Horticultural ‘Grand Designs’ versus ‘Harsh Reality’

Cover of Creative Vegetable GardeningStarted gardening – albeit in a small way – about 4 years ago when I decided that I needed fresh air and to give myself permission to wear a huge floppy hat like Greta Garbo (about the only similarity between us), whilst working on making various parts of my body vigorously protest at the unaccustomed exercise.

In that time I have tried growing all sorts of vegetables and flowers with varying degrees of success. Only this morning I learned a new gardening word  ‘Chitting‘, and, as instructed, have laid my Jersey Benne seed potatoes on newspaper in the garage waiting for them to sprout so that I can plant them in September.

Cover of Grow Your Own PotatoesLast year as Christmas approached, with barely contained childish glee (not called ‘Peter Pan’ in my family for nothing),  I dug deep into my potato sacks, ferreting around for my carbohydrate treasure trove to tumble out onto the patio; the reward for all my hard work.  The end result was pitiful – Nothing; Naada; Nein; Zippo – OK, slight exaggeration but certainly just enough for a plate at most.

Where had I gone wrong? Well, obviously I hadn’t done enough research on the subject… I needed a book devoted entirely to the ‘starchy’  issue and I hadn’t even thought to look in the Children’s section!

Cover of The Artful GardenGardens come in all shapes and sizes and there is an abundance of information via our library resources whether it be non-fiction books, magazines, eMagazines and library website. Personally, my garden area is small so I concentrate on pots, containers, raised beds, trying to get as much as possible – produce-wise – as I can.  I am still working on it, but have now got sidetracked by the necessity of colour in my garden and my search  for minimal, low-cost ideas designs has proved very enlightening.

Check out all the resources available to you with simply a library card and a PIN/password – it promises to be more bountiful than my last crop of potatoes.

Courgette carnage

I’m a killer. I confess.

I have managed to knock off courgette plant number one for 2012 in less than a week.  This is an improvement on last year, when I went through three before managing to get one to grow. Excited about the arrival of spring this year, I had dutifully prepared my vegetable garden beds which incidentally have expanded in number. I am attributing this to my well planned and successfully orchestrated guerilla campaign of last year. This involved stealthily planting veges in strategic places to an unpredictable timetable, all through the bloke’s flower gardens. I also brought home lots of books on companion planting (see a whole selection of titles here…) and artfully left them strewn all over the house with feigned nonchalance hoping to convince him it was a great  idea.

In the end,  having initially refused to increase the space allocated to the cultivation of kai (in case it didn’t get looked after?) he got sick and tired of my edibles messing up the look of his beautifully maintained flower beds and  kindly expanded mine with the assistance of  Mr 8. On the proviso that I,  “Look after it” (translation:  keep it weeded). Bless.   Unfortunately it appears I was over-eager at the weekend, planting seeds and transplanting  little seedlings into my garden as we’ve had a frost since then. I went out in the morning to discover my poor courgette, all limp and slimy looking- a victim of hypothermia perhaps? ?

Since then I’ve been scouring the library catalogue for gardening books about what I should be planting when, to avoid any more accidental assassinations.  So far, I’ve found this one to be quite inspirational – One Magic Square. It just goes to prove you don’t need a jumbo-sized garden to be a successful vege cultivator and explains how you can make your small patch super-productive with different crops in different seasons.

The Small Edible garden looks promising (I’ve got it on hold).  I’m trying to grow organically so hopefully this will offer some good tips.

Finally this one looks like it might give the children some good ideas Yates Young Gardener. We had lots of success last year with peas and radishes.  This might help us expand our horizons.

Do you have any ideas to help me get my spring garden going?

Vegetable ‘Plots’

CoverAs Spring approached I began to feel lethargic about cleaning around the house – so disheartening when the dust just keeps returning! Suddenly the garden looked promising territory – strange in itself as any previous enthusiasm in that direction quickly disappeared when it became apparent I had pulled up plants not weeds.

Books abound in the library showing when, how, what to grow in your garden with colourful illustrations of healthy, ripe and appetising garden fare.  I decided to buy myself a vegetable plot kitset; erect it; fill it with topsoil and then trawl the abundant library resources to find the perfect veggies to nurture from infancy to adulthood.

I am now avidly waiting for signs of ‘life’ to emerge from my plot and  fantasize about what I can do with my impending vegetable glut.  Grow It, Cook It  was one of many to choose from in the 641 non-fiction area.  All my produce – when it arrives – will be assigned to a delicious recipe from the book.  My pantry and fridge will be filled with culinary delights – yes, you’ve guessed it, I have finally lost the plot …

What vegetables grow quickly and require minimum maintenance?

