Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Vegetable Garden

    A journey through the making of my garden.
    March 2012 in Devon has been totally amazing weather-wise this year, so I have been up with the lark or very often the Greater Spotted Woodpecker tapping away outside my bedroom window. I left the vegetable garden alone last year as I had no time - busy with jewellery making. I am pretty well stocked up with jewellery for galleries now and can afford to put all my time and effort into the hard work that my little patch of ground is demanding of me now for a while at least. This is the task ahead! Part of it at least.
    A thick layer of grass and heavy duty weeds waiting to be removed.
    So, enter with me through my partly completed garden gate which takes you from flower garden into vegetable garden. I can promise you that all will look divine eventually, just like one of those wonderful gardening photos that we love to remind ourselves nowadays with on Pinterest! 
    April - and almost finished. Needs another coat of paint and one more rail, then planting can begin. I will put in a path as well as it gets very slippery here. probably crazy paving or herringbone brick if I can find some old red bricks.
     I've transplanted, very carefully the roses that I thought would make a good veil of privacy between me and my neighbour as they were not thriving. They have been given every opportunity to get a move on now. I have added two more to help it all along. No use having a bare arch way into the vegetable garden.
    March - well - what can I say?!! I need to make a new gate that looks rather more like a gate that belongs to a vegetable garden. Making it accessible would also help. I do love taking on challenges like these. Good job really.
    The work of skimming off the surface begins. The canes are measuring and marking out the size and centre of the plot.
    Room for one new Blackcurrant bush and a few late fruiting Raspberries  on the left as I prepare to dig number one potato bed. We don't really eat many potatoes but I am hoping that they will help to open up the soil and then perhaps I will be able to barter them later on. I could start to look at where I might build a potato clamp. They are such a good idea.
    March - Red Onions and Shallots inter-sown with a first sowing of mixed Radishes and Spring Onions. Protected in a fashion by wire - inquisitive chickens and wandering pigeons! This is a good idea, seems so obvious now that I look at it but it never occurred to me. Courtesy of the good life blog.

    No deep beds but I am going to try to contain the soil for a while at least with a wooden edging using timber from an abandoned five barred gate that has been left to rot on a roadside verge, entwined with brambles and nettles. I thought that I would rescue the timber at least and reuse it. I like the slightly ram-shackled look! Slightly? Just beyond is a round bed of wonderfully scented, tall, white Lillies with a valiant Tree Peony in the centre. I really thought the Peony had no chance of survival at the end of last year but it looks really happy now. I do like to see things rallying round and making a comeback! It's often best to leave well alone and let them grow in their own time, whilst keeping a protective eye on them.
    March - slow development of plots. I have two potato beds now and still more to plant out but need to dig more beds! I think I will put them around the little pond as this will help to break down the soil and leave my imagination free to design plots for more interesting vegetables, most of which are growing from seed in my shed. It has windows all round so is very useful until I have a greenhouse.

