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Ask Alfie: January 2017

Ask Alfie

I’m planning to grow some vegetables this year, but would like them to look good in the garden as well as taste good. Any suggestions?

Yes, perhaps it’s fair to say that plain spinach and lettuce do not add any decorative flair to the garden.

The most superb vegetable gardens I’ve had the pleasure to visit were the geometric kitchen beds at Chateau Villandry in the Loire valley.  The chequer board effects using brightly contrasting leaf colours and striking shapes could have arisen from the imagination of Lewis Carroll or Roald Dahl. Blue leeks, red lettuce and crazy cabbages add to what I suspect is a visual feast rather than an edible one. But for inspiration it is unsurpassed, and I can suggest the following seeds, (or infant plants) which are colourful and interesting enough to brighten up your veg and salad garden.

It’s also probably the case that coloured veg and salad are not only more attractive to view but more entertaining  to eat.

Swiss Chard – almost a year round crop, the basic vegetable has bright red stems, but hybrids such as “Bright Lights” have multi-coloured stems.

Red Cabbage – a good example is “Red Jewell” which has purple foliage and a red heart.

Black leaved kale – there are many varieties of the trendy kale, some groovier than others. “Black Magic” has a very dark leaf and a tough looking texture making it a great foliage plant.

Purple sprouting broccoli – after a spring sowing, the purple spears develop towards autumn and have an eccentric showiness in the veg plot.

Red lettuce – you’ll be aware of some of these loose leaf varieties with frilly red edges on supermarket shelves. One such is “Red Salad Bowl”. Easy enough to grow.

Globe artichokes provide tall thistle-like architectural foliage, are perennial, and are often planted with harvesting as a secondary rather than a primary purpose.

Aubergines are a double hit with good looking foliage and of course spectacular fruit.

And finally pumpkins – great fun attempting to produce fruits of a head turning size, and if you do really well with it you might save yourself a trip to the supermarket next Halloween.

Seeds for all of the above can be sown from March so now’s the time to browse.

Are there plants I can grow which will deter cats from scratching and fouling a section of my front garden?

Three approaches here – firstly dense unfriendly prickly plants such as dwarf varieties of berberis, or secondly plants with aromatic foliage which are unappealing to our moggie friends. Not fool-proof, but both lavender and rosemary for example do seem to send out a keep away message to cats.

The third tactic is to plant something which is so alluring to felines that it will distract them from other areas of the garden. Catnip (Nepeta  cataria and also N. x faasseni) is euphoric to cats but apparently not addictive.

A combination of all three might be your best bet, and you’ll have to experiment a little to find the purrfect solution!

Alfie Bines
About Alfie Bines (24 Articles)
I have been tending the gardens of North London for longer than I care to remember accumulating a huge amount of horticultural knowledge along the way.