Sunday, 31 October 2010

Getting ready for winter

Back on my own small plot again, and, inspired by Gardener's World on the telly on Friday, I've decided to do some work to get the garden ready for the winter. It seems a good time to do so with the clocks going back and the fact that the next few weekends might be pretty busy.

This year was the first year that I'd put dahlias in, and I was going to leave them in over the winter, but it seemed sensible to take 10 minutes to dig out the three I have and put them in the shed. The two in the border came up with pretty much the same size tuber as they had gone in with in the spring. The one in the pot on the patio, whose container I had lined with plastic to keep the moisture in had grown a lot though and had almost packed out the pot with new roots.

They are all now neatly packed up in the shed in some fresh compost, waiting to come out again when the weather is a little warmer. My plan is to take basal cuttings in the spring as described in the excellent Grow your own garden by Carol Klein which gives you all kind of ideas for how to propagate different plants and make new ones for free.

I also switched pots around, putting away those which had had tomatoes and the aforementioned dahlia and bringing to the fore (outside the back door) the 'winter pots' - those planted up with bulbs, a camelia and my big discovery of last winter - hellebores. More on these in a future post.

Primeval work

A couple of weekends ago we went down to Cornwall as planned and spent a fantastic long weekend with the parents.

My father has decided to clear an area that hasn't been touched for around 30 years to create a space for the new vegetable patch. It's a South East facing patch, full of young trees and packed with brambles. What was amazing was the the amount of land we could clear in relatively little time. We chopped back a number of quickthorn, holly and ash trees around the edge to let more light in to the area and took out a number of selfseeded buddleia which were a good 15 ft high. The great thing about buddleia is that it is very shallow rooted so, when removing it you really only need keep enough of the main trunk to act as a handle above ground and use that to leverage out the roots.

Cutting back trees, pulling up brambles and building bonfire after bonfire was a cleansing and fulfilling job, coming as it did in the middle of a highly stressed week at work. Getting covered in dirt, and pricked by  thorns as part of achieving something was a welcome change to the far dirtier business of office politics and management targets.

Although there is much still to do, we left it a mostly cleared space, the amount of brambles and trees meant that there was very little else to take out and it was a simple job to rake the area clear. The soil underneath is deep and loamy, made up of the leafmould of a hundred years of Autumns, never before disturbed. It will be exciting in spring to see what bulbs emerge from many years of hibernation.

I look forward to getting back down there soon to help in putting the beds and then getting the garden growing.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Reading up

This weekend I'm off to the parent's place in Cornwall. Whilst down there I'm going to give my father a hand in clearing some ground to create a vegetable patch. I'm on the waiting list for an allotment in Wandsworth but it's a long old wait so I'm looking forward to living my veg growing dreams vicariously through my parents, (and with it being such a long way away I'll get out of most of the hard work!).

In preparation I thought I'd do some reading up:
 Joe's Allotment: Planning and planting a productive plot is written by Joe Swift, 'im off the telly, and follows the first year of his renting an allotment. It's an easy book to read, and Joe writes in the matey way in which he speaks. It's simply written and Joe is highly enthusiastic but this is in no way a manual that you'd want beside you when planning or working your plot. It's much more of a coffee table book, dusting lightly over the top of a multitude of subjects, without ever really diving down into the level of detail I'd want if starting out.

On the other hand, John Harrison's The essential allotment guide is a treasure trove of information. It's not big on the 'happy smiley family in the allotment' photos that Joe Swift's is but its concise but in depth knowledge and full coverage of so many subjects, feels almost like you are sitting in the pub across the road from the allotments, sharing a jar of bitter with the old allotment gardener from the plot next to yours whilst he divulges the tricks of the trade with a twinkle in his eye and the occasional 'don't tell anyone I told you this but what you want to do...'. I'd definitely recommend it.

Now, my veg growing in my back garden has so far not amounted to much. I've had some disastrous garlic - I put £3.95 worth of garlic into the ground and pulled about £1.20 worth out this summer, some tomatoes in a hanging basket (which do quite well) and a bit of rocket, so helping my father out is potentially going to be a bit of the blind leading the blind but we shall see.

I think on this trip we will be mostly clearing ground - so what could possibly go wrong....

Sunday, 3 October 2010

And so it starts

As I stroll through Wisley or some other grand garden, I look at the fantastic plantings and in my head my garden grows, so that in my imagination it could include a huge prairie border or a hidden grotto, when to be honest, fitting another rose in would involve digging up some more of the tiny patch of lawn. I was away for six months recently, by the time I returned, my notebook full of plans pretty much envisaged a new Versailles.

Having said that, I looked out of the back door, one evening in early September this year and thought, 'I'm happy with that, it's not a bad looking garden'. Three years after moving in, things are starting to come together.

This was the garden when we first moved here. Southwest facing, it gets the sun, but the ash tree in the centre claws quite a lot of moisture out of the ground and this, combined with the sandy soil and all the fences, means quite a battle to give plants enough water.

As you can see from the photograph the garden was dominated by a huge shed drawing the eye down the garden, the grass was more mud than anything else and what borders there were were encased in concrete edging.

This is the garden this September, there is still a long way to go but I hope I've learned a few things along the way that I can share, while also documenting the journey onwards.