Gardens: You can't beat the flavour of home grown food

Growing your own fruit and vegetables has so many advantages. Nothing beats the taste of home-grown produce. Then of course there is the excitement and magic of watching your food grow and the delight of the first harvest. Not forgetting the superior levels of nutrients to be found in freshly picked vegetables – and the chance to work with nature in a fast-moving world where a connection to the land can seem ever more remote.

At a time when we are becoming far more aware of the importance of the quality of what we eat and the impact food production has on the environment, growing your own is incredibly popular. However, there are still those who are put off by a lack of knowledge and time, but for previous generations growing your own was second nature.

As a young child I remember following my grandfather around his pristine vegetable garden as he gathered a basket of faultless produce for my family to take home. As we worked our way around the magical plot I nibbled on tender peas straight from the plant and strawberries still warm from the sun.

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For him growing great vegetables was just a part of life. As a keen gardener I always wanted to give my family the same fantastic experience, and while I'd previously dabbled it wasn't until a few years ago that my family bought a rural retreat and I had the chance to build a real vegetable patch.

There was, however, a major drawback: for the most part I would only be able to tend my vegetable patch at weekends, and even then there would be plenty of other demands on my time, such as my work, and a chaotic family life.

Employing help wasn't an option because I actually really enjoy the business of gardening, working with the seasons and having time to connect with nature and wonder at its marvels. For me, tending the vegetables myself is all part of the pleasure. After several years of productivity my weekend vegetable garden has proved to be more successful than even I could have hoped.

Here are a few tips on growing some favourite crops.


Given enough water and compost courgettes are effortless to grow. Home-grown courgettes are usually available in such profusion that they can be picked while still young, sweet and delicious, and are nothing like some of the tasteless examples from the supermarket. They are a staple of so many dishes yet are equally delicious sliced thinly in salads or simply stir-fried in butter. Even the magnificent yellow, trumpet flowers are edible.

Varieties to try "One Ball" produces shining, round, yellow courgettes with creamy, sweet flesh. It's a bit of a novelty but still pulls its weight, giving a good harvest and having a good shape for stuffing.

"Orelia" is another golden-coloured cultivar. It produces an amazingly good yield.

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"El Greco" has the advantage of cropping early. It produces an open, erect plant which makes picking easy, and a profusion of green, excellently flavoured fruits.

"Defender" is another reliable early green variety worth trying, especially as it has some resistance to mosaic virus and downy mildew.

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growing tips Each plant really does need some room – 1 sq metre (11 sq ft) or just under – but for that space and very little work you will get an abundance of courgettes. Plant the young plants with plenty of compost on a small mound and mulch around them with compost. Plant late spring. Harvest eight to ten weeks from planting. Pick the courgettes when they are still young and tender at about 10-12cm (4-5in) long and keep picking to ensure a continued supply.


The magnificent leek has many virtues: it is a doddle to grow, is ready for harvest at the leanest time in the vegetable garden and will stand through a tough winter with no extra care.

Varieties to try "Pancho" is the variety I would choose if I were growing just one type of leek as it matures quickly but will happily stand in the bed awaiting harvest until midwinter. It has a good flavour and texture.

"Toledo" is a good partner for "Pancho" as it matures later, from late autumn, and will stand through to spring.

"Musselburgh" is an extremely robust leek that will stand a really hard winter so it's worth trying in really cold areas.

"Atal" is a variety of baby leek I grow from seed. They don't have to be transplanted and mature in just ten to 12 weeks to about the size of a spring onion.

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growing tips Generally leeks are grown 15cm (6in) apart but this can be reduced to 10cm (4in) in rows 30cm (12in) apart. However, if you plan on enjoying some of your crop when they are young and succulent then you can plant some at just half that distance apart and harvest every other one while they are small, leaving the bulk of the crop to grow on to maturity.

The small leek plants are planted slightly differently to other plug plants. The leek plants may look a little droopy after planting but they will soon perk up and the holes will fill naturally with soil over time. Plant late spring. Harvest as soon as they reach a usable size.


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The radish is the ultimate catch crop. It is not worth planning where to grow it as it can be slotted in amongst other slow-growing crops such as cabbages, and will be ready to harvest while they are still in their infancy – a sensible way to make the best use of your growing space. Radishes are easy to grow and will obligingly produce their tasty roots with little attention.

Varieties to try "French Breakfast 3" has elongated, cylindrical roots with a white tip and a mild flavour.

"Cherry Belle" has good, crisp flesh and, as you might expect, is round and red like a cherry. This is an early variety.

"Il Candela di Fuoco" is an Italian radish that produces long, tapered roots a bit like a carrot. Red skinned with white, crisp flesh they are amazingly quick to mature.

growing tips Direct sow seeds thinly in drills 1cm (in) deep and 15cm (6in) apart. Squeeze rows in along the edges of beds, in between other crops, or wherever there is a small space.

Sow from early spring to early autumn. Harvest probably within four weeks of sowing, three if conditions are good. As soon as the roots are large enough for the table, pull at intervals along the row so others can fill out.

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A row of radishes planted a metre (yard) or two long every two to three weeks should be ample.

The Low Maintenance Vegetable Garden by Clare Matthews is published by New Holland Publishers, priced 16.99.

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• This article was first published in The Scotsman Magazine, April 17, 2010