Although vegetable plots and allotments are essentially functional spaces I am a great believer that they should also look beautiful. Of course, beautiful can, in turn, also be functional but I'll come to that later...In my search for the perfect horticultural aesthetic I've developed a few different strategies over the years to try and make my plot as gorgeous to look at as the produce is to eat!
The first thing I do is try to plant in a way that is as relaxed and informal as possible. In practice this means mixing different crops together in a patchwork of colour and texture and avoiding planting large blocks of one crop on its own. For example, I love planting things of different heights together to give a real interest in levels, meaning you'll frequently see lettuces growing at the bottom on bean poles on our plot. On a practical level this way of planting also helps protect crops against pests and diseases as plants that are not planted in large, mono-cultivar beds seem to be much less prone to attack. If you want to know more about tried and tested planting combinations that will help keep your plants happy and healthy I suggest you take a look at Bob Flowerdew's Complete Book of Companion Gardening which is an absolute mine of information on this subject.
My pursuit of all things beautiful also means that you're always going to find lots of flowers growing all over the plot. Some of these are purely for show like the tulips that are in full bloom at the moment, a number of which may also end up as cut flowers in the house. Others are also great companion plants that play an essential role in attracting beneficial insects to the plot and having a key part in protecting our crops from attack - again Bob gives bags of advice on what to plant where and when.
Some of these companion flowers are perennial plants that come back year after year, but the vast majority are annuals that need to be planted each season. If you haven't planted any already, now's a perfect time to do it. And here's a selection of some of my personal favourites.
Cosmos is an absolute beauty that will flower for weeks on end, with large flowers that bees love.They vary in colour from pure white to bright pink and their loose, relaxed flowers look wonderful as a cut flower.
French Marigolds are one of the easiest flowers to grow. Their leaves have a delicious, distinctive smell. They are known to repel soil nematodes and whitefly from tomatoes.
Nigella Love in a Mist has both flowers and seed heads that make excellent cut flowers. Sowing them near or in carrot seeds is believed to keep the crop free of carrot fly.
Pot Marigolds are the queens of companion planting. They attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies. If you let them go to seed each year they are also happy to spread themselves all over, popping up as the weather warms up in Spring.
So, there's a couple of my favourites. Any I've missed out that are absolute essentials on your plot?