    March - Tadpoles have been brought on in this trifle dish since I was a child. These are a few baby frogs that have been donated to my garden pond project by Hill House Nursery at Landscove, not far away. The parent frogs were very impressive and quite elegant with white throats and underbellies - I was impressed anyway! After a bit more research I have to say that I could well have been a little too impressed by what is in fact the simply the changing colours of the mating male frogs. Very good looking all the same!
    An altogether magnificent specimen all the same, courtesy of the cabinet of curiosities
    March - I seem to have a quasi-magical relationship with our local re-cycling centre, in as much as whenever I decide I need something for the garden and/or the cottage etc, I give the idea a little extra thought, make a wish and go into town and there it is! This morning I was thinking 'pond liner' and there it was. Here it is waiting for a lease of life in a new home where it will play host the my hoards of beautiful tadpoles who when grown will devour all manner of garden pests and predators.
    The slow process of digging it in begins. The earth is pretty much clay here and full of dock roots, buttercups and couch grass, oh yes and lots of nettles. I think it is pretty much common sense when it comes to putting one of these things in. I will never be able to get all the rampant weeds out but as I want the surrounding area to be a haven for wildlife I am not too concerned. I will try to remove them as I go along.
    The pond is intended to be bang in the centre of the vegetable garden. I will plant out my Courgettes around the edges and pop in some Borage and Nasturtiums on the left side of it and probably Strawberries on the right.
    Level-ish! Stage one of leveling the earth around the pond at least. It has been quite hard work but I have done it over a few days with plenty of stops for green tea and pondering. The sods need to be broken down to a finer tilth now.
    Tilth achieved, watered and covered up for a day or two to allow time for it all to settle a little. I know that I should really allow longer for this stage but the Tadpoles are growing rapidly and I long to give them their freedom.
    The pond water looks pretty murky. It is, I have to say, mainly tap water. We have had one night of rain which will help and I have tossed in a lot of the clay as it is quite deep. I have also sown a mixture of grass seeds now, the kind that are suitable for allowing wildflowers to live amongst. I've sown some wild flower seeds separately in trays and will dib them in later. I will also make another sowing in a couple of weeks with more of the grass mix plus some wild flower seeds too. I know I am being a bit over enthusiastic and sowing earlier than is recommended but I am taking a chance with the good weather. If we get a frost and all the seeds wither, then I will simply re-sow. I have covered them up as an experiment as I feel that they need a little protection from the really hot sun that we're having this week. Plus little birds and larger chickens that are roaming around.
    April - It's a pity, in a way that the pond is so small but it was really onlt intended to be a home for the frogs that will eat the slugs etc and numerous other water creatures still to arrive. The wild grass and flower seeds are beginning to show signs of life, albeit very faintly, little hazes of green here and there.
    March - the work begins on the Strawberry bed. Needs lots of rotted horse muck dug in and then to be left to settle down but there is not that much time left before planting out so fingers crossed.
    April - and the pond now has a Marsh Marigold and all the tadpoles are swimming around it quite happily. The lower bed is for the Strawberries, whilst all around the lower edge of the pond, I  will put in a few extra potatoes. I have sown wild grasses and wild flowers directly around the pond which will be very beautiful later on in the year. The paths are going to be simply soil for now to which I will add some chipped bark later on. Work in progress and likely to change direction at any time, as usual. I am not really a 'plan' person.
    April 11th - working on till the last rays of sunshine slip down behind the Oak tree in the meadow behind. I call it a meadow when I am feeling bucolic and a field when I have to dig it! But either way, this is the perfect time to sit with a drink and survey the days work and glance around at all the work yet to do. A time to feel a little bit satisfied and content. I am, however really looking forward to the time when my gardening is more maintenance.
    The task is to turn this weedy expanse into something like the photo below. I will cut off the thick grass before I skim it and stack the turf to make a cold frame, then I can get some of the plants in the studio/shed potted on and hardened off at last.
    March - Added together there will be enough room for my long awaited Asparagus bed. Definitely not more potatoes! Maybe more Strawberries - time will tell.
    March - Bit by bit, doing a little every day, I hope to make this pile resemble a more attractive pile. Composting comes later when I have built some bins.
    April - One of my hens was badly attacked by a dog the other day but lives on valiantly after a couple of days at the vets. She is stitched up and slowly convalescing in the cottage. She used to be number one hen and top of the pecking order. I have since taken possession of two more, one of whom is very small and bedraggled. As it is now spring and our little lane is visited by walkers with dogs, who should be on leads or at least trained to heel my ladies will have to forgo their free range rights it seems. So I have to make them a run of sorts. It was intended to be in the vegetable garden but for now it will have to be in the flower garden. There is a patch which doesn't get a lot of sunshine, where I was going to build my wood store but it will now be their little run. I am aware that we have had a visiting fox trying to dig under their chicken house so I am going to dig a trench around the run to bury the wire netting in. I think the fence needs a coat of paint. I have tins of off white masonary paint which I always seem to find at the re-cycling centre for next to nothing. So far I've used it to paint the studio/shed so it will help to pull this side of the garden together. 
    Painted and cuttings of a variegated grass popped in along the edge. Nails banged in to hold the wire netting. All done to prevent the incredible Mr. Fox from slaughtering the chickens. I have been forced to tackle this part of the garden,which is probably a very good thing as it was not really inspiring me and would have suddenly become a horrible eyesore as the spring moved into summer. It is an area tht stays shady for most of the day and could be nice for the hens if the weather becomes really hot. Long term I have very ambitious plans for an adjacent pergola and large pond.
    Wire in place and dug in. Russian Vine attached to wire and fence poles painted. Though this chicken run is not in the vegetable garden exactly, I may make a wire tunnel to let them come into it from here.
    Change of plan! The hen pen is going in the vegetable garden after all. It is the best place. It is raining and hailing today but there are gaps of sunshine and birdsong when I can get out in the garden and do some work. I am not experienced in doing any of this kind of work which is why it all looks so amateurish - I am an amateur after all!
    I rather naively  thought that this job would be done a lot quicker than it is proving so that I could get on with preparing land for planting. But the hens must be restrained from scratching too much at the plants so here is their long awaited new quarters. Today is wire netting, staples and banged thumbs!
     Need more tree stakes!
    I am painting tree stakes with masonary paint to create some definition and emphasize height. Digging out trench all round to bury wire netting.
    Recycled sections of old five barred gate that was rotting in the hedge now providing me with a way of keeping the posts fairly equally divided and vertical. Wire netting going up a lot more easily now that I am using plastic ties toact as an extra pair of hands. In fact they can remain as they are brilliant and very strong.
    Netting secured and soil covering buried wire netting. Crazy paving going down over it to ensure extra deterrent to Mr Fox. Will probably grow roses up the posts in time, interspersed until established with runner beans/sweet peas.
    Emmy is meant to be one of the main beneficiaries of this hen pen after her attack by a rampant spaniel last month and on her first day back with the others all seemed to be going well until I discovered this morning that all of her beautiful newly grown feathers had been pecked and pulled out by the said others. I feel very protective. She is now back in my studio awaiting regrowth. If I knew the culprit I would pack her off to a new home. It's pretty hard on Emmy who has always been top of the pecking order regardless of having only one eye!

