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A kitchen garden for a cook who gardens

Since I've recently been negotiating a period of intense gardening indulgence which has qualitatively improved my engagement with da dirt,  I want to rule off on the intensity with some peripheral thoughts.
All gardens are different one from t'other. ..and all gardens vary in their purpose.
I say this because at the school garden we've rebooted, it's amazing how the project presents so many different opportunities. Since I act as a sort of manager and gofer, working with the various stake holders -- children, teaching staff, groundsman, P&C, the bistro we supply with produce, and volunteers you have to learn to respect the different POV. Not that consensus is hard to attain, but comprehending  the likely trajectory and engineering it  is not as simple as it is in your own backyard.
But this 'issue' has made me reflect on my own out-back gardening experience: What sort of garden am I growing? What's its identity?
I think the first feature of my gardening indulgence is that mine is a polyculture. That can suggest a range of methods but mine is intensely mixed polyculture. It's a rainbow of different annual plants -- in ones and twos -- growing next to one another in the same bed (and having sex). I may have over ten different species sharing the same space.
As they grow this mix and match may make  harvest difficult. I have to find the plant in order to harvest from it. That means I need to be intimately familiar with each plant: I must know where it is and at what stage its growth is at. That presumes an intense level of engagement...and I'm finding that hand watering -- often daily -- facilitates that.
The other key feature of polyculture is that it sponsors companion planting. I'm not great shakes about which plant pairs with another, but I do know I don't have many problems with insect infestation or disease.
Touch wood.
And when I do have an outbreak I tend to ignore it because I have other plants, other species, I can turn to. What I may lose on the swings I gain on the slides. This means I don't fret over any single plant. I'd like to. It seems callous not to. But I suffer from a perspective that doesn't focus on  individual species because I have so many planted out.And besides,  the whole is greater than the sum of its plants.
This leads into the key concept that rules my patch: I'm gardening for the kitchen. It may not be that simple or that direct, but when you garden to feed the house on a daily basis, you don't want surpluses -- you want a supermarket in the soil you can pick and choose from as required.
This is also why the polycultural mix and match makes sense. It's all about what's on hand -- and some plants, like herbs,  you want more 'on hand'    than others.
This is also why depending on cut-and-come-again is my preferred method of harvest. I want fresh food daily. Not weekly or when a harvest is due.
I'll own up to being ruled by my early experience growing cottage gardens. It was my parents' obsession.
The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylised versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.
I want to emphasize this orientation because I'm dedicated to growing annual plants -- not perennials. That may seems a superfluous statement but in the context of the current vogue for Permaculture, I'm consciously rejecting food foresting and a reliance on perennial species. 
The French Jardin Potager tradition -- while often presumed to be based on very formal design -- is really in the same sync as  cottager. It serves the same purpose.And like the cottager form, the potager is driven by planting annual seeds. 
Cottage gardens , despite their seemingly quaint attributes, were working class in origin and based in towns, villages and cities. They weren't pretentious 'designs' but functional places that grew food to eat in order to supplement the family food budget. And when the land wasn't there, allotments were utilised.
And therein hangs a tale: allotments in modern times had to be fought for as a direct response to the enclosure acts of the 19th century. Local authorities  in Britain must maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. By 1945 there were 1.5 million allotments in Britain. Indeed, further back, a  1732 engraving of Birmingham shows the town encircled by allotments.
We are not in temperate England or France and our gardening traditions suffer from an unfamiliarity with various kitchen garden habits across the sub tropical and tropical planet. Outfits like Kitchen Gardens International try to address that ignorance but in my experience there is still a lack of information about the various ways many cultures garden for the kitchen. Commercial and peasant agriculture of primary crops is more often is the anthropology of gardening among indigenous communities.
The other feature often over looked is that the kitchen garden must be polycultural. Indeed that's the point. You grow a mix of vegetables for the family pot...and if we weren't growing mixes we wouldn't have vegetables like we do today because aside from core staples each family's food, once-upon-a time, was grown in kitchen gardens or it had to be  bought from the local market. 
In that sense the whole kitchen garden dynamic is related to the business of farmers markets as some kitchen gardeners either sold their surplus, or switched over to growing the produce full time --assuming they could get access to land. I think this is evident in Australian history if you consider the impact gardeners of Chinese and Italian origin  have had on the country's diet.  Even the Gold Fields of the 1860s were paired with Chinese Market Gardens. 
It's an irony of Australian urban history that the large size 'quarter acre' suburban house block wasn't  usually turned into a vegetable garden. Whereas the post war wave of migrants, especially those of Greek or Italian origin, keenly converted even much smaller patches of real estate into vegetable gardens.
My grandfather had 5 children but his whole suburban backyard  was a vegetable garden. It was a steep upward slope and over the years he tiered it layer by layer and you had to use stepping stones to get around the patch. Everything was a mix. There wasn't so much garden beds but you stepped between the plants and  each row was narrow like a staircase
He wasn't my favorite human being but he certainly has a novel approach to gardening.
So I guess, through my own parents, I'm channeling him. 
I've had many other gardens in my life in the various places I've lived in but this is my first opportunity to truly indulge my passion and cash in on my own experiences. And when I look back I see how often I was a victim of  then current gardening fads. It's like not seeing the wood for the trees. 
It may seem self evident to say it, but gardening is about food.  Well, it is for me, anyway. That's the primary point. And in growing food for yourself and family you tap into all these other benefits. 
I'm a cook who gardens. Food is a major part of  my life. So my garden begins in the kitchen and is  ruled by my culinary needs and aspirations. 
It is a kitchen garden.There: I've said it.

