With numerous packets of unopened vegetable seeds in my shed and the growing season in full swing, I feared my plan to become self-sufficient this year by creating an edible garden had slipped away. If I wanted to bid farewell to the tedious weekly supermarket shop, then I needed some help, and quick.
My saviour came in the form of The Bath Gardening School’s Kitchen Garden for Beginners course, taught by expert kitchen gardener and author of the gardening blog My Tiny Plot, Gillian Carson, and professional gardener and founder of The Bath Gardening School, Emma Bond.
The course took place in the beautifully restored Interpretation Centre in the heart of Bath’s Botanical Gardens; a hidden horticultural oasis less than a mile from the city centre. To get us in the spirit, we started the day with a tour of the garden with Glenn Humphreys, who has over 30 years experience of the garden’s planting and a mind-boggling ability to remember an impressive number of Latin plant names.
Keen to learn
Returning to the Interpretation Centre, the small group of keen veggie growers scribbled down notes as Gillian explained how to create a kitchen garden based on her own experiences of setting up a highly productive fruit and vegetable plot in her tiny back garden. She gave advice on siting a kitchen garden, soil types and soil preparation, and different growing systems (from allotments to ornamental potagers).
We were then introduced to the main vegetable groups (brassicas, legumes and roots), the whys and hows of crop rotation and offered tips on choosing what to grow. “Look through each vegetable group and only grow what you’ll actually eat,” explained Gillian. “Far too many people tell me they grow a particular vegetable but then say they don’t actually like it.” Mental note: give away my brussels sprouts seeds.
Plotting your plot
After lunch, it was time to get practical with graph paper, pencil and ruler and plot a kitchen garden based on our own garden dimensions. With year-round growing suggestions and creative design ideas from both Gillian and Emma, it wasn’t long before I was visualising my small garden providing me with bountiful crop.
The day ended with Emma running through practical tips on what tools to use, where to source seeds and plug plants, and the various methods of eliminating those destructive critters – slugs and snails!
A day spent picking the brains of gardening experts and gossiping to fellow gardeners is far more enjoyable and educational than sitting alone trawling through endless Grow Your Own books.
I may have headed home with wild plans to emulate a rhubarb hedge similar to the one grown by the great gardener Vita Sackville-West, but in reality I was just glad to have the confidence to finally rip open those seed packets and start sowing.
How to get there
Exit the M4 at junction 18. Follow the A46 and then A4 into Bath city centre. Bath Botanical Gardens are located in the far left corner of Victoria Park, just off Weston Road.
Find out more
The Bath Gardening School
88a Waldcot Street
Bath BA1 5BD
The school offers a series of informal one-day courses taught by experienced garden professionals on a range of gardening skills. All courses cost £99.05 and include refreshments and lunch.
More kitchen gardens
Near Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0QZ
Has 13 fully stocked Edwardian glasshouses and plant houses.
The largest restoration of a kitchen garden in Britain, where lost skills are being revived.
Northampton NN6 9LY
Parts of the open ground are used for traditional veg and flowers, the rest is a fun maze.