The next morning, before I left for work, I decided to take my morning coffee by my lettuce (as you do) and to my horror, I was met by bare soil and a few stumpy stalks. For unbeknownst to me, lurking under the canopy of the cedar tree was a hungry muntjac deer with excellent taste in salad leaves, but no respect for lettuce art.
Having been raised in a hospitable household, my natural instinct was to offer my guests a drink. Being slugs, their chosen poison was beer. Ten little beer-filled containers were duly set out for the molluscy revellers and despite initial fears that I was creating a hugely popular gastropod gastropub crawl, the slugs have been merrily availing themselves of one beer too many and our veggies are finally showing signs of recovery.
Growing food decoratively is a tricky business, because even if it survives the excesses of slugs, deer, rabbits and birds, we will eat it and in so doing wreak havoc on our edible scheme. Cut-and-come-again lettuces succeed in the world of food art because we can pinch the odd leaf here and there and not spoil our salad tapestry (it is a pity that no one told the muntjac about this valuable attribute of these leaves).
There are plenty of edibles which look great despite regular harvesting, but many crops simply look gappy. I have tried succession sowing and planting, intercropping and the occasional selectively placed rhubarb forcer, but these methods are too time-consuming for me at the end of a working day and a rhubarb forcer looks downright incongruous in the middle of a patch of onions. Consequently, I have been on the lookout for a solution and I think I have found it. Instead of seeing a gap in the garden; I see a meal I have enjoyed. Absurd as it might seem, this desperate attempt at reframing seems to be working.
I finally stopped fretting about gaps in the veggie borders following a tour of the two acre organic kitchen garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Now I think, if they are good enough for Raymond Blanc, they are good enough for me. Of course, a two Michelin Star chef in my kitchen, waiting to prepare my homegrown veg would be splendid.... well... I need to fantasise about something as I offer a top-up of beer to the molluscy guests on a tour of my own rather less extensive, but equally organic kitchen garden.
P.S. If you have never read anything by Joy Larkcom before, I urge you to take time to look at her work. Her books introduced me to so many of the crops I enjoy growing today and I frequently revisit her writing when I am looking for inspiration.
The last two photos show the kitchen garden at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, where the crops look great, but taste even better. http://www.manoir.com/web/olem/le_manoir_gardens.jsp