I think the garden has beauty at any time of year, it just depends what you find beautiful. I am cheered by this happy little bed of brassicas battling on through winter wet, frost and occasional underground tunnelling by rodents (they will die, I tell you, they will die!) I like the contrasting forms and textures here. This lot will feed us in the ‘hungry gap’, the period early next spring when there is lots of gardening to be done but little still in the ground to harvest.
Difficult to photograph through small-gauge net, these red cabbages are a little further ahead than the ones in the photo above, as I am finally getting to grips with successional planting. These are hearting up nicely. I take the raggedy outer leaves off from time to time but I’ve left them on for now in the hope the slugs eat those and leave the hearts alone… for now!
Penstemon, the plant that doesn’t give a fuck. It just keeps going, steadfastly refusing to bloom when I’d like it to or to maintain a polite habit or to stick to whatever shape I prune it into. It’s such a do-er, though, and such a stalwart cottage garden classic, that I just let it get on with things and I’ll probably even add a few more in next year. Beautiful purple and blue varieties are available, though all sorts of plants seem to revert to red tones once they hit our soil, I assume there is some sort of trace mineral influencing this (one day I’ll actually use the soil test kit I bought several years ago…)
I’m really pleased with this calabrese (which is the proper name for what the supermarkets sell as ‘broccoli’.) Another successional sowing success story, this is a real win as we normally buy tonnes of broccoli and it is invariably shipped (I suspect air-freighted) from Spain, so reducing food miles on this crop is a big win. I’ll dedicate more space to it next year and experiment with different varieties to see if I can extend the season. This lot probably needs harvesting soon as I’m not entirely sure how cold-hardy it is.
Neighbours to the red cabbage, the perpetual spinach, Swiss chard and rainbow chards have been a great success and will also limp us through the Hungry Gap. The perpetual spinach (a.k.a. New Zealand spinach) is a tastier, tougher and more forgiving crop than the type of spinach you buy in the supermarket and it will tolerate pretty much every adverse growing condition you can imagine. Unless you have the patience and foresight to harvest when the leaves are young (I don’t!), it’s best cooked, and it will withstand a bit more cooking than the slippery, watery leaves that come in plastic bags. I tend to cut one huge basketful at a time then clean it, shred it and freeze it in portions. This makes me more likely to use it, saves me sliding around a muddy garden in the dark, trying to harvest dinner with a torch, and means that it keeps producing new leaves. Unlike the other type of spinach it will keep producing edible leaves for more or less a whole year, even after it has bolted. I germinated too many seedlings this year and so have dotted little clumps all around the garden – under roses, in flower borders, in plant pots… and it’s worked brilliantly. I haven’t had to buy frozen spinach for months, another food miles/plastic reduction win, not to mention a cash saving, as the seed was saved from a crop grown many years ago. The brightly coloured chard can be used in much the same way and brings a lovely pop of colour to both garden and plate. The earthy taste alone tells you it’s packed full of folates and other dietary essentials and it’s surprisingly versatile in the kitchen, provided you remember to chop off the stems and cook them first, as they take longer to soften than the leaves and can be a little woody if not cooked enough. Another crop I’ll be making more of next year.
The long border is now a tangle of faded stems and crumbling seedheads, interspersed with the odd evergreen perennial and the rather belligerent forget-me-nots that I never quite manage to thin adequately (I’ll be glad I didn’t, when they flower in a mist of blue). I like the seedheads and so do the birds. An untidy gardener is a friend to wildlife and there seems little point clearing it away and filling the already overflowing compost bins when the winter wet and cold, plus time, will compost it for me on the spot. One or two days of snipping, grafting and soil-tickling just as winter gives way to Spring is the most interference I can bear to make in this border, it seems like its own little world, somehow, and who am I to tell it what to do?
Here’s a curiosity. The extreme, prolonged damp has obviously caused the seeds in these seedheads to germinate in situ. I’ve never seen this before. I think there’s something rather charming about it, though presumably the seedlings are doomed and the seed spoiled now. Opium poppy on the left, echinacea on the right, both prolific self-seeders from which I saved and stored seed in the summer, so not a huge loss.