|How long before the pigeons spot this beauty, I wonder?|
I've taken my time in writing about the wondrous cauliflowers that I'm growing as I wanted them to get really established first. Earlier in the year, Stephen Shirley, who I met through UK Veg Gardeners, offered me a selection of veg from his family's business, Victoriana Nurseries in Kent. The Victoriana website has an extensive range of tempting fruit and veggies and, as a result, choosing - always difficult for me - took some time; I wanted to grow veg that would capture the imaginations of the children here. Eventually I ordered Tozer brussels sprouts (a beautiful red variety, hopefully gracing this years christmas dinner), Strawberry Popcorn, Rambling Cascade strawberries and Cut and Come Again Cauliflowers. My order went in very late in the season so we all wondered if the plants would perform well, especially in the case of the Strawberry Popcorn, and Stephen's wife Serena kindly threw in some green brussels sprouts for good measure.
I'm pleased to say that nearly 3 months on, by following the planting instructions and preparing the soil well, the caulis and brussels are doing really well. The strawberries are also looking good, with recent warm weather they'll have developed really strong root systems ready for next summer and then we'll see them really flourish! The sweetcorn didn't survive but it's a plant that I'll go back to next summer, if only for the novelty - who doesn't love freshly made popcorn?
But it's the caulis that are going to be the magical, mystery plant of the veg garden - even I hadn't appreciated the full uniqueness of this plant. In late summer, I was invited to a little evening celebration at the home of Mark "Vertical Veg" Ridsdill-Smith who had discovered he lived around the corner from me. He was celebrating a good year for his business including featuring in Alex Mitchell's recently published book The Edible Balcony. Standing in the kitchen, eating some delicious home-made focaccia, I uttered the phrase "perennial cauliflower" and the room of foodies and gardeners fell into an awed silence. "Perennial Cauliflower? What? Is it true? Does it work? Why have I never heard of this before?" Ooh, I created quite a stir, I can tell you! You'd think I'd revealed how to spin straw into gold.
So, for those who missed the ensuing conversation, this is what I'm told will happen: Each plant will produce up to 10 mini cauliflower heads on a branching system not dissimilar to broccoli. At the end of the season, where other caulis would be cleared from the garden, perennial cauliflowers are just tidied up and left. Not even cut down to resprout; no, no - just left. Come next winter, off they go again producing another crop of mini cauliflowers and so on, and so on, for up to another 5 years. I'm a little bit excited by this plant, I can tell you, and looking forward to seeing the first round of produce.
I've planted mine inbetween the fruit trees in the walled border where the strawberries will ramble between them in the summer. They won't be in the way there because that's the border that I have to, rather inconveniently, climb into when there's work to be done so it makes the perfect spot for plants that can fend (for the most part) for themselves.
Edited to add: I'll be adding more photos of the caulis as the heads develop over the winter season. I'm told that the plants produce mini-heads of cauliflower; I assume this will be a bit like the baby veg found in the supermarket. Sounds perfect to me, a plant that gives cauliflower in one portion sizes!