Plot to plate ethos from a charming Kilkenny kitchen garden

The Goodwillies helped start a conversation about organic gardening and food culture

Olivia Goodwillie in the gardens of Lavistown House, Co, Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Olivia Goodwillie in the gardens of Lavistown House, Co, Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

When Olivia Goodwillie and her husband Roger bought a charming old farmhouse in rural Co Kilkenny back in the 1970s with the aim of turning it into a study centre for creative living, it was the beginning of a journey that led to them becoming pioneers of the sustainability movement in Ireland.

Their home, Lavistown House, a handsome Georgian building near the banks of the River Nore, soon became known for its wonderful array of inspirational, innovative workshops on arts, crafts, cooking, gardening and foraging while the delicious produce from its 0.2 hectare walled kitchen garden and 5 hectare farm led to the couple establishing their parallel business as small-scale, award-winning farmhouse cheesemakers and sausage producers.

As very early advocates of organic gardening and champions of seasonality and the plot-to-plate ethos that’s since become mainstream, it’s fair to say that the Goodwillies also helped to start a conversation about Ireland’s food culture that led to its subsequent transformation.

Goodwillie’s own deep-rooted love of seasonal cooking comes with the sort of green-fingered credentials earned by a lifetime of gardening and growing

“It’s so hard to describe to younger generations how very different – how absolutely transformed – it is now in comparison with what it was like back in the 1970s when ingredients that are now commonplace, something like garlic, for example, were so rare that they were regarded with deep suspicion . I always laughingly say that we no longer complain about someone’s breath smelling of garlic because everyone’s breath smells of garlic these days. We’ve just stopped noticing it.”

Whether they’re growing it or cooking it, good, wholesome, nutritious, delicious food has always been at the centre of the couple’s life and their work at Lavistown, something that led Olivia to write two excellent cookery books, the second of which she’s just self-published this month.

Called Something in the Basket: Vegetable recipes from the garden at Lavistown, it’s a brilliant compendium of mouth-watering recipes and hands-on, practical cookery tips on how to make full, tasty use of seasonal produce from an Irish kitchen garden or allotment. An added bonus are the very charming watercolours that Goodwillie commissioned from her friend the Wexford-based artist Anne McCleod, which she’s used to generously illustrate the book.

Recipes

“So many of the people who’ve come to the workshops at Lavistown over the years kept pushing me to collect my recipes in book form and the reception to my first book [Something in the Tin, her bestselling collection of baking recipes] was so positive that a second on vegetable cooking felt very natural. I started writing it seven years ago, but it took the lockdowns of 2020 for me to finally finish tweaking and fine-tuning it before pulling it all together.

Roger Goodwillie, Olivia Goodwillie and Anne McLeod in the gardens of Lavistown House, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan
Roger Goodwillie, Olivia Goodwillie and Anne McLeod in the gardens of Lavistown House, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

“As each vegetable came into season over the course of last year, I was able to completely immerse myself in it, in researching it and then selecting the very best of my recipes – I’ve accumulated so many over the years – where it’s used as a key ingredient.

“It’s also really important to say that every single vegetable in the book [it includes recipes for 26 different kinds] is one that we grow here at Lavistown, from aubergines and asparagus to cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. So this is a book that’s very much written with Irish growing conditions in mind.”

Describing her style of cookery writing as “straightforward, simple and very easy to follow”, Goodwillie’s own deep-rooted love of seasonal cooking comes with the sort of green-fingered credentials earned by a lifetime of gardening and growing. So there are recipes for griddled squash steaks, kale tabbouleh, curried parsnip soup, cauliflower dahl, Christmas red cabbage and Tuscan cabbage soup – “Who knew stale bread and cabbage could taste so good?” – as well as brilliant tips on larder staples and suggestions as to other culinary possibilities to pursue.

For example, along with recipes for carrot fritters with feta cheese and for fermented carrots, she also suggests using carrots to make kimchi or grated raw in a salad along with toasted seeds and raisins. Similarly, along with a recipe for glazed beetroot with blue cheese, there are suggestions on using it to make the classic Ukrainian soup known as borscht, as well as to make beetroot muffins, beetroot and blood orange salad, beetroot smoothie and beetroot and coconut soup.

