Penelope's Little Miracle; HOMES AND PROPERTY; the Secret of Penelope Bennett's Crop Success Is Knowing How to Achieve High Productivity in the Smallest Space, Says Pattie Barron

By Barron, Pattie | The Evening Standard (London, England), February 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

Penelope's Little Miracle; HOMES AND PROPERTY; the Secret of Penelope Bennett's Crop Success Is Knowing How to Achieve High Productivity in the Smallest Space, Says Pattie Barron


Barron, Pattie, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: PATTIE BARRON

The secret of Penelope Bennett's crop success is knowing how to achieve high productivity in the smallest space, says Pattie Barron

ON A rooftop in the same street as The Chelsea Gardener, Penelope Bennett grows vegetables, fruit and herbs. She has little need for a garden centre, however, because she raises most of her plants from seed, nurturing them in her bedroom before bringing them out into the sheltered environment of her tiny third-floor plot, just 16ft by 9ft. "It's a small space, but you can fit a lot in," says Penelope, and she does.

A wisteria twirls around the drainpipe by the door, there is a scented honeysuckle and an evergreen jasmine with heavenly perfumed flowers, but the real stars are the vegetables: lamb's lettuce and asparagus pea, French garlic and celeriac, Swiss chard and Japanese greens, winter purslane and pak choi, baby parsnips and Chinese mustard, Sprite runner beans and lemon thyme, mangetouts and mitsuba, an Oriental parsley which Penelope says tastes of angelica.

Dainty alpine strawberries, basil, frizzy endive and even egg-sized aubergines all thrive in hanging baskets.

In large tubs pushed against the walls she has planted self-fertile trees - Comice pear, Victoria plum, Sunburst cherry for the birds - and uses the spare compost around their bases to grow the bright scarlet and ochre stems of ruby chard, which she says are delicious steamed, as well as wonderfully obscure Russian sorrel, courtesy of the Heritage Seed Library.

You may think you need serious space for potatoes, but Penelope will prove you wrong: she has grown more than 32 different varieties, planting just one to an 8in pot; anyway, harvesting them when small guarantees the best flavour, she maintains. "I get more than a dozen per container, but I don't grow them for quantity. The important thing is to have a pan of water on the stove before you harvest them."

Those who feel you need the greenest fingers to grow vegetables should read Penelope's inspirational book, Window-Box Allotment (Ebury Press, [pound]9.99), which gives the beginner encouragement, through her chatty year-round guide, to start their own miniature market garden on a rooftop or patio.

"Seed sowing is one of the simplest things to The speediest grower in the universe - at least, on Penelope's roof terrace - turned out to be aptly named rocket, which may also hold the record for being one of the most expensive salads to buy; happily, it is one of the easiest to grow.

No allotment is complete without a compost bin, and Penelope goes one better. She has a wormery; two, to be precise, that produce, thanks to the wiggliest tigers and reds, the caviar of compost from kitchen scraps. She also has a plastic composter - all right, a black bin bag with holes - which she finds as effective as a wooden compost bin.

Most gardens have lawns, and Penelope's is portable, consisting of broad-leaved grass for her two cats to chomp on. …

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