Top 5 All-Purpose Edible Plants

Herbs and alliums are two of my favourite types of plants. I love to grow them, eat some of them (in large quantities), admire their amazing flowers and watch the bees and pollinators feast on them too.

I’m currently in the throes of planting lots of alliums – mostly onion and shallot sets – but I’m also looking to boost my wildlife-friendly flower borders with a few ornamental and “dual purpose” herbs, legumes, and alliums too. Here are some of my favourites that you might want to grow in your flower garden, veg patch or allotment:

chive-flowers

1. Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might seem like an obvious choice, but they really are an all-purpose allium. These little beauties can be harvested throughout the year for extra onion-flavoured zing in your culinary endeavours. Cheap to buy, easy to grow and fantastic for pollinators, they can feature in container gardens, veg patches, herb gardens and flower borders alike. There are an abundance of varieties available, from mild to strong flavoured, compact 6inch plants or broader and taller 2ft specimens (A. var. sibiricum), as well as a selection of (edible) chive flowers, with white (withs silvery-green foliage), pink and mauve varieties readily available. Try garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) for a garlicky twist to the traditional light onion flavour.

2. Rosemary

Another obvious choice, but no garden or veg patch should be with some rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Whether you’ve got acres of space or just a patio to play with, you can enjoy this unique, fragrant herb and your local pollinators will thrive on the abundance of delicate, blue flowers. Here at the Smallest Smallholding I’m growing Mrs Jessop’s Upright, a tall and narrow variety that fits perfectly in between the flowers in my long borders, but if you’ve got slopes or need ground cover try Prostratus, a cascading variety.

3. Welsh Onions

I first saw welsh onions (Allium fistulosum) being grown in my mum’s garden amongst the verbena bonariensis, and it’s flowers were like a magnet for the bees. I’ve since found a few pots of welsh onions in the poorly department of my local garden centre, and they’re now going in my flower borders. Welsh onions can be eaten from bottom to top, and produce fluffy globular pale green/yellow flowers in summer. They’re great for compact gardens, growing tall from smaller clusters.

lavender-3

4. Lavender

Scent, flavour, texture, colour, lavender has it all. A staple in many English country gardens, allotments and veg patches, lavender might be a common feature, but its place in our growing spaces is well deserved. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators will flock to any variety (though English is preferred to French), and there’s a plant for every growing space from compact Hidcote through to the long, tall spires of Lavandula angustifolia. Bake with it, smell it, look at it… just enjoy it.

5. Peas (and Beans… legumes in general)

I’m a bit of a pea-growing novice, and have little experience. I’m growing some this year, because these vertical-growing legumes are not only a welcome culinary treat, but the sheer number of varieties of peas and beans available means that there’s not only a variety for every taste, but also a huge array of flowers that are so beneficial to pollinators. Peas and beans look great in any vegetable garden but can also add height, texture and colour to ornamental borders too. And with nitrogen fixing qualities, they’re fab for crop rotation and healthy soil.

© www.flowerpictures.net

© www.flowerpictures.net

Buy Seasonal, Buy Local and Ditch the Plastic

Buy local and seasonal

Support your town markets and buy local

We don’t grow enough vegetables. Yet. I’m hoping that will change this year when we finally get the polytunnel installed. But for now, I’m having to rely on buying in a lot of our fruit and veg, trying to keep it as seasonal as possible.

I’ve become more and more aware of the plight of farmers and the cruel, money-grabbing ways of supermarkets in driving down their costs from their suppliers, and just the sheer amount of waste that goes on due to changing orders, the pursuit of perfect looking veg and more. Supermarkets are not our friends, not really. Having read Tescopoly (definitely a recommended read) and recently watched yet another documentary about the marketing games supermarkets are playing with us, I have become thoroughly disillusioned with how our food shopping is going in this country.

And the thing that has really got to me recently is the ridiculous amount of packaging that fruit and veg is supplied in. I mean, even if you buy it loose at the supermarket, you still HAVE to put most of your semi-fresh produce in a little plastic bag (which can be reused but ultimately ends up in landfill). I would refuse to put my baking potato, leeks, etc in a plastic bag at the supermarket, but when you’ve got a dozen onions, it’s hard to control them all rolling around in your shopping basket.

