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Home sweet home and the garden is looking good

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 07:02 UK time, Sunday, 24 October 2010

My messy garden

My messy garden

I’ve returned to two moulting chickens and a dishevelled garden. Gertrude (the bluebell) has lost so many feathers that she looks almost plucked. Thankfully the new feathers are appearing as fast as the cold weather.

How lovely it is to be home, to come back to ripening Egremont Russets, to fat runner beans ready for shelling, a small, but pleasing harvest of achocha (a strange South American cucumber) and many and various greens. After being on the road and so much restaurant food, however good, a simple home cooked meal feels honest and fulfilling in a way that no chef cooked meals can ever achieve.

The night I returned we had a first hard frost that raced across the garden taking with it the tomatillos, the papalo (a Mexican coriander substitute) and the last of the Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes that are still holding on. I’ve harvested what fruit and leaves were left to make a sort of salsa in honour of all the good Mexican food I ate on the West Coast. What was left of the red tomatoes I dried in the dehydrator (you can do the same in your oven on the lowest setting with the door slightly ajar, to let out moisture, it takes several hours). The flavour is intense once dried, not as sweet as sun-dried toms, but good enough for pastas and stews. I finely dice them and then mix them up with dried chillies, salt, rosemary and dried garlic and thyme, sometimes I add a little sesame or juniper berries and use this as a herb mix for sauces. It makes a small harvest go a very long way and when you open the jar this intense waft of late summer comes out. It’s a pretty looking mix too.

Yakon frowing in Alys' garden

My yakon

I’m eager to dig up my yakon that has put on an incredible amount of growth over the summer. It’s a tender perennial with a large edible tuber (much like a Dahlia) that tastes of pear.  I’ve got a small mountain of English walnuts that I harvested from the centre of town and plan to make an alternative Waldorf salad from Mark Diacono’s book ‘ A Taste of the Unexpected’. But Mark tells me I need to be more patient and wait a little longer till I harvest. Apparently they mature very late in the season.

On the other side of the tracks (literally my house is one side and the allotment the other of a railway line) the allotment is looking good, surprisingly so for two weeks absence. I sowed a lot of green manure just before I left, mustards, Phacelias and grazing rye that and the slowing growth of the weeds means I came back to a rather tidy looking allotment. The turnips, oriental greens and autumn carrots are fat and healthy. The pumpkins have ripened and there were a few minute baby squash that I harvested attached to the tips (you can eat the young tendrils and leaves as well) and fried in butter, a delightful, if slightly odd dish.

Strangely the Russian red kales, my least favourite of the family, had been stripped by the pigeons, but the Asturian tree cabbage and black Tuscan kale, cavolo nero, has been left alone—perhaps the pigeons aren’t that discerning? The tree cabbage (giant pale almost lime green leaves) is almost tall and sturdy enough for a pigeon to sit in—I guess I shouldn’t invite trouble...

The Asturian tree cabbage

The Asturian tree cabbage

Alys Fowler is a garden writer and presenter of BBC Gardeners' World.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    another very interesting article,where can I get an Asturian tree cabbage? it looks great!

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi physalis
    The seeds are really rare but I got mine from a Wales based supplier who do mail order only. They're one of my favourite independent seed companies. If you search for 'asturian cabbage seeds' you should find a supplier :-)

  • Comment number 4.

    New to the site but very impressed with newsletter. I am an amateur gardener who struggles with horticulture. When i tuned into Alys "edible garden" TV and book I had an epiphany in terms of gardening inspiration and i havent looked back! Great stuff.

  • Comment number 5.

    That's not a messy garden, that's a beautiful garden!

    Nice the read about someone else trying Achocha - I really enjoy their juicy, cucumbery, citrussy flavour - yum - not to mention their outlandish looks!


  • Comment number 6.

    I love Yakon! Or Sengkuang as it is called in South East Asia.
    Would love to grow some in my Suffolk garden. Would you mind telling me where you got yours from?

  • Comment number 7.

    you will find Yokon at The Real Seed Catalogue on line It looks an amazing seed company I'm certainly giving them a try!

  • Comment number 8.

    Alys, I love being taken into your world - the chickens, the little dog, the amazingly weird vegetables. Thanks for being yourself!

  • Comment number 9.

    I got my yakon from Paul at Edulis,, who has lots of wonderfully unusual things. You have to get your order in early if though. I bought mine as a 5 litre plant and have harvested to large (sweet potato sized) tubers from its first year (it went in mid summer). I think I'll have them for lunch

    I harvest the last the of the achocha yesterday from the allotment. I like them cooked in soups best. They hold their shape rather well and if added toward the end of making a miso or noodle soup have a pleasing bite.
    I'm off to plant my garlic now, mainly in modules until I decided exactly where they shall live


  • Comment number 10.

    For 50 years I have grown cabbages, leeks and sprouts now my wife wants me to grow Yakon and strange things like Achocha. Amazing!

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Alys, your blogs & pics are great! Are they done with the Hipstamatic or Lomo app and if so, which role/lens did you use for this blog, please?
    Would also like to know all about your Medlar ways, as I have a tree myself but don't quite know what to do with it, so:
    When do you pick them, how do you store them and when and how do you use them?
    And I would luvvvvv to know which varieties you chose in the end for your apple tree for Gardener's World, as it only mentioned Fiesta and Pitmaston Pineapple? It might make me help to decide which ones I would like for my newly to-be-designed Orchard :)
    Thanks Alys, keep doing what you're doing, it is wonderful to at last find someone with the same gardening philosophy!!


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