    The Flower Garden - Clearing a Path - December 2011 onwards

    Jobs for the start of the year ~ in the garden - good ideas from Country Living.

    1. Dig over the soil in the vegetable garden. Underway! A job that will continue for months in fact.

    2. Plant new fruit bushes if the ground is not frozen. No frozen ground in this part of Devon to speak of this year.

    3. Continue taking hardwood cuttings of deciduous trees, shrubs and currant bushes. Yes - I must do this today!

    4. Buy or order vegetable seeds and seed potatoes. Such a delight.

    5. Collect egg boxes to chit potatoes in. Have chickens, so no egg boxes, just eggs - improvise. Good idea will find some for next year.

    6. Cut the old leaves from Hellebore's to reveal their flowers.  Have yet to buy some! Think I need loads so always refrain. May try seeds and wait - or not! Have discovered that they self seed wonderfully.

    7. Plant bare-root roses, trees, shrubs and hedging. Have done so.

    8. Melt frozen pond surfaces so fish can breathe. Dig hole for pond immediately.

    9. Recycle your Christmas tree or shred it for mulch. Oh yes!

    10. Treat timber structures such as pergolas, fences and obelisks.  Have started this. I planted a white Wisteria against an old shed, belonging to my non gardening neighbour, which I had painted previously painted a few times with heavy duty masonary paint to protect it from further decay for a while. I have now painted it Nordic Blue which will look delightful in the summer with green leaves and white Wisteria against it.

