Kitchen Garden Notebook in February
By Ian James, gardener, and co-custodian of Water Lane
In this Kitchen Garden series, Ian shares some of his expert tips and thoughts for making the most of your garden each month.
For those reading who are unfamiliar with Water Lane, it’s a walled garden with a vinery and Victorian glasshouses on the Kent and Sussex borders. My partner, Nick Selby, and I took on the project in the middle of lockdown, having lived for years in Hackney, London. It’s a truly remarkable place but it’s fair to say we’ve certainly got our hands full as Water Lane is going to be a slow and long-term restoration over many years to come. Since we arrived in the middle of January 2021, we have created 72 no-dig vegetable beds to provide for the restaurant and our fortnightly produce markets, and flower beds to sell cut flowers wholesale to local florists. Our future plans include stock and trial beds, restoring the vinery, 40m long peach case, outside spaces and a pavilion for dining and events.
The restaurant menu is 100% inspired by the seasons with a focus on vegetables and fruit we grow ourselves. We’re excited to share our plot to plate journey with you and this column is the first of many in our Kitchen Garden series.
The bleak mid-winter days of February might seem stark and quiet, but while the robin puffs his chest searching for a worm, below the frosted soil, the heart of the garden beats in anticipation of a new growing season. February marks a turning point, as the skeletal garden starts to look less sorry for itself, and we see Spring’s imminent arrival starting to appear in tiny acid green buds on the trees and overwintered bulb tips push through the ground.
Jobs in the vegetable garden:
- Sow early season broad beans, peas, salad leaves, tomato, and chilli seeds under cover or in the green house
- Start chitting early potatoes by standing them in the end of a module tray and leave in a bright, cool, frost-free place
- Top up no dig beds by layering over plenty of well-rotted organic material or peat-free garden compost.
- Remove yellowing leaves from brassicas, such as cavolo nero, kale and sprouts to prevent mouldy mildew forming and spreading
Jobs in the flower garden
- Sow hardy annuals under cover, such as cobea and another sowing of sweet peas. We sow first in Autumn and then in February to prolong the flowering season
- If giving flowers for Valentine’s is your thing, consider giving a bare root rose plant instead. Costing approximately £20, a bare root rose is a similar price to a dozen cut roses, which will have been grown, sprayed, refrigerated, and flown from half-way round the world and will only last a week in the vase. Other British seasonal flowers to look out for in February are snowdrops, muscari, hellebores, and early anemones
Jobs in the fruit garden
Fruit plants need to be pruned and protected. Prune Autumn fruiting raspberries, blackcurrant bushes, gooseberries, and redcurrants to maintain a productive framework and top dress with a slow-release potassium-rich fertiliser
Prune apple and pear trees while they’re still dormant and mulch well around the base of the tree
Force rhubarb plants for an early crop
February is cruel month for the cook. There are brassicas and roots that have overwintered, and indeed have benefitted from the frost and snow, as the cold supercharges the vegetable starches turning them into sugars. Now is the time to embrace bitter winter leaves brightened with circles of Italian citrus and fudgy roasted Jerusalem artichokes roasted until toffee like and dressed with a little sherry vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. A simple midweek supper might be a vegetable crumble of slowly braised onions, leeks and fennel in butter with a little sliced garlic, red chilli and rosemary, before folding through some cooked and chopped cavolo nero, those roasted Jerusalem artichokes. Top with toasted breadcrumbs and your favourite blue cheese and return to the oven to melt for a few minutes. For pudding, try a spelt cobbler with forced rhubarb and blood orange served with a spoonful of green cardamom spiked crème fraiche, topped with some blood orange zest.