One of the gardens that I was most excited to visit at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017, was the RHS Kitchen Garden.
The Royal Horticultural Society commissioned Garden Designer Juliet Sargeant to design this special Feature Garden, to demonstrate the many interesting methods that gardeners can use to grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers. The RHS Kitchen Garden has been designed to showcase the extensive variety of beautiful, edible plants that are available for us to grow and eat. Every plant featured in the RHS Kitchen Garden is edible.
Dear Readers, please only eat plants that you are absolutely certain are edible. Some plants, for example the Matteuccia struthiopteris ferns, that are mentioned in this article require cooking for a minimum amount of time to ensure they deliver no ill effects after eating. This particular fern is edible when picked young, as the new fronds emerge, and after cooking, but many ferns are not edible, indeed many are toxic. Rhubarb stems are edible, but the plant’s leaves are toxic. Many plants look similar, so do please check before eating any ferns, plants, leaves, fruits, berries, vegetables, and flowers. If you’re not 100% certain what the plant is, and when it’s safe to eat it, it’s best to avoid eating the plant.
The RHS Kitchen Garden showcases many of the methods used to grow edible plants including aquaponics – where plants are grown in water, which they share with fishes or other water creatures. The waste product produced by the fish provides nutrients and fertilises the plants. Aquaponics is an interesting growing method. If you’re considering trying aquaponics for yourself, please remember that fish are living creatures and need sufficient space and water to live, always be over generous with the space you provide.
The RHS Kitchen Garden demonstrates many gardening methods. The garden features a living herb wall, straw bale gardening, raised beds, companion planting, greenhouse growing, and container gardening.
Pretty marigolds (Tagetes) feature as a companion plant in the RHS Kitchen Garden. Marigolds deter some unwanted pests, although marigolds are more of an effective deterrent when their flowers are fading. If you’re thinking of using marigolds in your garden, do remember that they are a favourite plant of slugs and snails, and may need protection.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Juliet Sargeant at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, where I found out more about Juliet’s experience of designing this wonderful edible garden.
Pumpkin Beth: Juliet, what’s your favourite part of your garden – where would you like your picture taken?
Juliet Sargeant: If I stand on the path beside that straw bale, would that be good?
PB: That’s great, thank you! I love your design Juliet. This garden is so accessible, functional, and beautiful – the combination of dahlias with the lovely Kale Cavolo Nero, it’s all just so pretty!
JS: Well, I wanted it to be beautiful, because so often people hide their veggies, and there’s no need to hide them at all!
PB: I completely agree, vegetables are beautiful.
PB: Is that the frameless glasshouse that won the RHS Product of the Year?
JS: Yes, that’s the Pure Frameless Greenhouse.
PB: Have you got all of the best tasting varieties of each of the plants in your garden?
JS: Well, yes, that’s what I found, when I was doing my research, for example with the day lilies, some are better than others.
PB: Yes, you have to try to miss the Hemerocallis gall midge.
JS: That’s what I love about gardens – I like gardens that involve me learning something new. I just love that, a challenge!
PB: Do you grow many vegetables yourself?
JS: We’ve got an allotment, we live near Brighton, so we’re on the top of a cliff, we’ve got shallow chalk, the sea winds, and we’re limited in what we can really do.
PB: So of the edible plants in your garden that you’ve yet to eat, which would you most like to try?
JS: Well, I haven’t actually tried it, but I would love to try the ferns – the Matteuccia struthiopteris they are used in a stir fry. Have you tried it Beth?
PB: Yes, it’s the young fern fronds are gathered as they emerge. The fronds need to be cooked before eating. So what other things are brilliant that you can tell me about?
JS: We’ve got the scented Pelargoniums – rose–scented Pelargoniums and lemon-scented Pelargoniums which is very nice for making tea and that sort of thing.
And here, these bales are to illustrate straw bale planting. Have you heard of that?
PB: Yes, I’ve tried it!
JS: Oh, you’ve actually done it! Did it work?
PB: Well, sort of. I asked for straw bales, but the place I bought the bales from sold me a mix of straw and hay – and it just doesn’t work with hay. But straw bale gardening is a good idea, I would do it again, I’d just need to be certain of receiving 100% straw bales.
JS: We’ve got tomatoes and strawberries, and over there on that one melons that are grafted onto courgette rootstock. They’re not fruiting yet, but that’s a commercial method – there’s a melon farm down in Kent, and because the melons are grafted onto courgette stock, they cope with the UK climate better. You can buy them on the internet, you can order them from Suttons or Parkers, melons grafted onto squash or courgette. Now, follow me over here. I wanted to show you my recipe pots! The RHS asked me to do stuff for people who haven’t got much space. I thought this was really really nice idea!
PB: Did you read the book published a couple of years ago (The One-pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead McTernan) about growing a whole meal in a pot? I reviewed it a couple of years ago?
JS: Haha – no! You’re a wealth of information Beth.
PB: And what other aspects are you most proud of in the garden Juliet?
JS: Well, it’s not so much a plant, but have you seen my brick composters?
PB: Yes, I think they’re really nice, a truly great idea!
JS: I think that really gives people a good idea that they can do themselves.
PB: Also I think people put off starting a compost heap, because the idea of building it takes time, and so sometimes it seems as if it’s too much work to get started. Whereas with your brick composters you don’t have to spend a lot of time to get started, you can also built the composter to fit the size you have available. It’s a fantastic idea!
JS: Yes, you can start with a few bricks, and the next day add a few more!
And the Fuchsias – I love the Fuchsia berries, that lovely subtle violety taste. Somebody was telling me just at lunchtime that Fuchsias were originally brought into the country for the berries, not for the flowers! There’s one that’s got a big, juicy berry.
Morus rotundiloba – Mulberry ‘Charlotte Russe’ (‘Matsunaga’) fruits in its first year and is the result of many years of dedicated plant breeding. This brand new dwarf mulberry was the winner of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2017 Competition; to discover more about the top twenty shortlisted plants, including the finalists and the winner of this prestigious competition, please click here.
PB: What was the thing that you’ve learnt during your research for the garden that surprised you the most?
JS: The trees: so you’ve got the birch sap, the lime tea, and the lime leaves you can eat, and the beech leaves can be used in a salad. Hawthorn leaves can be used in salads too. That was interesting, but the bamboos – because of course it’s obvious that we eat bamboo shoots, the baby ones, but you can eat the bigger ones too; you just mound up the soil around the older ones to blanch them. So that was a surprise to me. The flavour of bamboo varies depending on which bamboo you grow, so we’ve put a few suggestions of bamboos that are the most delicious.
PB: You can also eat the inside of the little Beech (Fagus sylvatica) tree nuts.
JS: If you can get anything out of them! They’re normally very small! And have you seen the living wall?
PB: Yes, it looks brilliant! Have you got bigger pockets than normal? The plants look quite healthy.
JS: Well, yes, living walls are quite high maintenance, and you have to admit it’s high maintenance. But they’re good plants, and they haven’t been in there long.
Other articles that may interest you…………….
To see an overview of the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017, please click here.
To see the winner of the Rose of The Year Competition, and other beautiful new and old roses at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017, please click here.
To read about beautiful edible plants, please click here.
To read about the National Vegetable Society’s visit to Eric Wall Tomatoes, please click here.
To see an overview of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, please click here.