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Garden 2.0: the embiggening

by Colman Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 09:35:54 AM EST

As anyone who pays attention to my occasional ramblings around here will know, Sam and I moved house four months ago to an older housing estate closer to the train line, moving from a two-bed terrace with a tiny (4m x 8m) garden to a three-bed semi-detached house with a much larger (15m x 8m) back garden and a front garden about the size of our old garden.

Version 1.0 (version 0.0 was a couple of window boxes and containers in the basement well of the city centre flat we  lived in previously) was crammed full of trees, shrubs and plants and a pond. The main mistake we made there was not leaving enough circulation space to move around in and to get to the plants, with the result that harvesting crops became difficult enough to be discouraging.


As anyone who pays attention to my occasional ramblings around here will know, Sam and I moved house four months ago to an older housing estate closer to the train line, moving from a two-bed terrace with a tiny (4m x 8m) garden to a three-bed semi-detached house with a much larger (15m x 8m) back garden and a front garden about the size of our old garden.

Version 1.0 (version 0.0 was a couple of window boxes and containers in the basement well of the city centre flat we  lived in previously) was crammed full of trees, shrubs and plants and a pond. The main mistake we made there was not leaving enough circulation space to move around in and to get to the plants, with the result that harvesting crops became difficult enough to be discouraging.

When we moved here, the back garden looked like this: a shed (with electrical power, helpfully), a patio in the south facing corner of the garden where the evening sun shines, and a lawn with a pathetic path of small stepping stones running to the shed. There were a couple of overgrown honeysuckles, a huge clematis, a big evergreen of some kind and an out of control pyracantha that we had to beat back on our first weekend as a courtesy to our neighbours and our own sanity. We've cut all of them back hard now that they've finished flowering.

We've made some changes since moving in: our excuse for treating the gardening as a matter of urgency was that we needed to give new plants a chance to establish themselves before the summer gets too hot for them. It's also more fun than painting.

As ever, we're attempting to balance the wish to produce a reasonable amount of high-value food against wanting a practical space to enjoy and relax in.

Our list of requirements was:

  • A vegetable patch where we could grow some of annual vegetables and salads.

  • A pond to move our goldfish to.

  • Fruit trees and bushes.

  • A greenhouse to increase our propagation options and to allow us extend the growing season for food plants.  

  • Pretty flowers to nourish our minds.

  • A decent bit of lawn for the dogs to run in.

  • Space for wildlife - which means using native trees and woodland plants as much as possible and giving small fauna somewhere to live together with the use of permaculture/forest garden influenced techniques where possible.

  • Enough circulation space and decent paths so that we can easily access everything year round.

  • As few plants in containers as possible: containers are hard to look after and tend to make the garden cluttered, especially when you can't help yourself adding "just one more".

  • The obvious utility stuff: a compost heap big enough to recycle the garden through, rainwater collection and storage, somewhere to keep the bins.

Originally I would have liked to put in some sort of Japanese style garden but there simply wasn't the space if we wanted to keep the lawn.

First, where to put the vegetable patch  and the greenhouse? Both need sun and the obvious thing to do was to steal some space from the patio for the greenhouse - I've got a 1.2m x 1.8m model two third built now (I'm waiting for a replacement component damaged in transit and the glass) and the patio is 2.1m x 5m roughly  so there's loads of space for a table as well - and to place the vegetable patch in the 1.2m x 3m space between the shed and the patio which gets quite a lot of sun. The shed wall will provide support for beans and we can fit a 60cm x 1.2m raised bed, a little path and a 1.2m x 1.2m raised bed into the space. We'll build 30cm wide raised beds around the outside of the greenhouse and along the  patio: some of the winter brassicas - brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale - can go into bedding elsewhere in the garden. Currently the vegetable beds have radish, lettuce, runner beans, sweetcorn, courgettes and marigolds in them. The marigolds are there for colour, to attract insects and seem to work as sacrifices to the slug and snails that have eaten them in preference to the food plants. We don't really have enough sweetcorn growing and I'll probably have to hand fertilise them to make sure of getting a decent crop but they're expensive, generally shipped great distances and really need to be eaten fresh in order to be worthwhile.

There are pumpkins, tomatoes and grapes in containers - the tomatoes and the grapes will go in the greenhouse to ripen when it's finished and next year we'll have two 120cm x 60cm raised greenhouse beds in place watered automatically from a water butt placed outside to catch the runoff from the roof.

