I’m totally hooked on having our front garden turned into a vegetable plot. I really think everyone with access to a spare, unloved bit of land should do it if they can – especially since you can be a lazy git and not do the work yourself. Rachel de Thample, local Transition Town volunteer in Crystal Palace, does the work for us, and I can get on with watching my soaps on TV and drinking afternoon gin. You don’t even have to own the land – it could be your landlord’s unloved garden space, or communal land belonging to council flats. I think it would be so cool to have runner beans, pumpkins and lettuces bursting out of all kinds of unloved spaces, don’t you? And the fact that the UK relies so heavily on foreign imports of food is terrifying, so every effort to grow some food locally will, in its small way, make us stronger.
Anyway, I’ve always loved the Tom Waits song ‘What’s He Building in There?’, about a weird neighbour building something strange behind closed doors. Passers-by to our front garden might wonder what Rachel is growing there, but it’s not really a secret as anyone can get a good view from the kerb. Instead of a weed-choked space, there are now many wondrous and exotic species of vegetables and exciting herbs popping up between the roses.
Isn’t it lovely?
As you can see, Rachel isn’t going for the traditional type of veg plot that’s all neat rows of carrots and potatoes (not that we would have minded that at all). She’s turned up with a really rich and unexpected mixture of exciting produce: rare-sounding herbs, some unusual vegetables so far…and for several weeks the pots of cuttings and seedlings have appeared almost daily, as though delivered by a mysterious ghost. You never know what she’s going to do next. We’re happy to let her do her thing. Rachel has re-used old paving slabs and bits of stone rescued from our garden to mark out paths. Pumpkins, fennel, cardoons, butternut squash and cavolo nero sprawl out luxuriantly among the roses, and she has planted tomatoes, herbs and salads in old wooden vegetable crates and colourful plastic trugs. LOVE IT.
Here’s a selection of what’s growing out front:
So many types of thyme: orange scented, caraway and snowdrift varieties:
Rocket and edible marigolds:
Beautiful, otherwordly borage – the flowers can be eaten in salads:
Sorrel – lemony, tangy leaves good with fish:
Salad burnett – has an odd but lovely taste of cucumbers:
Tomatoes, chilli and basil plants all happy together:
Cute – tree onions (mini shallots):
Bee-friendly pink bergamot – can’t wait for this to grow bigger, as am obsessed with bergamot essential oil:
All we need now are some big old colourful empty tins with fun designs on them – like catering-sized tinned tomato drums or something, which would look really nice with plants in them. Anyone in SE London got any we can snaffle?
And here’s that atmospheric song by Tom Waits: