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A kitchen garden for a cook who gardens


Since I've recently been negotiating a period on intense gardening indulgence which have qualitatively improved my engagement with da dirt,  I want to rule off on the intensity with some peripheral thoughts.

All gardens are different one from t'other. ..and all gardens vary in their purpose.

I say this because at the school garden we've rebooted, it's amazing how the project presents so many different opportunities. Since I act as a sort of manager and gofer, working with the various stake holders -- children, teaching staff, groundsman, P&C, the bistro we supply with produce, and volunteers you have to learn to respect the different POV. Not that consensus is hard to attain, but comprehending  the likely trajectory and engineering it  is not as simple as it is in your own backyard.

But this 'issue' has made me reflect on my own out-back gardening experience: What sort of garden am I growing? What's its identity?

POLYCULTURE

I think the first feature of my gardening indulgence is that mine is a polyculture. That can suggest a range of methods but mine is intensely mixed polyculture. It's a rainbow of different annual plants -- in ones and twos -- growing next to one another in the same bed (and having sex). I may have over ten different species sharing the same space.

As they grow this mix and match may make  harvest difficult. I have to find the plant in order to harvest from it. That means I need to be intimately familiar with each plant: I must know where it is and at what stage its growth is at. That presumes an intense level of engagement...and I'm finding that hand watering -- often daily -- facilitates that.

The other key feature of polyculture is that it sponsors companion planting. I'm not great shakes about which plant pairs with another, but I do know I don't have many problems with insect infestation or disease.

Touch wood.

And when I do have an outbreak I tend to ignore it because I have other plants, other species, I can turn to. What I may lose on the swings I gain on the slides. This means I don't fret over any single plant. I'd like to. It seems callous not to. But I suffer from a perspective that doesn't focus on  individual species because I have so many planted out.And besides,  the whole is greater than the sum of its plants.

KITCHEN GARDENING

This leads into the key concept that rules my patch: I'm gardening for the kitchen. It may not seem that simple or that direct, but when you garden to feed the house on a daily basis, you don't want surpluses -- you want a supermarket in the soil you can pick and choose from as required.

This is also why the polycultural mix and match makes sense. It's all about what's on hand -- and some plants, like herbs,  you want more 'on hand'    than others.

This is also why depending on cut-and-come-again is my preferred method of harvest. I want fresh food daily. Not weekly or when a harvest is due.

COTTAGE & POTAGER GARDENING

I'll own up to being ruled by my early experience growing cottage gardens. It was my parents' obsession.
The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylised versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.
I want to emphasize this orientation because I'm dedicated to growing annual plants -- not perennials. That may seems a superfluous statement but in the context of the current vogue for Permaculture, I'm consciously rejecting food foresting and a reliance on perennial species. 

The French Jardin Potager tradition -- while often presumed to be based on very formal design -- is really in the same sync as  cottager. It serves the same purpose.And like the cottager form, the potager is driven by planting annual seeds. 

Cottage gardens , despite their seemingly quaint attributes, were working class in origin and based in towns, villages and cities. They weren't pretentious 'designs' but functional places that grew food to eat in order to supplement the family food budget. And when the land wasn't there, allotments were utilised.
And therein hangs a tale: allotments in modern times had to be fought for as a direct response to the enclosure acts of the 19th century. Local authorities  in Britain must maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. By 1945 there were 1.5 million allotments in Britain. Indeed, further back, a  1732 engraving of Birmingham shows the town encircled by allotments.
We are not in temperate England or France and our gardening traditions suffer from an unfamiliarity with various kitchen garden habits across the sub tropical and tropical planet. Outfits like Kitchen Gardens International try to address that ignorance but in my experience there is still a lack of information about the various ways many cultures garden for the kitchen. Commercial and peasant agriculture of primary crops is more often studied...as is the anthropology of gardening among indigenous communities.

The other feature often over looked is that the kitchen garden must be polycultural. Indeed that's the point. You grow a mix of vegetables for the family pot...and if we weren't growing mixes we wouldn't have vegetables like we do today because aside from core staples each family's food, once-upon-a time, was grown in kitchen gardens or it had to be  bought from the local market. 

In that sense the whole kitchen garden dynamic is related to the business of farmers markets as some kitchen gardeners either sold their surplus, or switched over to growing the produce full time --assuming they could get access to land. I think this is evident in Australian history if you consider the impact gardeners of Chinese and Italian origin  have had on the country's diet.  Even the Gold Fields of the 1860s were paired with Chinese Market Gardens. 

It's an irony of Australian urban history that the large size 'quarter acre' suburban house block wasn't  usually turned into a vegetable garden. Whereas the post war wave of migrants, especially those of Greek or Italian origin, keenly converted even much smaller patches of real estate into vegetable gardens.

AND THE POINT IS?

My grandfather had 5 children but his whole suburban backyard  was a vegetable garden. It was a steep upward slope and over the years he tiered it layer by layer and you had to use stepping stones to get around the patch. Everything was a mix. There wasn't so much garden beds but you stepped between the plants and  each row were narrow like a staircase

He wasn't my favorite human being but he certainly has a novel approach to gardening.

So I guess, through my own parents, I'm channeling him. 

I've had many other gardens in my life in the various places I've lived in but this is my first opportunity to truly indulge my passion and cash in on my own experiences. And when I look back I see how often I was a victim of  then current gardening fads. It's like not seeing the wood for the trees. 

It may seem self evident to say it, but gardening is about food.  Well, it is for me, anyway. That's the primary point. And in growing food for yourself and family you tap into all these other benefits. 

I'm a cook who gardens. Food is a major part of  my life. So my garden begins in the kitchen and is  ruled by my culinary needs and aspirations. 

It is a kitchen garden.There: I've said it.


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