Emma Bridgewater's Kitchen Garden

Vegetables rule in our garden.

Emma talks about Kitchen Gardens.

14 Eskdale CloseIn the ten years that we have lived here more and more of the garden has been subsumed by the serried ranks of crops that Matthew specializes in. Herbaceous plants have been herded, like the last Red Indians, into reservations in less favoured spots. Anywhere open and sunny is under cultivation. I don’t think I miss the old look. A prolonged war of attrition with bindweed that wove its insinuating and fleshy roots among the phlox, penstamons and peonies is now over. We lived in a parched desert of round-up'd withered creepers for a year but now those muscular noses have ceased their attack and the courgettes and chard and peas grow unmolested.

There were favourites but they have been embraced in the new model garden.  Irises are growing thicker and flowering more strongly in a broad band in a vegetable bed than if they ever did scattered in a complex border. Dahlias that are anyway a little too rudely healthy to compete with their mild mannered erstwhile border neighbours seem at ease widely spaced and well staked in their own bed while roses can be kept weed free and wonderfully more productive in than unfashionable place, the Rose garden. Interestingly the old roses seem to thrive on exactly the same ferocious diet of pruning advocated for hybrid teas and all of them yield bunches and bunches of roses with never a worry of whether it will spoil the display.

None of this is to say that the kitchen garden is aggressively functional. All the beds are edged with interlocking hoops of yellow barked willow whose green shoots are kept well clipped, and rows of Zinnias, calendula and this year a fluffy stripe of greater celandine are interspersed with the spinach. Height is introduced with peas, beans and Pumpkins that trail along frames dangling their massive fruit in complete defiance of gravity five feet above the ground. Best of all sweet peas, [mantucana] grow on either side of two of the main paths in such thick profusion that I can fill the bowl I usually use for mixing bread in with its two tone purple flowers. But it remains a Kitchen garden and not a Potager, that fashionable but all too often rather prissy denial of the essential productivity of the veg patch.

Something else of visual significance about the kitchen garden is the free flow of light. The wide spacing of the rows means that in morning or evening light the sun can backlight the crinkled leaves of rhubarb chard or the pincushion mauve flowers of the globe artichokes. The many greens, from acid lettuce lime to the glaucous bluey grey-green of peas assume the importance of more marked variation of colour among flowers and the actual colours, blue from a double row of agapanthus or of red and white runner bean flowers  are punctuation for the green.

And that's before we even think of eating the crops....

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