“I really want to give readers a sense of how useful, versatile and delicious these vegetables are and hopefully start them off on their own little voyage of research and discovery.”

Despite her own great love of food growing, Olivia describes Roger as “the real grower, someone who so loves to get his fingers in the soil that he thinks it’s terribly easy to grow your own food when in fact it’s not.

Something in the Basket: Vegetable recipes from the garden at Lavistown, is available at gardenfable.com, €19.99 inc P&P
Something in the Basket: Vegetable recipes from the garden at Lavistown, is available at gardenfable.com, €19.99 inc P&P

“You need plenty of passion, determination and a deep love of growing to be a good kitchen gardener. Experience too ... over the 45 years that we’ve tended Lavistown’s walled kitchen garden, we’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned so much along the way how to get better at it. ”

Online resources

Goodwillie believes that the learning process has been made far easier with the advent of the internet and the availability of so many great online resources for kitchen gardeners.

“One example is Green Road Gardens in Fethard, Co Wexford, whose owner Irene Kelly has created a brilliant series of online videos where she shares her knowledge and skills so generously. Organisations such as GIY are another brilliant way to meet like-minded people happy to share their knowledge and expertise,” she says.

“I’m a member of the Graiguenamanagh GIY group, a fantastic bunch of people. Community gardens and allotment groups are yet another great way to get growing. I’ve recently become involved in the establishment of a new community allotment garden in Thomastown where the plan is to eventually have up to 30 small allotments available to local people to use to grow their own food.”

They continue to manage its busy farm and to lovingly tend its walled kitchen garden

College sweethearts who met at Trinity where they both studied botany, Goodwillie says even as a young couple they were both painfully aware of the fact that “Earth is a planet of limited, dwindling resources.

“It was one of the things that motivated us to move from Dublin to Lavistown so that we could lead a more sustainable, self-sufficient life.”

They no longer live in Lavistown House itself, having moved into its converted stable-block in 2013 to allow their daughter Claire, her garden-designer husband Des Doyle and their children take up residence in the main house. But they continue to manage its busy farm and to lovingly tend its walled kitchen garden, sharing the joy of its delicious homegrown produce amongst the three generations. Even now in late November, they are still eating a wide array of vegetables from it including leeks, onions, potatoes, cabbage, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins and squash.

“It took time to learn and hone our skills but we’re now 100 per cent reliant on our garden throughout the year for all of our vegetables. I’m really proud of that.”

Something in the Basket: Vegetable recipes from the garden at Lavistown, is available at gardenfable.com, €19.99 inc P&P.

This Week in the Garden

Late November, early December is an excellent time of the year to plant grape vines as well as to prune established vines using the rod and spur pruning method to maximise their productivity and keep the plants from becoming too large and unruly.

These heat-loving plants need a free-draining, fertile but not overly-rich soil and generally need the shelter of a glasshouse, polytunnel or conservatory to be reliably productive in Ireland. As their root systems also need a period of winter chilling, they should be planted with their roots just outside the structure but with the vine itself growing within the covered structure.

Alternatively, grape vines will do very well in a large pot or container as long as the plants are pruned hard and trained as standards/cordons or “umbrellas” onto low supports (detailed instructions for all of these pruning techniques can be found on the website of the RHS, rhs.org.uk). But make sure to move the pot/ container outdoors during winter before moving it back under cover in early spring.

Late November, early December is an excellent time of the year to plant grape vines as well as to prune established vines
Late November, early December is an excellent time of the year to plant grape vines as well as to prune established vines

November is also a great time to plant roses either as potted or bare-root specimens. But make sure to choose a suitable site with a fertile soil in full sun and to prepare the ground properly in advance by digging it over, clearing it of weeds and large stones, and integrating some well-rotted manure or homemade garden compost into the soil as well as into the base of the planting hole.

Some gardeners also swear by mycorrhizal fungi (a biostimulant available from most good garden centres as well as online suppliers as commercial products such as Rootgrow and David Austin Mycorrhizal Fungi), which can be lightly sprinkled over the plant’s root system and planting hole before backfilling with soil. If the ground is frozen or very wet, always postpone planting roses until conditions improve.

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