The first of January should be a time for renewed vigour, for getting out and getting on, for new resolutions and new ideas. But weighed down as we all are by Christmas indulgences, it certainly doesn’t take much to destroy my resolve. Mid-winter seems to me to be a time for pragmatism, not for ambition. This week I’ve been trapped inside by a bout of wintry storms, so all the gardening has gone on in my head, rather than on the plot.
Circled around my armchair there is an untidy pile of seed catalogues and gardening books. I’m trying to conjure up a theme for 2014 in my Central London fifth floor roof garden/vegetable plot. In search of inspiration Mike and I took ourselves off to the British Library yesterday to drool over a display of Georgian gardening books.
I was struck by how modern some of the gardening advice seemed. I came across this book, (see below) all about the London garden, by Thomas Fairchild, that would not look out of place in a gardening bookshop today.
I itched to read it, but it lay behind plate glass in the exhibition. Imagine my delight when I came home to discover that it can be read on the internet at The University of Chemnitz
Fairchild’s delightful book, with advice on urban gardening that still holds true today, was another timely reminder to take the common-or-garden approach to planting. Why go for something exotic, when we are blessed with such a wonderful array of native plants?
Last year I smothered my new trellises with so many runner beans that by September Mike, was begging me not to feed him anymore! So I left October’s pods on the bushes, and now we have a storage jar full of those very distinctive purple and black beans. I know they will go grey when cooked, but it has given me the idea to grow runner beans; Czar next year. They make a tasty pod bean and the seeds are white, so much nicer for preserving. There is also a rumour that the birds don’t eat the white flowers as much as the red ones. We shall see…
I set up a rooftopvegplot twitter account this week, (@rooftopvegplot). I’ve been delighted by the welcome I’ve received from other urban gardeners and allotmenteers all over the country. The great thing about twitter is that it can lead my thoughts in unexpected directions. I was reminded by the Greedy Gardener that we take too little notice of how beautiful our native plants can look at this time of year. She (I think she’s a she) blogged a lovely image of the wild clematis or Clematis vitalba
This rampant climber has beautiful starry white, bee friendly, flowers in the summer. By the time the first frosts appear, the flower heads have dried into the distinctive fur-like jumble that gives the plant its common name, old man’s beard. Even though it is invasive and seeds like wildfire, it is certainly beautiful enough to add winter interest to my trellises. Clematis may not be particularly useful as a crop, but it is an excellent bee attractor and a quick internet trawl indicates that the stems could make a serviceable twine.
I’m planning next winter’s crops first this year. That may sound perverse, but in my defence I can look around now and see what is still looking good in other people's gardens. I’ve decided to select one bed to look gorgeous in winter time. It will be the first bed that I come to at the top of the stairs, so even if it is cold and rainy, I can look out of the glass door and admire a wintry display. My inspirational image is a quartet of paintings by Cy Twombly entitled Quattro Stagioni. There isn’t much colour in the winter image. You can see it at the top of this blog. It is a predominantly black and white painting, with a hint of fresh green. But I’m already imagining how lovely this collection of colours could look on cold moonlit nights, in the dead of winter, as I tiptoe out to the plot to cut vegetables for supper.
I’ve thought of including late fruiting black skinned tomatoes, the black and white trailing squash; Delicata, silvery leaves of Swiss chard and the papery pods of the Czar runner bean.
The piece de resistance, planted against the red brick wall of the house, will be a fan trained black elder; Sambucus nigra. The white elderflowers look wonderful in summer and this lovely bushy plant will have delicious glossy black berries around Christmas-time. They will surely come in handy for some festive culinary use. Taking a leaf out of the Greedy Gardener’s book, I realise that this is a native, so it should be able to withstand our winter weather.
I always plant a few complementary flowers in the rooftopvegplot too. I was thinking of black or white violas (edible of course), white umbels of wild celery, black centred Chrysanthemum; Pole Star (apparently the tubers are edible?). Then as fodder for late flying bees I was wondering about a stick or two of the the magical looking Rudbeckia; Green Wizard. A few of those delicious white narcissi I saw on Cally Smith’s blog Countrygate yesterday would carry the scheme right through to the early spring.
Pippa Greenwood tweeted on Monday that she is still planting bargain ‘daffs. That got me out of my reveries. I'm off to the garden centre today to see if I can find some suitable narcissi to start the whole thing off right away.
It’s never too cold, or too late, to plant a few bulbs!
This is the first of, what I hope, will become a regular column about the rooftopvegplot. Do stay a while and look through my library of plants and knowhow, that I’ve written about in preceding years. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Can you think of any black or white veg I’ve missed for the winter plot? And if I can help you with your raised beds or container grown veg - do ask a question.
Credits for composite image above.
Squash; Delicata http://carletongarden.blogspot.co.uk
Rudbeckia; Green Wizzard http://www.thompson-morgan.com/flowers/flower-seeds/perennial-and-biennial-seeds/rudbeckia-occidentalis-green-wizard/8605TM
Runner beans; Czar http://www.suttonelms.org.uk/runner%20bean%20czar.jpg
Sambucus nigra http://www.permaculture.co.uk/readers-solutions/homemade-elderflower-wine-1