Kitchen Garden Notebook in March
By Ian James, gardener, and co-custodian of Water Lane
Continuing our Kitchen Garden series, Ian James shares some of his expert tips and thoughts for making the most of your garden each month.
Spring is making its mark here at Water Lane and the garden is slowly coming back to life; the trees drip as the temperature rises and the daylight hours slowly increase. Walking about the site, with a mug of tea in hand, I see many of the over wintered bulbs have broken through the frosty earth, primroses and hellebores, daffodils and fritillaries. The trench of over 4000 tulip bulbs, that we planted in late Autumn, is waiting to explode into a rainbow of colour and form as we head towards the month end.
March is the time when things are getting busy. Bright, cold and sunny days renew our enthusiasm for the growing season ahead and it’s starting to feel believable that in just four months the garden will be full, lush and abundant with produce for the restaurant, shop and flower buckets. Linda, who looks after the vegetables and fruit garden at Water Lane, and I spent the quieter months pouring over seed catalogues and planning the growing spaces for succession planting and trialling new varieties, and now is the time we begin in earnest to start sowing under cover for summer cropping.
If I only leave one suggestion with you this month, make it this one, to look for ways you can improve sustainability in your garden. Reuse plastic seed trays if that’s what you have, but look for alternatives when you need to restock, such as coir and wood pulp pots, which are biodegradable. Or make use of old newspapers and make your own paper pots with a wooden pot stamp; these simply rot into the soil when the seedling is planted out, with the bonus points of not disturbing the roots and adding structure into the soil.
Jobs in the vegetable garden:
Sow peas and beans (dwarf and climbing), carrots, beetroot, celery, Swiss chard, celeriac, tomatoes, aubergine, cucumbers, peppers, and fennel under cover for summer harvest
Start sowing brassicas under cover for Autumn/Winter crops
Sow broad beans outdoors and transplant seedlings that were sown under cover in February
Sow outdoor lettuces and radishes
Plant maincrop potatoes
Jobs in the flower garden
There’s still time to sow hardy annuals and warm enough to start sowing half hardy annuals. These varieties are so wonderful in the garden, quick to grow, colourful and often pollinator magnets. Try nicotiana, cosmos and nasturtium
Plant summer flowering bulbs such as sculptural gladioli which give height and colour in a border and are brilliant cut flowers for a vase. A new favourite is gladiolus-murielae, a slender, fragrant variety with multiple white flowers and glossy purple blotched throats
March is the last chance for pruning roses, before they start their summer growth spurt
Have a good look at the perennials in your garden and decide if it’s a good year to divide the plant and replant around your garden
March is often described as the Hungry Gap, the last of the Autumn/Winter stores are rapidly disappearing and it’s too early for any new season vegetables to be cropped. Rather than be disheartened by the apparent lack, embrace the opportunity to create deliciousness out of a handful of ingredients. We’ve still got a few Crown Prince pumpkins left over from the autumn as they store so well, so we’re making the most of them and making a lovely pumpkin bake. Sweat some onions, leeks and garlic with some hard fresh herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, then stir in double cream to make a rich sauce, you could also use a vegan cream. Slice the pumpkin thinly on a mandolin and layer with the sauce before finishing with a layer of sauce on top. Bake in the oven until golden and bubbling. In the restaurant we’d serve a big spoonful of the pumpkin on top of a bed of cavolo nero pesto made with the greens, olive oil and pine nuts and sprinkled with Porcini Pepper, that’s made by blitzing dried porcini in a food processor and adding freshly ground pepper to it. It’s delicious.
The lipstick pink forced rhubarb that cost a king’s ransom at the beginning of the season has dramatically dropped in price now. Grab it before it disappears for another whole year and roughly chop 3 or 4 stems into a sterilised kilner jar. Cover with golden caster sugar, a few brushed cardamon pods, a star anise and a twist of orange peel before topping up with a regular gin or vodka (nothing fancy needed here) and sealing. Tip upside down every few days to help the sugar dissolve and watch as the spiced rhubarb liqueur turns a pale watercolour pink. Leave for a least two weeks, if you can, before drinking over ice with tonic, soda water or neat.
[This piece originally appeared in the March issue of Kent Life]