E+E Column: Update from an urban garden

Earlier this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to do any gardening this year due to Eli’s tendency to pull leaves off plants and where possible, uproot the whole thing. I thought rather than keep fighting a battle with a ridiculously cute and stubborn toddler, I’d just give ourselves a year off and save ourselves wasting time and resources only to see it all destroyed by whichever schema of child devlopment ‘tiny terror in the garden’ falls into.

However, it’s the middle of May and somehow I have several potato plants thriving, we’ve revived several strawberry plants from last year, saved some mint, sown several packets of wildflowers and the kids are currently nursing brussel sprout, poppy, sunflower and tomato seedlings which they planted a few weeks ago (after Dan, not in on my decision, let them choose a few packets each in B+Q). We’ve also been donated some chives, a squash plant and have been offered a pallet so I can finally realise my dream of a pallet herb garden!

And yes, Elijah has pulled all the blossom off the plum tree, uprooted the mint plants half a dozen times and dug over the wild flower bed several times. But do you know what? That’s ok! This year gardening has happened so organically (pun definitely intended) and with minimal effort on my part so I’m feeling ok about the whole thing. I’m especially excited by the loofah seeds donated by a kindly neighbour! I’ve adopted a more philosophical approach to things. We’ll do our best to keep plants alive, to water them and repot as necessary and we’ll try and redirect Elijah’s attempts at joining in to the flower beds that we don’t care so much about. And at the end of the season, we might have some vegetables to eat and some flowers to put on the table. If we do, that’s great! And if we don’t, we can chalk it up as experience gained and move on. I look forward to having a more in depth gardening experience again in years to come as time and space allows but for now, I’ll grab the bits and pieces that come our way and enjoy them. It’s still a great learning and recreational experience for both the kids and me and it gets us all outside every day for a little bit. So all in all, I’m very glad that we’re accidentally growing again this year!


Taking a well earned break from gardening

Garden update

Unfortunately, I can safely say that this year has been my worst ever gardening year (in my grand total of six years of green fingered adventures). A combination of the arrival of Elijah into our clan, blight, pests, and an uninspiring and limited garden are to blame I think. I’m feeling rather glum about it but not motivated enough to work out what I can do to salvage the rest of the growing year. But I’m hoping I can use this post as ‘therapy’ to work through the problems and find a solution so apologies in advance for the self indulgence!

I’ll start with some pictures and positives though, here’s what the gardens are looking like at the moment:

back garden
front garden

I can’t remember whether I mentioned already but as you can see we finally got around to laying some lawn in the back garden. I’m not going to lie, we did a shoddy job as we were rushing to get our bargainous and slightly yellowing rolls of turf (reduced to £1 each!) down before the rain fell. Consequently, it’s a fairly bumpy lawn but a lawn nonetheless. We only did one side on the premise that the other side would be covered with all the plants we’re growing but as that hasn’t been the most successful endeavour this year I am tempted to put some turf down on that side as well. Even just having a small stretch of grass has made a massive difference though. The kids go out there more, we’ve had lunches and dinners sat on the grass and there is somewhere to put Elijah whilst we’re outside pottering. So that’s a definite plus.

The front garden isn’t particularly exciting but is better than it was. The bed you can see is full of bedding flowers and just out of site are a few strawberry plants which while not abundant, have at least been producing some fruit. I had planted our Christmas tree in the gap you can see in the paving but it was obvious by February that it wasn’t going to survive and has spent the last 5 months getting slowly more and more brown, whilst losing all it’s needles. Embarassingly though, I only dug it up and cut it into pieces yesterday. Our garden is definitely the most untidy in our row! So now I’m thinking about what else I could put in the space – I like the idea of a little fruit tree, there are some nice lemon and orange trees in the garden centre so maybe I’ll try one of those. All my plans though are plagued with the small voice at the back of my head querying how much effort I want to put into a rented garden when it comes to things like trees that can’t necessarily be moved with us. I think the other voice that just wants a nicer (and less embarassingly messy) garden will probably win out though.

Other successes have been our potatoes as part of the Grow Your Own Potatoes competition (although we started eating them before I could take a picture of our modest haul – enough potatoes for perhaps half a dozen meals), peas briefly (until they all died for some reason) and salad (though it’s pretty hard to go wrong with salad!). Unfortunately though, that is the extent of our successful growing so far this year.

My tomato plants got blight, although weirdly the potatoes didn’t catch it. I tried cutting off the offending main branches but I didn’t catch it in time. I have one plant left that may or may not have escaped it – only time will tell. I’m assuming the pea plants caught it though as after their first crop they withered and died. The broad beans I was growing for the University of Sussex’s Beas and Beans project all got coated in minuscule black bugs or some sort of fungus so they’ve gone into the compost bin. The radishes are looking a bit out of control (is heady a gardening term?) and all my pepper plants got eaten. My cucumbers also didn’t survive past seedling stage. Sigh.

So what now? Elijah is obviously here, getting bigger and in some ways less demanding on our time and I’ve fully recovered from his birth so that’s not an obstacle to my gardening anymore. I can’t do much about the blight and bugs and we’re not going to be moving anytime soon so I’m stuck with the garden that we have, small and uninspiring may it be. So I guess I need to be content with what I have and try some new innovative ways of growing. I don’t think I’m too late to grow pumpkins and I have seeds from last year so maybe I’ll try and get them going soon. If anyone reading this knows what else I could start growing at this time of year please do let me know! Maybe I could try one of those pallet herb gardens that are all over pinterest!? Dan’s quite handy with the tools…

It’s been a bit of a lesson in humility, this growing season. I have been blessed with large, easy gardens for the last two years and before that we shared an allotment with friends so my haphazard style of gardening largely didn’t seem to adversely affect my crop come harvest time. Turns out that when growing on a smaller scale I should have been much more on the ball with pest control, watering and pruning. Maybe it’s something to do with everything being in pots rather than beds this year? I don’t know much about the theories behind permaculture but I remember reading about putting different plants together in order to stop pests (I want to say tomato and basil grow well together but I might have totally made that up!) so it kind of makes sense to me that plants would do better in the ground as well with a more varied nutrient source to use rather than just the compost I’ve put in the pots.

But I’ll chalk this up as a learning experience and just keep trying. In the meantime, I have a few lovely friends with big gardens who are happy for me to go and dig with them so that’ll keep my fingers green for this year whilst I try and reclaim my garden and prepare myself for a better growing season come 2016. What’s going on in your garden this year? Have you any wise words you can share with me? I love hearing from those patient enough to read my wild ramblings!