The more permanent plants are in a J-shaped border that curves along the east-facing wall and in front of the shed, forming a nice south facing bed at the end. We put down some cardboard, covered it in locally produced planting mix and a layer of fine bark chippings as mulch. Working on forest garden principles (more or less) we've started with a tree layer of two minature apple trees - Cox's Pippin and Ergemont Russet - and a hawthorn (which isn't doing very well and may need replacing). The honeysuckle and clematis on the wall form part of that layer and are both pretty good for wildlife.

Into the shrub layer went whitecurrants, a gooseberry, a flowering quince (which should give enough small fruit for our purposes) and two yellow autumn raspberry plants (which have been fruiting for two months now).

Below that layer are two rhubarb plants and some land cress.

Since we started a bit late this season we have assorted bedding plants as ground cover at the moment. We'll put in a mix of bulbs, suitable forest style ground cover and any more small perenniel edibles I think I'll get away with. We'll poke the odd annual and bedding plant in to fill in gaps.

At the back of the bed is a bamboo fence that beans and peas are happily running up - it'll take them above the height of the shrub layer and the trees should be open enough to give them sufficient light.

The matching right-hand space, in front of the patio, has an alpine garden surrounding the pond - Sam likes alpines - with a blueberry in a tub, a greengage along the wall and lavender, thyme and rosemary planted along the edge of the patio. My small bog garden is in the corner behind the pond feasting on whatever insects it can find.

The rest of the right-hand wall has a flowering quince and a flower bed dominated by pansies and snapdragons - which are near enough to native and naturalise happily. There's a blackberry in the corner beside the compost heap to turn the run-off from the heap into fruit - its canes should run most of the ten foot along the wall once it settles in.

There are two 180cm x 60cm raised beds built on the huge patio outside the back of the house that house some flowers and some crops: I'm experimenting with growing the annuals according to the ideas of Square Foot Gardening where you mark your annual beds into 30cm x 30cm squares and plant single crops into those spaces. I think the extra constraints will simplify the planting decisions required and make it less work to keep things going. I need to work out plant guilds to go into squares though - mixes of plants that work together to help each other grow. A salad guild would be nice, and there are obvious possibilities for mixing dwarf peas in with some of the other crops. The vegetable patch will be arranged this way next season as will the greenhouse beds and those around the greenhouse. Thoughts? How's your garden doing this year?

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Some pictures may help this make sense.

Garden May 2007
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 09:36:41 AM EST
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 09:56:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have no garden, but we do have local parks, no food but plenty of looking-after and nuturing.  One neighbour has started to grow vegetables, but...I have this idea that as long as there are cars around your veggies get coated in the soot.  Maybe it washes off and doesn't leach into the edible parts.

But it sounds good.  I keep telling myself it's either a lot of land or no land; a lot being at least an acre, and then the time to enjoy it and react with and to it to our mutual benefit, and to the benefit of our neighbours.

But yeah, fruits, berries, you can check out the prices: buy it or....pick it for free, after you've put in a bit of work, but not much...well....hey!  

I'm ramblin' on and I ain't even got a garden, but good on ya, you've got a great line in there.

"more fun than painting"

Yeah!  Or as much fun at any rate, and both are...well...how to paint those fruits?

Hold on, them's be shellfish and wheat.

Maybe some grape juice in that glass.

And okay, let's go freaky.

I went to a walled garden last month, in a village near here.  The old guy asked if we'd like to see his garden, and as it was walled and as I'd been gushing about how much I loved walled gardens, in we went.  Ah!  Fantastico.  Veg, flowers, chickens, ducks, a dog, a pond, fruit trees.

"I remember saying to her [his wife] in the morning," he says.  "'Come on, have a look.  Tell me what's missing.'"

"That's right," says his wife.  "I couldn't work it out at first, then I said"

(In chorus) "All the trees have gone."

Whmmmmmmmmmmmmmmpf!

That was the '87 (I think it was) hurricane.

The next door walled garden was in a state of disrepair, a huge hole in the wall where we could see into it.

"That's owned by the local estate," he said.  (The estate in this case being some business or person that owns the stately manor of which the walled gardens were once the property.)

