I have recently started reflecting on where plants in our garden are originally from, because people often ask me the same question about myself. Most of our flowers, fruits, veggies and herbs in the garden are from other countries. I have started writing a series of blog posts to explore some of our favourite flowers and edibles we have grown over the years which are from overseas. In my previous blog post, I covered our favourite edibles in the garden which come from Mexico. In this post, I will focus on our favourite edibles which come from Europe. I have already covered our favourite flowers in the garden which originate from Europe in my first blog post in this series.
Musquee de Provence pumpkin
While pumpkins are not native to France, the variety Musquee de Provence comes from Southern France. Now that I am a gardener, when I think of France, an image of the Musquee de Provence pumpkin comes to mind. After that, there are a lot of things I fondly associate with France and way too many to name here, including the beautiful language, rich history and culture, the metro, RER and TGV which enable you to travel everywhere quickly, easily and affordably, rugby, football, the Tour de France, the fabulous cuisine (including gastronomie) bread, cheese, wine and champagne, Monet’s gardens at Giverny, Versailles with its palace and fabulous grounds, Paris (especially the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and le Musée d’Orsay), province (especially the interesting WWII museum in Caen, the Loire and its famous castles, the Alps, the French Riviera and Biarritz), fashion, L’Occitane and Carré Blanc.
Unfortunately, because I knew absolutely nothing about gardening when I lived in France many years ago, I didn’t look out for Musquee de Provence at farmers markets in the South of France, where it is sometimes found and sold in wedges, so I read somewhere. This variety is great for making pumpkin soup, which is a favourite of ours in winter.
According to my research, the first garden strawberry was bred in Brittany, in France. Homegrown strawberries are so much sweeter and juicier than store bought ones, which can be quite tasteless so they are well worth growing in my opinion, even if you only have room for a few plants. Last summer wasn’t a good season for strawberries as we had too much rain in Auckland, but we had an excellent crop the year before that, as you can see in the picture below.
Towards the end of the season when they stop producing fruit, the plants produce runners, which are baby strawberry plants. They usually put down roots on their own, but you can peg down any you see that haven’t done so with an n-shaped staple so they form roots. Because the plants have grown much larger and there are so many runners, your patch can end up looking quite messy by the end of the season, like this.
Towards the end of autumn I carefully tidied it up, removing any runners that had planted themselves in the pathways and transplanted them into extra rows I created. This made the patch easier to navigate which is essential when harvesting fruit in summer as you need to walk between rows. By transplanting runners and dividing very large plants, you can significantly increase the number of strawberry plants you have and the size of your patch for the following year. This can be time consuming depending on how many plants you have, but in my opinion it is well worth the effort. The green tunnel hoops are for draping bird netting over when fruit starts ripening (usually in mid-spring), to avoid the netting from coming into contact with the plants and fruit.
Parsnips are native to Europe. I love growing them. They do well sown in spring and autumn and I recently discovered that they can be grown in 35 litre containers, which is really handy if you don’t have much ground space. For the best germination results, I recommend purchasing fresh seeds and storing them in the fridge until you are ready to sow them. This is known as stratification and some seeds benefit from this prior to germination, in order to improve the strike rate which can be hit or miss otherwise.
Swiss chard is commonly referred to as silverbeet in New Zealand. It is very easy to grow and is incredibly nutritious. We grow it year round so we can harvest the leaves as we need them. Lately it has become challenging to grow well and succumbs to rust due to the high rainfall we have had in Auckland in the past year.
Something that differentiates asparagus from most other veggies is that it is a perennial, rather than an annual plant. In saying that though, in countries with a very hot climate all year round, there may well be lots of plants (both flowers and edibles) that behave as perennials which don’t in more temperate climates and come to an end as it starts getting cooler. Asparagus can be grown from seed or you can purchase one year old crowns from garden centres or mail order suppliers who stock bulbs and other edibles such as garlic and potatoes. The advantage of growing asparagus from seed is that it is much more economical, as one year old crowns can be quite expensive for what they are, which brings me to my next point. I have planted both in our asparagus patch, and I noticed that asparagus grown from seed is always much healthier and produces better, stronger spears than purchased crowns. When purchasing crowns, make sure they haven’t dried out (usually they are sold in bags covered with some dirt or sawdust like lily bulbs, which are in the same plant family) otherwise they won’t be viable.
In France, you might come across white asparagus sold fresh in bunches and preserved in bottles. Even though I was not a gardener when I lived there a long time ago, I did notice that because I love asparagus and have never seen white asparagus in New Zealand. However, the heirloom white French variety Argenteuil is available in New Zealand through Italian Seeds Pronto, the NZ importer and distributor of Franchi heirloom seeds from Italy. It is currently out of stock, so keep an eye out for when it becomes available again.