Whether you are reclaiming ground, starting from scratch or re-planning an existing garden, turning dreams into reality requires a certain amount of foresight and strategy. But where to begin, particularly if you are new to gardening? I looked back at the blog posts and statistics for all I have written on this Dobies blog over the last two years and noticed that the topic that still attracts the most attention is anything to do with layouts and cropping.
Begin just by looking, making notes, taking photos and thinking. “What do I want to achieve?” Assess critical factors such as plot orientation, neighbours, overhanging trees, soil, shelter, prevailing winds, and weather in general. Take rough measurements and sketch out a plan, checking such things as intercropping (early salad leaves can be sown in the spot where runner beans will be grown later in the season). Indeed all spare ground can be utilised in one way or another; I grow perpetual spinach in every conceivable space to feed my hens; a good tonic for them.
Think flowers as well as vegetables, and herbs, shrubs, trees, fruit and all the other aspects that make a garden what it is; including somewhere to sit and enjoy what you have created. Make a habit of taking camera and notebook whenever you visit ‘beyond the garden gate’ – you never know what will take your fancy, be it plants or the way they are interspersed with paths, and the structure of beds; random or geometric; on the level or raised. What you see may be on a grander scale than you have space for, but adapt and incorporate what you can. Even if you are basically a veg man (or woman), remember the importance of attracting suitable wildlife – and that includes bees to pollinate your crops, toads, birds, hover flies and so much more.
The plot that I am currently clearing (known as the ‘Physic Garden’) has seen many reincarnations and here – back in around 1990 – was the only space I had to grow veg. It had been an old chicken run in the ’70s, so the soil was rich and plants thrived. Being a large area, it could not be accomplished overnight and was indeed a three-year plan to grow veg, herbs, and a ‘cutting garden’ of flowers. Luckily, I kept a written and photographic record, to which I still refer with some nostalgia, for circumstances beyond our control have resulted in the horrible mess you now see in the top picture!
My little ‘Dobies Garden’ – or ‘Courtyard Potager’ is a garden in miniature and was planned from the start on a three-year rotation basis. The four metre-square raised beds are surrounded not by courtyard walls but by a long-established shrubbery, wild but tamed. The edible part has seen two seasons since it was created from another semi-wilderness and last Autumn I re-evaluated my long-term plans to allow for other things I wanted to grow beside vegetables. It is the most sheltered of all the mini-gardens within our acre of ground, and as my husband grows nearly all we need to eat in his large 60ft x 30ft plot, I intend now to concentrate on new varieties or ones I am trialling for the first time. So top left has over-wintering cabbages which will be replaced by salads for spring and summer; top right is planted with unusual edible herbs under-planted with self-seeded wild rocket that emerged when I cleared the bed from last year’s dwarf beans. Bottom left will be dwarf and runner beans in 2013 whilst bottom right has seen the most significant change: it is my new cutting patch and is filled with Spring bulbs which are already emerging, wallflowers and a scattering of hardy annual flower seeds.
Of course, the first year you plan a garden, anything goes but rotation IS important for vegetables as different conditions are required by the various ‘groups’. Additionally, one crop grown year after year in the same position can lead to disease or a build-up of specific pests. Rotation to my mind is much harder in a large plot than when you are using marked-out beds, or ad-hoc throughout the garden. Just ensure you keep a note of what you plan to grow in each mini-location. As my various gardens are reclaimed, they will be filled with Dobies flowers, fruit and produce – further blog posts will report progress. Best of luck in 2013 with your own sowing, planting and cropping whether veg, fruit or flowers.
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