After my last post on food storage for potential Brexit shortages, I’m sure I’ve convinced you all that I’ve gone full-on ‘tinfoil hat’ wearing, zombie apocalypse predicting, hippy nutjob. Let me reassure you that, while I’ve always been a bit of a hippy nutjob, I still don’t think there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse. I am however starting Brexit Prep stage 2: getting fresh food provisions in place.
One of the reasons I chose this house last year was because I saw potential in the front and back garden, as well as there being an established magnolia tree in place. I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted a magnolia tree. (Don’t buy a house just because there’s a magnolia tree, especially when everything else is a disaster.)
After letting the existing plants and flowers come up over the course of last year and realising there was very little of use to me in either garden (I’m very keen on growing things I can use rather than just because they’re pretty), I set about completely ripping everything up & out over winter. As per tradition with this house, this hasn’t been easy.
The garden was dominated by trees with 2 hazel at opposite ends, 2 holly trees crammed in, and countless ash sprouting up everywhere. There was a sprawling hops vine which gave me an itchy skin reaction every time I brushed against it, intertwined in another unidentified bushy tree. Multiple climbing plants making their way up every available surface and a half-arsed attempt at a rock garden in a raised bed that takes up about a third of the right hand side of the garden.
The only thing (aside from the magnolia) that I thought would be useful was a particularly well established rhubarb plant, but this was hidden in the shade of one of the hazels and which I accidentally over-harvested in my eagerness to get something back from the house. (I know, I’m easily pleased.) I assumed based on these two factors that the rhubarb would die off over winter.
The general plan, making use of my brief foray into gardening about 10 years ago(!), was to completely remove the trees and climbers, take the rocks off the rockery and dig over the bed for veg, grow raspberries up the left fence and eventually invest in some dwarf fruit trees for the front garden which gets the most sun. Somehow I would find the time to do all this while working, raising the kids, volunteering, workout out 4 times a week and training for a marathon…
Of course, as alluded to earlier, this completely over simplifies the work involved. Firstly, digging up tree stumps is bloody hard work. The roots, even in parts of the garden that seemed ‘contained’, go everywhere. My sister and I have shared the bulk of this work (that’s love, that is) and at one point were jammed in a tiny hole in the corner of the garden, in the dark, desperately trying to fondle away for the last of the roots tethering the hazel stump to the raised bed.
The raised rock garden is mostly clay soil, with the odd clump of sand which I can only assume was added to improve drainage but in no way worked in to the soil, therefore achieving nothing. When the biggest rocks were removed off the top of the bed, and the existing plants dug out, we (my sister again coming to the rescue) realised that the bed itself was built upon massive lumps of concrete, and general household/garden debris: old windows, dog toys, broken plant pots, smaller stones, and a huge length of armoured cabling which didn’t go anywhere: it was just coiled and buried…
In our haste to clear the bed, I completely forgot about the dormant rhubarb crown and managed on no less than four separate occasions to smash through it with my spade, splitting off several large chunks. At this point I decided it was a lost cause, and pulled it up and put it to one side for disposal.
When the bed was finally clear of existing plants, concrete and debris we dug it up, forked it over and added two huge bagfulls of guinea pig/rabbit manure (suddenly having a small zoo comes into its own). This is now clear and ready for the first sewings in a month or so.
In between digging and weeding and clearing I also purchased some raspberry canes to go alongside the left fence and 36(!) strawberry/blueberry plants, which I’ve potted up. This may prove to be a mistake, as it’s still so early and there’s plenty of opportunities for hard frosts, but I’m hoping I get lucky. The pots are currently lining the guinea pig shed at the back of the garden which has been gloriously bathed in sun the past few days. The raspberry canes are planted and surrounded by small rocks and pebbles, as I rapidly discovered the downside to having 6 cats and freshly dug soil..!
With first lots of planting done, and a skip ordered to help clear away the tree bits & miscellaneous debris (as well as piles of rubbish from behind a dilapidated shed in the top left corner, of which I vastly underestimated the amount), I went to throw away the dug up rhubarb crown pieces and realised with great delight that it was budding! With some optimism, I’ve re-planted the biggest section of crown in the top corner of the bed where it should get the earliest sun. Some sources tell me rhubarb don’t like being disturbed once sited, so it may die back yet, but I shall keep my fingers crossed.
So, now that the bulk of the groundwork is done (at least round the back), I can start to think about my planting plan and what I want to grow. Peas and beans are top of the list, with tomatoes and all sorts of herbs a close second. I’m also hoping for beetroot & radishes, multiple varieties of salad green and, if I have the space when this is all plotted up, I want to attempt sweetcorn for the first time. The fruit, if it survives its early planting, will probably not be particularly productive this year, but I am optimistically hoping for at least one berry or two as reward for my hopeful risk taking.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this excited about getting out in the garden.