Christmas festivities are over; the New Year approaches – almost a time in limbo, but perfect for making plans, allowing oneself to dream. I write so often about planning that you might consider it is a fetish of mine; but over the years I have come to realise that it is crucial to good gardening practice, and that any plot – large or small, rural or urban, – is not created overnight. And after a year of terrible weather and lack of attention to our own outdoor space through travelling abroad and subsequently illness, I know that nothing goes as expected and contingency plans are essential.
So, despite the brambles that have overtaken all but the (Dobies) Courtyard Potager – because that is the one mini-garden that has been attended to – I approach 2013 with a pleasurable sense of anticipation. Yes, the rain is still sheeting down but so much is already emerging that I feel the distinct urge to augment what I write about in this blog: Dobies of Devon will expand into the other mini-gardens in my acre of Cotswold ground – for there is just insufficient space to trial all that is new and special, no matter whether one prefers edibles or flowers; or as I do, a mixture of both.
Because of our underlying soil (heavy clay) and a change over recent years in the water table and blocking of old land drains beyond our boundary, all my four mini-gardens are now based on the raised bed principle. One thing is clear, many of my beds need a complete overhaul, digging out and transplanting special plants I cannot bear to lose, or working around them. When I reclaimed the garden from scratch, I was quite happy to cover areas with old tarpaulins and wait for one or two seasons, but with advancing age, there may not be the time to do this. I will have to be brutal and be prepared to move stuff around. And ground cannot be allowed to lie fallow – I am determined to use every available space to grow crops, and everything I sow and plant must be ‘multi-tasking’.
Thus, in gaps left between my beloved shrub roses – which themselves yield pot-pourri and edible petals – I will sow perpetual spinach in droves. Quick to mature and lasting for more than one season, all surplus leaves are fed to the hens who crave greenery to lay well. No hens? Add leaves to the compost heap, or even dig in to increase soil friability. The perennial herb Sorrel (Rumex ???) is equally good for hens and as fresh growth emerges early in the year, it acts as a tonic for my poultry (and a lovely sharp sauce to go with oily fish which is good for our own health).
Weeds – certain ones – are allowed to grow for bees, birds and hoverflies, but otherwise the ground below fruit bushes is increasingly to be planted with ground cover: comfrey, which can be invasive but provides a compost activator; edible-flowered sweet violets, and wild strawberries (the birds are welcome to the surplus). Make a note of my four mini-gardens for I will be referring to them again over the coming months. All were created for specific magazine features and are the size of a small suburban back garden. The ‘Courtyard Potager’ has featured since the inception of this blog, but the other three are the ‘Square Foot Garden’ – created as its name suggests to test ‘square foot’ possibilities; the ‘Eco-Garden’ is the most recent and combines fruit with herbs and a bed for transplants and growing on when needed; and the ‘Physic Garden’ is the oldest – culinary and medicinal herbs originally amongst the veg, plus of late shrubs, roses and flowers for cutting. All four ‘gardens’ are an eclectic mix based on organic principles, and the desire to feed ourselves.
Walk around your own garden or allotment on New Year’s Day and ‘take stock’; list all that brings you joy; take photos and make notes; then retire indoors with the Dobies catalogue or website – and keep checking their latest special offers. 2012 was my gardening ‘annus horribilis’ but 2013 will see a transformation. Goldfinches feed on the teasels and a thrush has returned to the shrubbery, shyly feeding on the bird-table, so all’s well with my world.