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Just Vegetating – a Memoir

Jessie Marcham |
Tuesday, 16th October 2012

The story of a lifetime of exceptional vegetable gardening written by one of Britain's great pioneers, Joy Larkcom

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Author: Joy Larkcom
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Publication Year: 2012
RRP: £18.99

In this collection of articles spanning the four decades of her gardening and writing, Joy Larkcom invites us to step in to the world of a pioneering organic grower and self-confessed vegetable obsessive. Credited with inventing the now ubiquitous mixed salad bag, Larkcom introduced the British gardener to crops such as rocket, purslane and mizuna, and popularised some of the intensive growing techniques beloved of permaculturalists (and others) today.

The story begins with, and often returns to, the 'Grand Vegetable Tour'. In 1976 Larkcom set off with her husband, two small children and their camper van to spend a year travelling round Europe in search of rare vegetable seeds and continental gardening know-how. On the road she files reports of elusive purple carrots, sunken Portuguese gardens, an all-night sweetcorn husking party, and sand-mulching in Spain.

Returning home to Suffolk, she started experimenting, converting her market garden to reflect the permanent narrow beds, dense interplanting and cut-and-come-again techniques she had observed on her travels, and growing the first bags of organic mixed salad leaves for high class London restaurants. In the years that followed she refined her techniques, trialled new varieties, read vegetable history, kept up with scientific research, and travelled to China, Japan and the USA to learn about oriental vegetables. On finally 'retiring' to Ireland she encounters still more new challenges and ideas. All this is documented in dozens of articles written for publications as diverse as Farmers Weekly and the Observer Food Magazine.

Larkcom comes across as energetic, intelligent, naturally inquisitive, passionate about gardening and humble in her achievements. She is a woman who struggles to limit herself to growing fewer than 19 varieties of tomato in one season, who spent months studying Chinese so that she could better research oriental vegetables, and who delights in the morning colours of her potager. The articles collected in the book are chosen largely to give a representative picture of a life's work, but some are included, we are told, mainly because she is fond of them. Whilst they range from a detailed technical exposition on intercropping, to a humorous piece written from the point of view of a marauding slug, they are all interesting and highly informative. Many of the articles are edited for this book, and they are woven together with additional commentary and context as well as a smattering of scrapbook-style photos and other mementos from a lifetime of exceptional vegetable gardening.

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