If I lived a cycle ride away, I'd be helping him out with his garden of a weekend, learning the craft, because I'd like to learn those skills, and I like that size--maybe "football pitch" size, but they've built on most of that land.  Still, he has his walled garden!

Hey, afew if you're reading, have you got land?  I have this sense of you out there, among the shepherd folks.


Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 11:48:01 AM EST
.I have this idea that as long as there are cars around your veggies get coated in the soot.

Depends. There's no way I'd have eaten anything that grew in the basement garden: it was in a nightclub area and people used to provide, um, liquid feed on occasion, though less so after we planted it up - I guess they realised it was a residence and pissed on the office next door instead. On top of that there was a lot of traffic on the road outside, which was  a major artery into the city centre: trucks, buses, cars all  stuck in traffic jams ten hours a day.

The air around our place is ok enough for lots of lichen growth, and given that bought in food passes through trucks, loading docks and so on, not to mention whatever is sprayed on it, I figure it's not going to make much difference.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 11:59:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You talk about "liquid feeding" in your basement garden, I know of at least one major UK supermarket, whose warehouse staff are denied toilet breaks and so similarly refresh the vegetables.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 12:13:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Spill!
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 02:08:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My friend has a liquid feed problem; his is with cats.  He tells me that it kills his plants dead, and I'm sure he said you couldn't eat the plants either, though if they died before fruiting, ach.  So I've heard cats can be bad for yer veggies, or more specifically cat's pee.  Am I harbouring an unnecessary negative here, cat people?  Or do you have to train the cats to keep away from the veg. area?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 01:57:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That doesn't sound right, unless they concentrated on a single plant for some reason or you had lots of cats in a small area - Sam's grandmother has difficulty growing things in her small back yard with several cats at a time and very small growing beds.

The little buggers will dig up areas of open soil to bury their crap though, which is the main problem with them.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 02:01:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, that might be the one.  Very small plot, lossa cats, none of them his, but they liked his garden for some reason.  Maybe he was the only one who didn't beat them with a stick, or maybe it was the only garden that didn't have its own cat(s) so it was a public space for t'others.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 02:13:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Large doses of cat pee will definitely kill plants.  To keep them out of pots, people here put pinecones on top of the soil -- it doesn't hurt the plant, you can water over them, and the cats can't stand on them.  Don't know if that would work on a whole bed, though.  You'd need an awful lot of pine cones.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 02:16:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... as areas get larger, the dissuasion to rabbits is likely to be a stronger positive impact on garden productivity than the negative wastewater mgt. impacts ... but with enough space that protecting every potential trouble spot is problematic, I reckon the question becomes what plants will attract cats, so you can direct them to an area where they will not cause any problems.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 02:56:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Colman, I loved this diary and your photos.  Do you have trouble with critters going after your fish?  We have that trouble here.  There were a ton of fish in the pond when we moved in, and it's been nothing but carnage since -- cranes standing right in the pond and eating the fish like popcorn;  raccoons hurling the rocks out and leaving what looks like the set of a fish horror film behind;  cats taking the odd swipe -- we're down to two fish which seem to be survivors.  

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 12:45:51 PM EST
Nah, we live in Ireland: it's civilised here. We don't do critters.

The only dangers are herons - there's a canal very near us - and cats. Cats don't like our garden much: Cleo will chase them straight out. The herons are pretty rare and have bigger fish to catch.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 01:46:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wait, herons!  That's what we have, too (the gray ones) -- I always get them mixed up.  I was under the impression they were pretty rare here, too, until I saw one standing in my pond.  It was surreal.  But we do have some wetlands not far from here.

So there are no raccoons in Ireland?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 02:12:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Our garden has a lot of shrubbery which requires quite a bit of constant tending.  It got quite out of hand when I was unable to do it for a couple of years, but I've been slowly getting it back in shape.

Here's our rhodies from this past May -- some of them are about 7 feet high.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 01:01:02 PM EST
I distinctly remember checking out some of your photos a long time ago, and actually, I may have lifted a pic of one of your little greenhouse/greenbox dealys that I thought was cool.

Since I work in the same office with a landscape firm, I'll keep my eye posted for some cool design stuff.

I'd say a little bit more, but I'm already fried after coming back from vacation... architecture... computers... bleah.

by borkitekt on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 05:21:28 PM EST


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