When you only have a little patch of land – be it a garden or an allotment – you inevitably want to use as much of it as possible. In our garden, you find culinary plants in all sorts of funny places. Recently, we even planted some sweetcorn in front of our living room window, because we know full well that if we put it in the allotment, the badgers would scoff it! (We found a badger eating our gooseberries at dusk last summer – this year, we will be making a FIGO frame and netting the bushes to protect them before they fruit.)
One of the trickiest spaces to fill in a garden is any shady area. There are some pretty border flowers and plenty of ferns that can do the job – anemones, violets, maidenhair ferns – but what if you want to grow something edible?
An obvious solution is rhubarb, which grows really well in the shade. In Yorkshire, famously, rhubarb is grown in dark sheds in a process known as ‘forcing’. In fact, the first year we had an allotment, we actually planted three rhubarb crowns in the middle of a veg patch, and they almost scorched to death under the summer sun. They need somewhere that is moist, shady and free-draining - perhaps under a mature fruit tree. Just be sure to leave a good amount of space around each crown, as they can get absolutely gigantic.
My favourite edible plant for tricky shady areas, though, is wild strawberries. We planted a few runners around our shed a couple of years back, and spent one summer watering them diligently. It paid off: they have spread like wildfire, and now need very little looking after.
Wild strawberries are much smaller than the varieties we are used to seeing on the supermarket shelves – roughly a centimetre in diameter – but they taste astounding. They have a very sweet, almost floral flavour. Once they are fruiting, I tend to pick a bowlful every other day and freeze them immediately, building up a stock that I can use later in the year in compotes or scattered on my winter breakfast cereal.
Pests to watch out for are the inevitable slugs and snails, which are also lovers of shade, of course, and which adore munching on these juicy little beauties just as much as I do. They key thing is to pick the fruit as soon as it is ripe, before our slimy friends can get to it!