Sunday, 31 January 2010

My kind of gardening

Well, I've planned my vegetable beds, started off my broad beans and onion seeds. What now?

The site is still closed for the moment, so, I fall to dreaming about the garden and gardening.

The beauty of nature is a constant inspiration to me - from cloud patterns in the sky, to the feel of a breeze or the unfurling of a flower - I find it truly magical. The blending of individual plants to create a garden is true alchemy in my mind. I must admit that nature creates the finest gardens of all, but, isn't imitation the finest form of flattery?


I've always been a fan of the cottage garden, not too formal and brimming with a colourful mix of flowering plants and vegetables. I love a garden that can be productive and beautiful all at once. I find myself increasingly interested in the productivity of my own garden, especially since starting to grow my own food and herbs. These days I like everything to earn its keep! Does it taste good, look good, attract beneficial insects?

(A good book for mixing vegetables and flowers in a potager style is Joy Larkcom's 'Creative Vegetable Gardening')

I've always practiced organic gardening, as I find chemicals (fertilizers, insecticides etc) unnecessary and prefer things as close to nature, the better. I'd rather put up with a few aphids than spray. I like tending to my plants anyway and that helps me catch any problems early on.

As I've become more interested in my garden being productive on many levels, I've also developed a keen interest in permaculture. Permaculture is, in essence, a design system modeled on natural ecosystems and the connections between the different elements within it.

(This book, 'permaculture In A Nutshell', is a great introduction to the subject.)

In terms of my garden I see it as a way of making my space as harmonious, productive and sustainable as possible. I'm really only at the start of that journey now. We haven't even been on the site for a year, so I'm still looking to see where is windy, where the frost pockets may be, where the sun falls over the seasons. I have placed the polytunnel as close to the house as is feasible, as I know from my last garden that I need to be able to SEE my vegetables in order to tend to them well.

As the old saying goes ' the gardener's shadow is the best fertilizer'. Hence, the kitchen garden will be as close to the back door as possible, with pots of herbs right outside the back door.

My love of vegetables doesn't mean that you won't be seeing any flowers in my garden. There's always room for a few flowers in the raised beds and the tunnel, and they can be valuable for attracting pollinating insects, as well as looking great (and being edible if you use nasturtium or calendula) and sometimes being good companions for certain veg e.g. basil and tomatoes.

Last year I loved the flowers of the flax and how their petals fell like confetti onto the squash leaves below.

I also couldn't be without my sunflowers (or their tasty seeds), and the marigolds always make me smile.

One of the most exciting types of garden, for me, is the forest garden. This really is aiming to mimic nature by adopting the layered structure of the forest edge - the most productive part of a forest (here I am back to productivity again - I sound like a businessman preaching to his workforce .. yet, why not, it's just getting the most out of a space and doesn't detract from the beauty or vitality). The canopy can be fruit trees, then a lower layer of nut bushes and fruit trees (on smaller rootstocks), followed by soft fruit and then a ground cover of perennial herbs and vegetables. The late Robert Hart's garden in Shropshire is said to be a great example of this.

I can hardly wait to have a go myself, but I imagine I'll have to wait a year or so before I'm really ready to do it. Priorities are to keep the polytunnel going well and to get the kitchen garden started. Mind you, there's no harm in getting an area ready - I can always start it off with a few potatoes to get it up and running and clear the ground. Hmm, I'd better keep reminding myself that we do still have a house to build!

Rumor is that it shouldn't be too long before we can get back on track with the build, so I'll dust off that lovely hard hat and start crossing my fingers.