ESIAH LEVY, @CroydonGardener on Twitter, says that even with a small garden and relatively poor soil, it is still possible to grow herbs and vegetables for your kitchen
Living in the centre of Croydon means my garden is not the biggest nor has the best soil, but I have not let this deter me and I have managed to grow an array of plants.
With a little know how, it has been possible to cultivate a garden full of tasty edible plants which will impress your friends and family and save you some money with your food shopping.
Not only do most herbs thrive in nutrient-poor soils, they are also drought tolerant, they don’t require much maintenance, most are perennial (which means that they go into a dormant state during the winter and return beginning of spring) and they are flavourful and aromatic.
Some of the most common herbs you can grow in your garden, or your balcony or window sill, or in a raised bed are rosemary, thyme, sage, bay and garlic leaves, all of which like very simple growing conditions which almost all urban gardens can cater for: full sun, sandy well-draining soil, good circulation and neutral soil, neither acid nor alkaline.
Most gardens in the London area, from the Thames south to the North Downs, will have some topsoil over clay. So in planting Mediterranean herbs, you should consider using well-drained pots or containers, or dressing your herb beds with some builder’s sand to assist with the drainage.
Rosemary, or rosmarinus officinalis, pictured right, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple or blue flowers. It is hardy, which means that it survives even the worst of our winters.
You can usually grow it at little or no cost: no need to buy a plant from a garden centre, but just get a single cutting from a friend or neighbour and plant direct into the soil, and within one summer season you should have a productive plant.
Rosemary is a must in your herb garden with its musky scent and needle-like foliage and loves well-drained soil.
Rosemary is related to lavender, and it is always a good idea to include at least one lavender plant near your herb beds, not just for the scent of the foliage, but because the flowers will help to attract pollinating bees to your garden and other plants.
Sage, salvia officinalis, pictured right, is a perennial, evergreen shrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. A low shrub with velvety foliage and a distinct aroma, sage is wonderful in the garden.
Sage blooms in late spring to early summer, but if you are growing it for the leaves, pinch out the blooms to encourage the growth of more foliage, and prune plants in early spring to promote new growth. Try a purple or tri-colour variety for extra ornamental value.
The curry plant, or helichrysum italicum, is a flowering plant of the daisy family asteraceae.
It is sometimes called the curry plant because of the strong smell of its leaves and is very easy to grow and should be treated like the herbs above. The young shoots and leaves can be used stewed in Mediterranean meat, fish or vegetable dishes until they have imparted their flavor, and removed before serving.
Garlic is easy to grow. Nearly all the garlic in cultivation is propagated asexually, that is by planting individual cloves in the ground. In cold climates, cloves are planted in the autumn, about six weeks before the first frosts of late October or November, and harvested in late spring. The cloves must be planted at sufficient depth to prevent freeze/thaw which causes mold or white rot.
I’ve recently finished making my own raised bed, in which I am now growing wild strawberry, oregano, goji berry, fennel and common thyme. In my next column, I will be providing tips on the materials to use to build the bed and the sort of compost and soil to use.
Coming to Croydon
- Airport House swing dance free event, June 21
- Park Hill School summer fair, June 21
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- David Lean Cinema: Feet from Stardom, June 23
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- David Lean Cinema: The Lunchbox, June 26
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- Metamono Secrets of Nature, Upper Norwood, June 27
- St Peter’s Village Fayre, South Croydon, June 28
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Coast to Capital business briefing, July 4
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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