Alison Levey

Guest blogger Alison Levey writes about her vegetable eating and growing experiences and the satisfaction of growing sweetcorn from seed…

The joy of sweetcorn

I have to begin this post with a confession, there are far more vegetables I do not like than I actually do.  In terms of vegetables it is fair to say I have an immature palate.  As a child in the 1960s if it was not in a tin, involving lots of sugar and preferably some sort of day-glo food colouring, I probably was not going to eat any vegetable you put in front of me.  So that I now grow a fair amount of my own vegetables is quite an achievement.

I did improve and start to eat fresh (and frozen) vegetables after a while and I also discovered sweet corn.  We never had sweet corn in my house when growing up, it was quite expensive at that point and largely available in tins involving a rather tall green man on the label.  As often, with many new things that I discovered food-wise, I was at a friend’s house for tea and in order to be polite I knew I had to try and eat it, I found out I loved it.  Years of sweetcorn buying ensued, largely the frozen sort as I had moved beyond my love of the tinned and it was more available to buy in general.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Sweetcorn plants

Add to this a conversation some-time ago with a work colleague, who was describing the fun of growing sweetcorn.  He told me that it had to be sown in a grid pattern to ensure that that the cobs were pollenated by the breeze.  I liked the sound of this and thought one day I would like to grow sweetcorn.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Sweetcorn – getting bigger!

I had also read about the three sisters, the planting of sweetcorn, beans and squash in the same plot as they grow well together and support each other, I believe this practice was first carried out by native americans.  This beneficial companion planting seemed ideal to me and I liked its practicality and the sisterhood of it all.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Growing sweetcorn is really satisfying!

I do have a further confession, that whilst I said I grow my own vegetables I could not be considered a major vegetable grower or indeed an expert one.  I have played at growing vegetables for several years.  I began growing the odd sprouted potato as a child and that wonder has never left me.  I do now possess some raised vegetable beds in the garden and over the past few years I have been refining what I grow and my care of them.  In general I grow easy vegetables that I like to eat.  I am fairly self-sufficient in onions and garlic and I do well with potatoes, french beans and peas.  Courgettes are always grown too.  This year I decided I would give sweetcorn a go.  I bought the kernels and duly sowed them.  The mouse that had taken up residence in the greenhouse duly ate them.  The mouse then also ate a ricinus bean and that took care of the mouse.  I resowed the sweetcorn and was amazed at how quickly and easily it germinated.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Getting there…

Once the frosts were over I planted it outside in a grid pattern.  I deliberately only grew four plants this year and I had no idea how successful they would be.  I planted with them some cobra beans and some courgettes (ok, not squash, but I don’t like squash very much), so sort of two sisters and a cousin.

They grew well; their tops took on the definite likeness of an old television aerial.  At this point I have an ever larger confession; I was not actually certain where in the plant the cobs formed.  When I saw them coming out at different angles on the stem I was actually surprised.

I was even more surprised when two of them actually ripened enough to be eaten; they were without doubt the best I have ever tasted.  This has not been the hottest summer we have ever had and I did not expect them to do well.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Ta dah!

It has to be said that four plants leading to two cobs is not the most productive vegetable you will find.  Next year I will grow more than four as this year was definitely the pilot project.  I know now though that I will not probably get a huge yield.  I do not mind this, they are fun to grow.  I wished in some way that my children were younger as they seem ideal vegetables for a child to grow.  The kernels are easy to handle and they germinate like a dream.  If anyone asks me now what vegetable should they get children to grow, I would put sweet corn on the list.  For me they certainly induce a child-like wonder and I think I will grow them for many years to come.

My blog can be found at:

Alison Levey

I am a keen amateur gardener living in the East Midlands. During the day I work in an office so I love the times I can get outside. I would not call myself an expert gardener but I am an avid learner. I have been writing a blog based on my garden and gardens that I have visited for nearly two years now and it is something I really enjoy doing. It has added an extra dimension to how I view my garden.

Gardening with children

Gardening with children

From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow. Aeschylus.

Working in horticulture brings with it a certain responsibility – that of everyone else’s gardens! Friends, family, passing acquaintances and even complete strangers will freely ask your horticultural advice at any given opportunity – and that’s ok. I rather like it!

This week I received an email from my sister, who has twin girls aged 2. They are just at the stage where the big outdoors holds a certain appeal and quite rightly, she wants to start them gardening young – probably in the hope that they will be mowing the lawn by the age of 10!

Mini greenhouse

Mini greenhouse

“I’m thinking of doing some gardening with the girls in the spring – probably just some tubs and containers of veg and a few flowers for them to water.  Going to ask for a mini greenhouse for Xmas. Any recommendations? And also any good varieties of seeds that are easy for us to grow?  Just seen the “Explorer” seeds on Thompson & Morgan website.  Like the look of the mini carrots and the ladybird poppies!  Also thought about some sunflowers, climbing French beans and stuff like that.  Any other suggestions??”

Well this made me think. Under usual circumstances I would give a textbook reply – mumble something about sunflowers, and that would be sufficient. But now that I am expecting a little girl myself, things have changed quite significantly. This time I actually thought about it properly.

So here was my reply:

“Regarding your gardening plans, I would suggest that you get a fairly solid mini greenhouse – it will certainly protect your young plants from the worst of the weather, particularly if you position it in a bright, sheltered spot. The plastic covered ones aren’t warm enough to grow seedlings early in the season but you can start them off on a windowsill, and then move them to your mini greenhouse once the weather warms up a bit. Or you could get a cold frame!

Strawberries - grow your own!

Strawberries – grow your own!

If you want to get the girls interested then I would suggest that you try:

  • Sunflowers (seeds are easy to handle, fast growing)
  • Marigolds (colourful, reliable, quick growing, and deadheading is fun!)
  • Cherry tomatoes (quick growing, bite size so they can eat them straight off the plant)
  • Strawberries (low maintenance and can be eaten straight from plant)
  • Beans (runners/ climbing – whatever they like to eat!) (Runners make a really impressive display in a massive container on the patio!)
Potatoes - grow in bags to save space

Potatoes – grow in bags to save space

Carrots – yeah, they are ok but they do take quite a while to get going and there isn’t much fun to be had! Better to do some bags of potatoes on the patio. Emptying spud bags out and digging about in the soil to find the tubers is some of the best fun to be had in the garden – EVER! I still love it at my age!

Also try some direct sowing (i.e straight into prepared ground – literally throw and sow!).

Californian poppies - just throw and sow

Californian poppies – just throw and sow

Try Eschscholzia (Californian poppies) – they are good and colourful. We also do a nice butterfly mix to attract some wildlife to the garden. ”

So hopefully next year there will be plenty going on in my sister’s garden for her girls to enjoy and get involved in, but none of it should be too high maintenance. However her question has made me realise the limitations of my own garden when it comes to entertaining little people – but that’s a whole different subject that is best saved for another post!

Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman’s nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online. I have a keen interest in drought resistant plants and a passion for perennials, particularly hardy Geraniums. I’m a regional secretary for the International Plant Propagation Society which gives me lots of opportunities to see what other horticulturalists are up to in their nurseries and gardens.

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