Things we’ve learned (so far)

1.  The clothes change as the sessions change – What Good Are the Arts? inhabited by paisley/scarves/tweedy/horn-rimmed glasses/pea-green velvet smoking jackets AND A CRAVAT, while both the Jill Dawson set and the Michael Otterman lot are a mix of the twin-set and pearls crowd and the casual-rumpled-suit-sans-tie guys.

2.  Some people have really cool toys:  I sat behind a woman yesterday who was reading Mark Twain ON A KINDLE.  And David Levithan did his on-stage reading FROM HIS i-PAD.  I forgot to ask if I could touch it, but perhaps that’s for the best …

3.  It’s still perfectly acceptable to knit before, during and after sessions.

4.  Also to just randomly buy tickets and not have a clue what a session is about till it starts.  I love this, and say, Big Ups to you brave and passionately supportive people.  After all, every session is going to be a winner on some level. 

5.  It is actually possible to begin to miss vegetables.

6.  Shoes.  Shoes are really important.  You should, however, be careful never to wear pink patent leather heels with your burnt orange long-line cardigan.  No, really, don’t.  Also, two-tone lace-up brogues appear to be the shoe of choice.  I’m still looking for the ultimate ‘Festival Shoe’, but will let you know when I find it.

7.  Festival volunteers are here because they love what they are doing, and we love them.

‘Tis the season to get growing …

Am excited that the weather appears to be warming up, enough so that I have recently, and somewhat bravely (or perhaps foolishly), planted my tomato plants outside, having managed to successfully grow them from seed. I’ve read some books on companion planting, so have added some marigolds next to them in the vegie plot (which is in fact not quite a plot, more like a smidgeon of space in the garden – saying that I have an actual vegetable garden would in fact be over-stating the matter ever so slightly).

I’m hoping that with the recent economic shift, as well as an ongoing desire to eat better, cook better, get my hands dirty, be more sustainable and tread lightly on the earth, I will be inspired to keep going with this whole vegetable growing hobby. As i write, my strawberries are flourishing beside the spinach, my lettuces won’t stop growing and my lemon tree has fruit on it for the first time ever!

Luckily, there’s plenty of New Zealand-specific books to help keep me inspired, and help me make good choices when planning, planting, growing, picking and eating. Dennis Greville has written many fabulous garden books, and his latest (written with Jill Brewis) is fantastic – The grower’s cookbook : from the garden to the table. There’s plenty of ideas on what to grow and what to do with it when it’s grown. I also really enjoyed another of his books, Get fresh : how to grow delicious vegetables and herbs in New Zealand. Am also putting a subscription of New Zealand Gardener on my Xmas wish list.

Grow Your Own

The small edible garden
The small edible garden

The Chelsea “Flower” Show this year was full of them, the film Grow Your Own celebrated them, Steve Wratten recently showed how to do it on TV and with food costs constantly in the news now is the time to start planting your veges.  I am lucky enough to have a full quarter acre garden but most people have far less.

Don’t despair – there are many books devoted to vegetable gardening and small space gardening, from raised beds to containers.  The doyenne of them all is probably Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew’s enthusiastic guide to growing your own pretty much all year round.  Being American you do have to reverse the seasons and cope with vegetables like the mysterious “summer squash” which I finally realised was courgettes. Marcus Schenke’s Gardening in small spaces on a simlar theme is also excellent, and a new Australian title One Magic Square converts the foot to a sqare metre. Diana Anthony’s The small edible garden provides a New Zealand slant.

Overseas vegetable books ofen wax enthusiastic about New Zealand spinach, but how often have you seen it in a NZ garden?   I tried it once and it took over and was not particularly nice, which brings me to the golden rule of growing vegetables – grow what you like to eat.  No point in having an abundance of beetroot if the family won’t eat them.


Potatoes2008 is to be the International Year of the Potato, and in 2009 Christchurch will play host to the World Potato Congress.

The history of the potato dates back to about 8,000 years ago near Lake Titicaca. Research indicates that communities of hunters and gatherers who had first entered the South American continent at least 7,000 years before began domesticating wild potato plants that grew around the lake in abundance.

The Potato bookYou can find out more about the history of the potato by reading books such as The potato : from the Andes in the sixteenth century to fish and chips, the story of how a vegetable changed history and The Potato Book.

The library also has a good lineup of spud related cookbooks. As potatoes are such a versatile food, it is a good idea to choose the appropriate potato variety for your needs – boiling, mashing, roasting etc. The Potato Group of Horticulture NZ has a guide to types available in New Zealand and there is a helpful guide to potatoes on vegetables.co.nz.