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Comment by Dave Riley on June 20, 2015 at 1:28

Nothing like a rant to get the juices going.Mine anyway.

I went researching and came upon this fascinating book which I've begun to read. A great read. I'm up to the part where Willes discusses the initial development of market gardens in the 1600s under the influence of Huguenot Dutch gardeners as the towns expanded and the population became more urban. Of note: eating vegetables was not the norm:

  • The Gardens of the British Working Class' by Margaret Willes.(2014): This magnificently illustrated people’s history celebrates the extraordinary feats of cultivation by the working class in Britain, even if the land they toiled, planted and loved was not their own. Spanning more than four centuries, from the earliest records of the labouring classes in the country to today, Margaret Willes’ research unearths lush gardens nurtured outside rough workers’ cottages and horticultural miracles performed in blackened yards, and reveals the ingenious, sometimes devious, methods employed by determined, obsessive and eccentric workers to make their drab surroundings bloom. She also explores the stories of the great philanthropic industrialists who provided gardens for their workforces, the fashionable rich stealing the gardening ideas of the poor, alehouse syndicates and fierce rivalries between vegetable growers, flower-fanciers cultivating exotic blooms on their city windowsills, and the rich lore handed down from gardener to gardener through generations. This is a sumptuous record of the myriad ways in which the popular cultivation of plants, vegetables and flowers has played – and continues to play – an integral role in everyday British life.

Also of relevance is this fascinating article online:

  • A Brief History of School Gardens.'“With the love of the school garden has grown the desire for a home garden and some of their plots at home are very good…Since commencing the garden work the children have become better companions and friends…and to feel that there is a right way of doing everything…it is our garden…We try to carry that spirit into our schoolroom.”

    More than a hundred years after Rogers wrote those words, school gardens have continued to be cherished in the public school system in which she worked; Ventura Unified School District has developed a nationally recognized model that links school gardening, nutrition education and a farm-to-school lunch program featuring locally sourced fruits and vegetables for its 17,000 public school students.....

    School gardens in America were a natural outgrowth of earlier community garden efforts, as well as civic and philanthropic work, much of which was conducted by women in urban settings. The civic and philanthropic bent of these gardening efforts were typically progressive in tone: they sought to correct or reform a wide range of perceived social, moral and educational agendas and advocated associative means. School gardens were one part of the broader nature-study movement. Interestingly, even home gardens worked by children of the household were considered school gardens; the term “school” took on a broader, Progressive meaning that defined “school” as any setting where youth learned through working. Historian Laura Lawson lists the various names included under the umbrella of the movement: “school gardens, school home gardens, children’s gardens, school farms, farm schools, garden cities, and others.” Many of these terms remain in use today.'

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