I would get to bin changing day and just look at the number of plastic non-recyclable packets in our bin and feel bad. Really bad. We’re avid recyclers and we don’t put much in our bins, but lately all that seemed to be in there was plastic bags from fruit and veg. They end up in landfill and somehow a ridiculous amount of plastic ends up in the rivers, oceans and in the bellies of birds and sealife.

So I decided enough is enough. I don’t want to be a part of that problem. No more excuses.

Growing my own veg is one solution to the problem, but it’s a slow burner and I am nowhere near a self-sufficient level of growing yet. So where I can’t fill the gaps myself, I’ve decided to ditch plastic, ditch supermarket plastic-wrapped veg and start doing my veg shopping at the local farmer’s market every Saturday.

I take my wicker basket to fill and carrying everything home in that, as even the farmers put everything in a big non-recyclable carrier bag for me unless I tell them not to. There I have a selection of some homegrown farmers’ veg (their broccoli, leeks and parsnips are clearly pulled straight from the ground and brought to market) and some things from much further afield (cheekily bought some bananas from goodness knows where), but ultimately it’s a fresh selection, no packaging for the most part) and if you eat seasonally, it’s much  more likely to be local. And tastes better, anyway. The leek soups and roasted parsnips I’ve been making lately have been so superior! And it’s all down to fresh, seasonal and local produce.

leeks and shallots

Leeks and shallots from my local farmer’s market

I wish I could find an organic veg stall, but for now, I’m just having to wash and peel everything as I would with supermarket fare. And I’m definitely saving money – I haven’t spent more than £8 for all my fruit and veg for the week for two of us, and it’s more than enough.
So my point is this – if you can, please consider ditching the plastic too and heading on down to your local market, and grow a bit more for yourself. You’ll reap the tasty rewards.

Greenhouse of shame

Ah, spring. What a temptress… one minute, it’s all bright sunshine, blue skies and a burst of colour, the next it’s grey-clouded drudgery, and north-easterly arctic winds blowing a gale through your house. I have just come to the end of a week off work, and for the most part the weather was crap. So as always I didn’t get out nearly as much as needed, and didn’t get as many jobs done as I wanted to.

The greys, browns and sludge-greens of late winter are depressing enough, but my greenhouse had been left to rack and ruin for the past year, and seeing it looking like an overgrown mini bombsite every time I walked outside just added to the feelings of despondency! It wasn’t even charmingly rambly like something out of the Lost Garden of Heligan. It just resembled a cesspit of shame:

greenhouse of shame

Greenhouse cleaning is one of those jobs (like digging) that I really really really don’t like doing. But I couldn’t take it anymore. It just had to be done.

So I spent four hours clearing out dead bindweed, removing the old straw bale (fab compost material) that I’d previously grown squashes on, and dug up two barrow loads of bindweed roots, all just to find some semblance of restored order. As you can see from the pictures below, my greenhouse fell victim to a storm about a year ago, where we lost a number of glass panels. Those will have to be replaced at some point but for now we’re just enjoying some “ventilation”. The greenhouse is in a pretty sheltered corner, so there’s still a decent amount of heat and protection from frost in there.

before and after

Typically, it’s still a half-finished job, but at least it’s looking a little less neglected. Around the outside, I’ll also be chipping our pruned apple tree branches to make homemade mulch which will be going over some weed suppressing mat, and then there’s the even more brain-numbingly boring job of cleaning pots and trays before I even put the greenhouse into action. But once it’s done, it’s done and I should be able to reap the rewards. It’ll be a thing of beauty, a corner of my Smallest Smallholding that I’ll be proud to photograph in all its glory.

For now, I’ve only got a couple of trays of Red Baron onion sets on the go, but with the arctic winds giving way to a bit more spring cheer, the (well ventilated) shelves should be filling up with seed trays very soon. Watch this space…