    11. Prune apple and pear trees. But they have hardly got going. I will leave it for this year. The farmers cattle tend to do a very good job at pruning.

    12. Regularly put out food and water for bird life. Every day, costs me a small fortune but it's worth every penny for they sing all day long and flit about whilst I'm digging. I have a very friendly Blackbird and a Robin who are always by my side. I keep Fizz permanently full of food - organic - only the best - so he won't be temped by fresh meat and feathers. The neighbour's cat is another problem. Do I have to feed him to?

    13. Begin forcing rhubarb by covering plants with a forcing pot or bucket. I did this last year and got enough to make a pie, then nothing as they were then depleted. Obviously I need much more rhubarb. I will also need loads of horse muck.

    14. Repair lawn edges or patches. Well my lawn is a dreadful mess. I am going to try to level it as I put in the central garden path this Spring and slightly terrace the whole affair. I am thinking of planting a wild flower lawn anyway so will not be wanting trim, sharp edges!

    The birds are singing as if it were Spring and I am going to take full advantage of this wonderful weather and get to work on the part of the garden that is immediately around the shed/one day will be a studio.  It needs a lot of work - levelling the entrance to make way for steps and a path and cutting back the very overgrown Hawthorn, Sloe and Ivy hedge along the side and building up the wall along the edge. Back filling with decent soil, after no doubt digging out yet more broken bottles, cups and saucers, old farm implements and numerous bits of slate and asbestos.

    This hedge also has a very old rambling rose intertwined which I shall leave to scramble over the roof. And there's an old tarmac path somewhere underneath this hedge that needs to see the light of day too. I think it's about 2'-3' wide so could be very useful, as it will give access to the side of the shed where I may be able to store logs for the winter. Dartington Hall estate has loads of fantastic split hardwood logs for sale which need to be stacked and dried out before used.

    This is a job for a shredder as the Blackthorn is truly lethal. So wrapped up in an old coat and armed with thick leather gloves, secateurs, a branch lopper and a saw, I set about the job in hand. The birds were singing and the sun was shining and I felt really pleased be be getting down to some practical work after the diversion of Christmas and New Year. The shredder certainly looks the business so thank goodness for shredders, it would be such a long job otherwise. I used to do this kind of work with a pair of secateurs and a big plastic bag. 

    The hawthorns are revealed! As a hedge they are pretty useless and yet strangely beautiful. I could plant more in between but I am looking for fragrance when I enter the garden in the winter and I think I have found just what I'm looking for. There is a lovely scented evergreen bush that grows in the gardens here at Dartington

    I went to Kew Gardens last week and was struck by the most incredible fragrance that greets you as you enter. It turns out to be the Christmas Box! So I headed off to Hill House Nursery when I returned home and found three of them to plant in the new gaps in the hedge. I'll have to build up the edges with stones to support the soil a bit more and to hopefully discourage the hens from digging them up. I love the fact that Hill House Nursery is open all year round and I hope that they NEVER change these incredibly practical and beautiful wheelie things.
    Every time the farmer ploughs the field across the lane more and more stones work their way up to the surface and then he heaps them up on the side of the road ready to be used for repairing walls. I know that my wall looks pretty amateurish but it is in keeping with the general look and when the soil settles, plants will start to grow and it will look fine. The Box will grow to 3 feet and easily fill out the spaces.  But there are plenty more spaces to fill and I need to think of what else to plant along this little stretch of earth. Another trip to Hill House beckons!Half a dozen Rosa Rugosa, five white and one pink, a Flowering Currant, a Rambling Rose -white and an evergreen Clematis. I have also dug over a new flower bed along the opposite side of the newly revealed path which I am thinking of planting Roses and Lavender. I will have to push some slates into the soil along the edges as the chickens are constantly scratching away and covering the path with soil.
    Old slates have been pushed in along the edges of the new border temporarily at least, just to contain the soil. I have dug in old horse manure and transplanted Lavender. I've popped in a few Lilly bulbs and have quite a few Forget-me-Nots which can go along the very edge and spill onto the path - which I have yet to lay! A trip to Hill House provided me with Iris x three, an Aquilegia, a rose pink Oriental Poppy and a standard Gertrude Jekyll Rose. Here is a link to her website You may well have heard of her and know her gardening philosophy but if you haven't yet come across her and you love gardening and gardens, especially the country house and cottage garden style then you will find a treasure trove of inspiration. She worked together with Edward Lutyens, deemed the greatest British architect of the 20th century to create gardens that were in sympathy with his buildings. I have a lovely book on her - The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll by Richard Bisgrove. There are many books on her. One could easily have a bookshelf devoted to her alone.

