The first major change we made to the garden when we moved here last year was to set up the beginnings of a kitchen garden at one end. By December 2012 we had built 4 raised beds and filled them with compost, and I started ordering seeds and dreaming. I was so excited about the idea of being able to stumble out my back door to pick fruit and veg rather than having to organise myself enough to get up to the allotment. I had lots of dreams for this space, but mostly it was to be colourful, productive, and easy to manage. One of the challenges was to choose what to grow and what not to bother with.
I decided to concentrate on crops that gave lots of bang for their buck. So, not just tasty but best picked fresh, either hard or expensive to buy, and preferably multi cropping. Some things, like carrots, are manifestly far more tasty when home grown and freshly picked but they are a pain to grow because of carrot fly, one seed only gives you one carrot, and they very cheap to buy, so they were out. I had intended to avoid all brassicas for similar reasons – and because they tend to be space hungry – but I adore purple sprouted broccoli, so they were in. Sweetcorn was a must grow, as nothing beats picking it, cooking it and eating it, dripping in butter, within minutes. For the rest I concentrated on legumes – peas, mange tout, broad beans, runner and French beans. Add in a good mix of salad leaves, orientals such as Pak Choi, and the essential beetroot, and the list pretty much wrote itself. I added in celeriac because I love it and it is pricey in the shops, and decided to grow shallots from seed, just to see, because I do a lot of oriental cooking and buying shallots gets expensive. I’d always dismissed growing them as requiring too much space but Charles Dowding suggests growing them the same way I do beetroot, by sowing small pinches of seed in modules and planting them out as clumps to space themselves out as they grow. I only tried one small row but they were wonderful, and I am hoarding the remaining crop for crispy shallots to finish Vietnamese and Thai dishes.
Of course in my head everything grew prolifically, I managed the plot beautifully, and rejoiced in picking delicious edibles and beautiful flowers all summer long, to the first frosts. Ahem.
This is what it looked like this morning. Despite the cold northerly winds the nasturtiums refuse to give up. The celeriac is still in the ground, and I haven’t cleared the courgettes yet, not to mention the perennial weeds that took over the sweet pea and salads bed. Of the two rear beds, one is now bordered by alpine strawberries, and the other is acting as a nursery bed for my myrtle seedlings, which will hopefully get moved in to the front garden before I find myself wanting to grow edibles there. I’m an optimist.
The good news is that for much of the growing year things went wonderfully well. We feasted on freshly picked salads, delicious beetroot, wonderful mange tout, and the best broad beans I have ever tasted – thank you to Sue@Green Lane Allotments for pointing me in the direction of Witkeim Manita broad beans, which are delicious even when you leave them to get too big.
I cheated and showed a couple of the greenhouse crops too, because it was a wonderful year for tomatoes and chillies, and now I am trying to over winter chilli and sweet pepper plants in the hopes of getting a head start next year.
Then we hit July, Project Kitchen and a lot of visitors. Disaster. I stopped picking the sweet peas, so they stopped producing. Depsite the netting, cabbage whites laid millions of eggs which turned into voracious caterpillars which in turn decimated the purple sprouting broccoli.
Not a pretty sight. I ripped the plants out only to be told that actually, if I had left them, the frosts would probably have finished off the caterpillars and the plants would have recovered. At the time I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I am honestly grateful to Kate (aka Bean Genie) as I will have another go next year without the ugly netting, and see what happens. Probably. If I don’t come across that photo too often in the mean time.
So what. So some things were good, some things were bad, all of the bad was essentially my fault for getting distracted, but in essence the kitchen garden worked really well. So I am greedy for more. Apart from courgettes. ‘Jemmer’ is delicious and, this year at least, prolific, and one plant is plenty, thank you. I really must remember that. Just like I must remember to water the sweetcorn during a long hot spell whatever else is going on so that I do indeed get to eat freshly cooked cobs dripping with butter fresh from the garden. Because this year, not so much. Not really wild dreaming though, is it!
It’s great having a productive (when nurtured) veg patch right outside the back door, but I am yearning for more colour in the back garden. The front garden has a fairly muted colour palette so as not to distract from the view. I want a riot of bright colour in the back. More than just marigolds and sweet peas, borage and phacelia. So I am thinking about skipping the celeriac and trying more flowers in the beds, for colour, cutting and pollinators. I may edge towards planting some perennials in the raised beds, not just in the borders. I also have grand plans for the patio. Which is currently rather a mess.
Plenty of room for improvement, I think you’ll agree! By filling in the weird half circle bed with gravel we have lived with the resulting size of seating area, and it just about works, both for a quick sit down in a lounger soaking up the sun and eating an icecream (assuming that this year didn’t use up our summer allowance for the rest of the decade), and for sitting round the table and eating. Aesthetic it ‘aint. We had planned to build a deck – straightforward, cheap, we could do it ourselves. Given enough time and energy. However it has taken a year to do the fence in the front garden, I dread to think how long a deck would take us, and besides, in ten years or so it would need some serious maintenance as we couldn’t afford hardwood. So we are thinking of asking a local builder to do us a patio instead. With built in planting pockets for herbs and flowers, not just by the conservatory but round the edge, and then behind the extension. Space to grow sun loving fruit against a south facing wall. There is a rough plan.
I’d like a random effect patio, it will be cheap concrete slabs rather than beautiful stone, but I think it could look great, and anyway, it has to be better than what we have at the moment. And it will spend a lot of the time covered in stuff, because we are untidy.
But there’s more. I have wanted more height in the garden ever since we arrived here. Not just round the edges, but to add interest – and more interesting planting opportunities – in the middle of the space too. Plus there is the shade issue, as in we have none, not during the hottest part of the day anyway. So there is another plan.
Imagine, if you will, a sturdy network of black-stained posts and crossbars, forming arches between the raised beds, linking them to the patio, where a gorgeous vine of edible grapes provides shade and sustenance. Imagine the galvanised mesh attached to the supports in the veg beds groaning under the weight of runner beans, mini squash, courgettes, sweet peas, mange tout. You get the idea. Lush and beautiful.
I like this bit, even the getting up in the middle of the night trying to work out how best to position the posts, and how to join them to the crosspieces. The bit before reality sets in and the costings are sat in front of us and we have to work out whether we can justify the expense. Not to mention whether we can get the patio, at least, done before the growing and playing in the sea season starts next year, because I don’t want to lose another summer to Great Works, however delighted I might be in the outcome. But for now at least I get to enjoy the dreaming.
In the mean time, the magnolia has started to turn beautiful shades of yellow and bronze, and nestled in amongst the soon-to-fall leaves are fattening buds promising beautiful blossom next year.
I love this time of year, a time for planning and dreaming, with the promise of spring. Do you have any grand schemes you are hatching, that you hope will see the light of day next year?