Multipurpose veg

I was thinking the other day of extremely useful things you can grow in the garden, like my amazing Egyptian walking onions in one corner of my garden.They arrived as a handful of unpromising bulbils given to me by a friend. I wasn’t even sure they were walking onions at the time. Being me, I potted them up to see what happened. Now they’re handsome, impressive plants easily topping the 4ft fence they’re growing against.

They have great novelty value, but there’s so much more to them than that. These are onions you can eat any time of the year. The fat, succulent emerging stems in spring mean I haven’t had to grow any spring onions since they arrived. Then little bulbils make cute baby onions peeled and thrown whole into your cooking, or pickled en masse. And then through the winter you’ve got the main bulbs below ground: smaller than your average onion, but not off-puttingly so, and definitely better than no onions at all. Even better, they just stay underground till you need them, no faffing about drying or plaiting them into attractive kitchen decorations.


But there are other, equally forgiving veg out there which don’t mind when a time-strapped, forgetful, generally chaotic gardener like me forgets to water, or gets distracted until after the main harvest has gone over. They’ve always got something else to give, and just for a while they make you feel like you aren’t such a bad gardener after all. Plus (and this has to be in the frame these days) they’re the ultimate way of climate change proofing your plot. When your plans are kiboshed by a heatwave spring followed by April in the freezer, they’re still there with another trick up their leafy little sleeves. Chilly or scorching summers which finish off one-crop wonders just make this lot try something else. And best of all, you get to eat it.


So here’s my little cabaret troop of multipurpose, all-singing, all-dancing, turn their hand to anything, climate-proof veg. I wouldn’t be without them.


Peas: Not quite as exotic as Egyptian walking onions, I grant you, but many of our everyday veg are actually much more useful than we give them credit for. You can eat from the same pea plant all season: tender peashoots in spring, flattened pods as mangetouts shortly after, big fat peas to finish with a few to dry for winter.



Rocket: Everyone will tell you this is a pain to grow: you sow it, you go to pick it, it’s bolted. True, it’s very weather sensitive, but that’s its great strength. Cool and damp? Plentiful pickings of peppery leaves. Hot and dry? Let it bolt and enjoy the flowers instead: they have a sweet-and-spicy taste that I actually prefer.





Radishes: See above, really. They come up in a jiffy but their roots turn from tender to woody within days: take a weekend away and you’ve missed them. No matter. Let them grow on and they eventually bolt: this time you not only get pretty and tasty flowers, but the fat balloon-like seedpods are utterly scrummy too.





Kailaan: I have been very rude about this vegetable before now. I’m sorry and I take it all back. Yes, it grows like topsy and bolts before you can blink: but as long as you realise it’s not all about the leaves that’s no problem. Harvest the leaves while you can (that’s about five minutes on a Tuesday afternoon, then), and follow with flower buds, shoots and actual flowers. And when you’ve finished all those, cut the main stem, peel off the tough outer skin to reveal the tender inner core and eat that too.