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One man's art is another's appetizer

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Jane Austen said: "Few things are so melancholy as a row of cabbages in December."

Or I think that's what she said. I didn't invent it - though I could have rewritten it from memory. Anyway, I don't agree.

Nor does Joy Larkcom, author of the book "Creative Vegetable Gardening."

Nor does Big Ted, to judge by the ranks of purple cabbages bursting the seams of his plot. And the Macleods' procession of giant round-headed green ones suggests they would also dispute the novelist's aspersions. But then Jane, it seems, was no gardener. She preferred to watch her mother gardening rather than garden herself.

Joy Larkcom, however, has grown vegetables for 20 years. And she writes: "I am always surprised how beautiful cabbages are." Rosemary Verey likewise observes in "The Garden in Winter": "the sight ... of the purple cabbages makes picking the Brussels sprouts a joy instead of a chore."

Our allotments are unlikely to be visited by such redoubtable ladies.

There are standards, after all. Even though Monty described her blanched sea kale to me as a vegetable grown only by "advanced gardeners," the horticultural aspirations of Larkcom and Verey are to our allotments what The Royal Shakespeare Company is to your local drama club.

Larkcom's book is about "the potager" - much loftier than the word "plot." She says it can simply mean "kitchen garden." But its associations with the famous Renaissance vegetable parterres (ornamental gardens) at Villandry in the Loire suggest the potager is high art, not soil-grubbing.

Larkcom advocates planting vegetables - even in winter - for their sheer beauty of color and form. I find this appealing, but confusing. I believe my allotment pals and I might learn things from her book. But I suspect a conflict between vegetables grown to look wonderful, or for food. Marie Antoinette notwithstanding, you surely can't have your onion and eat it?

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