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!

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Taking a well earned break from gardening

E+E Column: Green Fingered Blues

I can’t remember whether I’ve already bored you all poor readers with my ramblings about how much I like gardening. If so, I do apologise. But to recap, I’ve been dabbling in growing my own fruit, vegetables and flowers for the last six years to varying degrees of success. My highlight was probably last year when, living in a converted barn, we had the luxury of a rather large vegetable garden with raised bed and access to a very nice greenhouse. For several months we had a good supply of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, salad, beans, peas, apples, plums and pumpkins grown mostly by my own fair hands (with the help of some smaller and much grubbier ones), just a stones throw from the house. Unfortunately this year hasn’t been quite the same…

When we moved back to Topsham last October, the only regret I had was losing such a lovely big garden. In our current house, we have a small courtyard-style back garden and a smaller paved front garden with an ivy problem (more on that later). Nevertheless, I was determined that I would embrace ‘urban gardening’ and would utilise all my previous knowledge to create a wonderful space. I had visions of ridiculous amounts of terracotta pots overflowing with homegrown goodness, of small potted fruit trees dotted around, of some gorgeous garden furniture. I was going to transform the garden.

One year on however, this dream hasn’t quite been fulfilled. I’ve converted a gravel bed (or the town’s largest cat litter tray) to lawn, planted some flowers in the front garden and grown a handful of vegetable plants in big pots (mostly inherited from my parents) to not much success. We had a few meals worth of potatoes, a handful of strawberries, a spattering of peas, a good supply of salad (but let’s face it, it’s takes a lot to go wrong with growing salad) and finally, after much ripening, some tomatoes. Not quite the Eden in Topsham that I had imagined!

I’m going to play the baby card once more and say that we would have probably got a lot more done if it wasn’t for the cute little distraction that he has caused this year. But I have high hopes (again) for a better year next year. In fact, so optimistic I am that we purchased 3 bags of daffodil and tulip bulbs a few weeks ago for our front garden. Sophia and I got to work yesterday weeding and I decided to finally tackle the dreaded ivy that has engulfed our front wall and was creeping along threatening to do the same to our neighbours. There is something very satisfying about ripping huge amounts of dead ivy to little, by little, reveal the lovely stone wall underneath. Until that is, you turn around and see the massive pile of ivy that now has to be disposed of! As this is a continuing project, I am reminding myself that sometimes, things have to look worse before they can get better. So I’m publishing a photo of the embarassing mess that is my front garden in the hope that the shame will be enough motivation to get on with bagging it up and driving it to the tip! And hopefully, come Spring I can show you a lovely little paved garden, free from weeds with brightly coloured flowers, welcoming in the sun. Watch this space…

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It may not be a place of beauty…

…but we are certainly growing as much as possible in the small concrete space that is our garden.
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Taking part in two national growing competitions/experiments (Grow Your Own Potatoes and Bees and Beans) has prompted me to sew seeds on specific dates and consequently we’ve been having bursts of doing lots in the garden over the last few weeks. So far we have strawberry and tomato plants growing in various pots although I admit I cheated and bought seedlings rather than growing from seed (combination of lack of indoor space to cultivate and lack of time and energy). We have however successfully grown from seed cucumber and pea plants which are doing well and ready for bigger pots. We’ve also sprouted some sunflower seeds and filled our shallow beds with pretty orange and purple flowers (marigolds and violets I think). Finally we’ve chitted and planted our seed potatoes and planted our broad bean and radish seeds for the schemes we’re participating in. The only thing left to do is find another big pot and plant some salad as I love being able to pick our own salad all summer long.

Out of the two schemes Sophia is especially interested in the Bees and Beans experiment from the university of Sussex. It is being conducted to look at the presence of bee’s in urban spaces and as you’d expect from an experiment wants all sorts of information such as size and type of growing space, specific dates on which you planted seeds and implemented the growing conditions (one plant left, one bagged and one hand pollinated) and of course, at harvest time, detailed results about your crop. I’m fascinated to see how it goes and happy to be taking part in something that might ultimately help in the preservation of our bees. For a small concrete space, our garden does seem to attract a lot of wildlife. Our feeders have been attracting a lot of birds and I think some might be nesting in the plants that are growing around the garage. I also spotted a lot of bees whilst out there yesterday.
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I’m not going to lie, spending time in the garden recently has made me miss the gardens in our last two homes even more. It’s hard to be inspired by such a grotty looking space and frustrating when I’d love to grow so much more but am limited by space and stone. We’ve been given free rein to do what we like in the garden and I’ve pondered removing all the stones and replacing with turf for a bit of green space for the kids but it’s a big undertaking both financially and in terms of physical work and I’m reluctant to invest heavily in a rented garden as we don’t know how long we will be here. Our long term goal (like most young-ish couples) is to save enough to buy our own home and I’ve told Dan that my one requirement when we get to that stage will be a half decent garden. It doesn’t have to be huge but big enough for the kids to have a good outside place and for me to be able to have a reasonable area for growing. I am not going to let myself get down and sulk about our current garden though, we’ll get the most out of it that we can. And at the end of the day, we’ve got the wonderful Topsham rec minutes away, the swimming pool mere seconds away and a whole host of amazing outside places to explore just a short drive or train ride away.

What’s growing in your garden this spring? Or if you’re not particularly green fingered how have you been enjoying the recent spate of much welcomed sunshine as the seasons change?