'You don't need 43,000 runner beans,' Ali Mundie tells me. Ali's one of three gardeners who looks after the Kitchen Garden in Harrogate's magnificent Harlow Carr Gardens, and I'm picking up some free advice on how to run your own kitchen garden, allotment, or indeed just regular garden.
All Photos (c) Mike Gerrard
Ali's talking about gluts, and the tendency of many people to plant a lot of whatever grows well in a garden, with the result that, when they're ready for picking... well, you end up with gluts of runner beans you can't even give away.
'We have lots of little beds,' Ali says, 'so the allotments are easier to manage. We don't need gluts. We also mix flowers and veg to be more decorative, and to confuse the enemy – the bugs! This way they don't all fly in to one place and devour everything.'
The Kitchen Garden covers just one acre out of Harlow Carr's 158 acres altogether. Harlow Carr is one of the four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society and is on the western edge of the Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate. Indeed, one of Harrogate's spas was on the site of Harlow Carr, and the original bath house is now a study centre. The spa itself is beneath what is now the Limestone Rock Garden, and you can still get a whiff of sulphur there from time to time.
No sulphurous smells in the Kitchen Garden, though, but plenty of fresh mint in the Mint Walk.
'One thing we want to do,' says Ali, 'is get across to people that there are lots of different varieties of most things. People think that mint is mint but it's not, there's all kinds of different types. You should try growing the different types and discover the slightly different scents and flavours they have. We have 48 varieties of rhubarb in one bed, and 14 more in another bed. Basically you should grow what you like to eat. We have a wet acid soil so we have an acid berry bed, things like cranberries and linganberries.
'There are lots of foodies and cooks in the garden team. We'll try anything. People will take stuff home, experiment with recipes, share the results, then someone else will give it a go. It's all about the food.
'We grow hops and have a cider and beer weekend. We grow a Prima Donna Hop, which is a dwarf variety you could grow in your garden. They're also part of the cannabis family. They help you to sleep. The hop pickers used to stuff their pillows with them, though they'd also been breathing in the scents all day. Of course it could also just have been how hard they worked!'
I leave Ali to get on with her own work and wander round the garden, admiring the Hen Hotel where several rare breeds live, and looking in the glasshouse, where some impressive chili plants are growing. I also spot something I've never seen before, which another gardener, Joe, describes to me.
'That's a tomtato,' he tells me. 'It's a potato root stock with tomatoes grafted onto it. We got 500 tomatoes and 10 potatoes off one plant. They're good if you don't have much room.'
Joe tells me about their pizza oven, and the special events they have where they invite chefs in to cook. What with all this talk of food and cooking I'm getting quite hungry. I spot a waitress walking through the gardens and Joe tells me there's a branch of Harrogate's famous Betty's Tea Room at Harlow Carr.
'Lots of good fresh produce, then.'
'Unfortunately,' Joe says, 'we don't grow enough of any one thing in sufficient quantities to provide Betty's with the amounts they need. So we just have to take it home and eat it ourselves.'
It can't be a bad job, I think, working in a Kitchen Garden.
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