    Not strictly on the path but leading to it, I have a lovely old stone wall covered with a trailing white flowered plant I have yet to find the name of. I have put an very old terracotta pot there now with Lavender and Forget-me-Nots in and hope it will look as good as I imagine it will do later on this summer. I have not been able to find Forget-me-Nots at garden nurseries for years but now I find an endless supply at Staverton Bridge Nursery, which has become my favourite place for coffee and cake plus soup and delicious bread and Ploughman's to beat all contenders. 
    Back to the garden. This is where the stone path will go. I would love to level the ground by degrees and have a series of low steps. For the time being, I am collecting various pieces of stone together and laying them out rather like a jigsaw puzzle. It's quite hard to find flat surfaces! 
    Every time I go for a walk I look out for a piece of flat stone and bring it home for the path. A bit like a jigsaw, I shall wait till I've found all the pieces before I start to assemble it. They are all needless to say of different thicknesses so not quite sure how I'm going to do this. A trowel and sand comes to mind.
    The border on the right of the path has a standard rose - Gertrude Jeykll and lillies, irises and lavender with a sprinkling of annuals sown throughout.
    I now have nearly enough stones for the crazy paving path. I must build a hen pen!
    The border in the wall, which was until recently full of broken glass and bits of rusty metal from eighty years ago if now coming to life. Amongst the flower are three Grappenhall lavender.

