinds can be grown in tubs and other containers near the kitchen door.
Besides the delight they give you and your family when eaten and the satisfaction you get from growing them (the nicest part for me is always sowing seeds and harvesting) there is also a sound economic reason for making room for fruit and vegetables in any garden. The smallest outlay ensures at least one touch of luxury once a year. With careful planning you can often beat the budget by growing only those crops which demand high prices at certain seasons, like lettuces in spring and winter. You can enjoy the convenience of mass produced vegetables which are always on sale at an economic price, such as potatoes and frozen peas. If you only have a tiny kitchen plot you can produce nothing but those things which are either unobtainable or very expensive. You should be able to produce both salads and herbs to use fresh all the year round, for there are many you can force in winter, as well as plenty for drying. You should always be able to have some fruit at hand, freshly gathered, stored or preserved.
Too many people associate kitchen gardening with large gardens but this is not necessarily the case. More space exists than you might imagine. There are more ways than the obvious one of growing them altogether in a separate plot, convenient though this is. Fruit trees of many kinds, apples, pears, plums, peaches and apricots, for instance, can be trained against the wall of a house or any other surface. They can also be trained to grow upright in single cordons and planted along a path at the side of a house. When grown tall enough they can be turned towards the house to ‘roof’ the path – a wonderful space saver. Fruit trees can be grown as pergolas, as arbours, as a screen round a garden seat. They can be close planted and used to make a boundary or to hide an unsightly view. Soft fruit bushes can be grown as cordons and set along the side of a path or edge of a border or plot. An untidy row of raspberries can be hidden behind a flower border. Climbers like blackberries and loganberries can be trained along wires on a fence. A grape vine can cover a house. Lettuce, radish, neat parsley and chives and many other compact herbs, alpine strawberries and shallots can be used as pathway edgings. A herb border can be a decorative feature in a garden. Rhubarb is such a handsome plant that it can stand as a decoration in its own right and be sited conveniently as well as attractively near the house.
Instead of a sterile double flowering cherry for spring blossom you can plant a fruiting cherry or maybe a Bramley or some other cooking apple, and enjoy just as much fragrant blossom and harvest a crop of long-keeping apples in the autumn as well. They must have given the owner immense satisfaction and, perhaps, even a little understandable pride. On the other hand, runner beans can be grown in a more orthodox manner up tripods of tall canes among the plants or at the back of a flower border. If it is possible to set aside a special plot for a kitchen garden then it is also possible to grow enough vegetables and fruit for the whole year. You can plan to have a fresh green vegetable for every day, enough potatoes to form the basis of many a meal, courgettes, sugar peas, asparagus and other ‘gourmet’ delicacies which can give your meals distinction; you can grow marrow, pumpkins and squash to store for winter, cucumbers and many other kinds of vegetables to mix in pickles, a variety of roots for soup, crisp celery and the turnip-rooted celeriac to provide their own unmistakable nutty flavours, onions, garlic and shallots for flavour, fruits for raw desserts, for delicious tarts, for jams and preserves of all kinds.
There are unlimited ways in which productive plants can be fitted into any garden. I once saw the tiniest strip outside a country town house, filled with flower-covered annuals planted at the foot of a row of equally vivid runner beans. These were climbing strings which covered the front of the house from ground almost to roof level. They were as attractive as any other annual climber yet heavy with a bumper crop.
I advise you on how to get the most from your kitchen garden. How to set about it in the first place. How to cultivate the soil to suit various crops, an important factor. I explain about making and using composts to enrich the soil in nature’s own way and what fertilisers to use. I also explain how to get a succession of crops, when to sow them and how to look after them once they begin to grow. You are shown the advantages of protecting some of them so that they mature early.
Among many other things, the really vital information on what varieties of apples and some other fruits need to be planted near another of their kind to produce the best crops when to prune black and red currants and why there is a difference, how to extend the strawberry season, how to plant a strawberry barrel, what are the best varieties of raspberries, which gooseberries make the best dessert.