    Another small flower bed to help divide the garden in front of the shed (studio). I have transplanted one of the roses bushes from the big flower bed successfully and will fill the remaining space with a mix of perennials and bi-annuals.
    I have started to make a border to run along the side of the Studio and as I have kept the hens here for a couple of weeks to fertilize the ground I and am now moving them further up and digging as I go. Today is a fairly grey day but so far dry enough so I think I could spend some time trying to decide on how the area in front of the studio door will look. I can promise that it will not look anything like this by the Spring!
    I have been so busy making and painting during the last few months it is true but I feel guilty every time I enter the garden as I thought I would be so much further on by now. Everything takes so much time. I can't blame the weather this winter as it has been the mildest I have ever known. 
    You can see the technique! I move the chicken coop up the edge of the shed and let the hens dig and fertilize and then move up a bit at a time. It works beautifully though not a method I expect you would find in a gardening book. Perhaps you would on a blog though as we are all free to share our more unconventional ways here. 
    The new flower bed down the side of the shed is looking good now. Just put vine eyes and wires along it's length to train the roses on before they are allowed to travel up and over the gables. Also transplanted some of the herbaceous plants from the big bed. Going to transplant all the plants from there in fact. It was a good start last year but I think that now I have a better idea of how the garden could shape up and there is so much space there that could be made into a couple of smaller 'rooms'. I will have to work on some ideas and designs. Will refer to Gertrude Jekyll for some inspiration too. Mind you I don't suppose she kept chickens and they will need a place for the summer as I will have to restrict their wanderings and give the seedlings a chance. So this may be their summer quarters, the bit along the grotty fence anyway.
    May 1st - I have had to protect plants from my over zealous hens until their hen pen is finished. 
    So, here begins the breaking down of the large bed. The soil is wonderful and I can use it in all the new beds, giving much more depth and height. It does seem a pity to have to use it to level off the bit that is going to be the lawn and place to eat and sunbathe. It's tucked away and wonderfully secluded.
    For now it is time to move the stones. They came from around the edge of the bed and made a great home for ants and nettles so are being repositioned along another new bed at the back of the shed now, in order to give some help to raising the overall level of the lawn. Well, it's not a lawn yet, merely a patch of the field that it once was but it needs leveling and reseeding. April is the month to seed the ground which gives me about three weeks now, we are at 9th March today, for the ground to be relaid and have time to settle. My constant companions are my hens and an assortment of Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds that I have been feeding all winter and who will hopefully take up residence close by. I have to keep Fizz, our cat, constantly refilled with food in the hope that he won't decide to hunt any of them.
    I am getting stronger every day and feel very pleased that I am managing to do tasks that I would have thought were beyond my strength previously. Not that there was anything wrong with me, I was just a bit of a wimp and thought I needed help when in fact I now feel like Superwoman! I dug this old railway sleeper out from lower down the garden and persuaded it to walk up to here, where I have dug a trench to lower it into. The idea is that this will help to terrace the lawn and make a fairly level area for putting the table and chairs on. It would also be quite nice to be able to sunbathe without being on such a slope! I do like to enjoy my garden, I don't always work in it, although at the moment every minute counts as Spring and Summer come racing in. This photo makes me aware of how dreadful the back of the cottage looks! It doesn't get much sun across that wall but I do have a plan!
    Next stage as more soil as slowly added and the 'lawn' becomes level, bumps are smoothed out and bit by bit, depressions are filled in. I can see that I am going to run out of soil as the incline of this piece of land is more than I realised. However, there is a section in the vegetable garden that I would like to put a greenhouse on and that will need digging out so will give me some more soil for this little lawn project.
    I have decided to make a pillow of soft grass to rest on, hence this pile of soil. I have also transplanted some more plants from the old bed. They seem to be quite happy! There are loads of forget-me-nots that have sown themselves on a patch of land that is due to be made into a road nearby so I will move a few of them before they are bulldozed into oblivion. I will transplant a few strawberries too as I have lots and then Bella will be able to help herself. I now have a fence and a gate between the two gardens. Last year I think she pretty well devoured most of the soft fruit and tomatoes. The cucumbers didn't do too well either. 
    Along the boundary of the garden is a wire fence where I have planted Rugosa - white and red plus a rambling Rose. Further along are a thorn-less Blackberry. I can fill the border with Lupins from the rapidly decreasing border and I am thinking of putting in some large pea sticks to grow Sweat peas and Nasturtiums up and act as a temporary barrier and provider of seclusion. The barn is used by a conservation charity and every now and then people come to collect wheelbarrows that are stored at the back. I am hoping to rent the barn when their time is up as tenants and make it into a workshop. 
    I am slowly building up the level of the lawn with soil from the area in the vegetable garden that will be the foundation for the greenhouse. 
     Slowly the area is being filled in and leveled but still a long way to go.
    The hens delight in chasing each other around and scratching for worms. The transplanted plants are taking a hold in the new border beneath the studio window. I have also put a Clematis at the far end. Another transplant from an idea I had that didn't work. I was hoping to train it up the kitchen wall but it is alas to dark and dreary even for a shade loving climber. A problem to be thought over and solved. I have joined the Cottage Garden Society and am off to a meeting at the end of this month so maybe they can help me out with this problem. Update on CGS - it was raining but I headed off for the venue only to discover that I was the only one who turned up apart from the owner of course who was busy working in the garden. Hey ho, I thought that the British were used to rain! Never mind, I had a great time.
     This lawn leveling business does take ages. It's a good job that I have allowed plenty of time for it, little and often, barrow load by barrow load. At least it will be considerably better than before even if not perfectly level and flat.
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