In the garden growing the stuff of life

We’re coming to that time of year when the blog can get sadly neglected and the garden takes over. As I start this post before I forget about it, I should really be preparing the ground for the cucumbers to go out, planting out my tomatoes, potting on seedlings and planting more seeds.

I observed this tendency last years when I shared an overview of the garden towards the end of the season in September, but this year, let’s see if I can take you through the growing season with me.

This week we’ve clearly moved from spring to summer with night time temperatures remaining conducive to planting out and daytime temperatures already meaning those young plants need some protection from the searing sun.

Since we moved here, for the first time in our lives we’ve had our own vegetable garden, well two actually, one inherited from my father-in-law and another larger one started from scratch as we now grow for 6 people rather than 2, and we’re a bit younger and both more enthusiastic. In the past however, we’ve always gardened on allotments and have over 20 years experience of growing in Scotland and the North of England. Both very different climates and soils than we have here so everything has been a learning experience.

So, lets introduce you to our gardens. This is the inherited garden and is basically the herb and snack garden.

In the centre is asparagus, which has now come to and end and is setting very tall ferns. This is also where the cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, chillis, and lettuce are grown. So far there are cucumbers against the fence and the first of the tomato plants. I also grow sweet peas up the fence alongside the path to enjoy as we go by an to create a little shade.

Here we also have sage, oregano, chives, thyme, lemon thyme, mint, cedrina, lemon balm and tarragon; all perennial so they keep coming back each year. In addition we grow our annual herbs, mainly parsley and dill here too. Is the sage at the back looking a bit beaten down? Did my nephews friends play hide and seek in it during his birthday party? I’m sure it will revive soon enough.

I love this herb bed with lemon balm (front left) with chives to the right, and thyme further back. There’s also artichokes against the fence, a discovery apple tree and a few foxgloves that came with us for the UK.

This year I have some drop seeded dill that I’m really excited about. Drop seeded or self seeded plants do so much better than transplanted seeds. They grow their roots in microbial rich soil rather than the more sterile environment of potting compost and the difference shows.

We have to grow coriander and basil in pots as the sun is a little too much for it, even with the shades we’ve built. However, this area great for wild/herb rocket which I love because it’s another perennial and appears early in the year and heralds the start of salad season, and I supplement this with land cress which is another great grower here and can be sown throughout the year. In the autumn I collected the seed from last years plants and now have a good stock of seed to sow freely as I’ve not found it here.

This is the bottom half of the top plot:

No, that big house in the distance isn’t ours!

This is all new and has grown furthe in the last year as we extended it to be able to move and enclose our fruit bushes as the only ones enjoying our fruit were the chickens.

We now have the fruit bushes along the extended fence (to the left) where we will also grow squash and zucchini/courgettes. This means we can water all at the same time rather than watering in different spots. On the right, where there are no fruit bushes, we planted peas in the autumn again from saved seed from last year and they did OK. The dry spring did them no favours. We also saved broad bean seed and planted most of the bottom part of the plot with them in the autumn. Last year we found that the soil in areas planted over winter with beans had much better structure and was much easier to plant into compared to other areas. The bean plant roots were working with the soil, nourishing it and protecting it from the heavy rain. So in the autumn we just planted as much as we could with beans, everywhere except where we had brassicas, leeks, and garlic. We now have a bumper crop, which is great.

Every garden needs a space for flowers and it’s nice to mix things up a bit. The iris on the left came with us from our Lancaster allotment, we left a load for the next allotment to enjoy too.

This is my much loved rhubarb which also came from Lancaster and enjoys this partially shaded spot against the wall, it’s closer to the house so we can water it with shower water as it’s a thirsty beast in this dry climate. Also under the pear tree to the right of the rhubarb are some raspberries which also came with us and have a similar attitude to the heat as myself! Along the path are our strawberries, the plants are flowering well and everything is crossed for a better crop than last year which was a bit of a fail. There’s also lots of rosemary which flowers early, much to the delight of pollinators, and lots of lavender.

So these are our main growing spaces. We are so lucky to have them and to be able to keep learning about growing and nourishing ourselves, our soil, and community and our planet. For years I dreamed about walking out the door and being in my own garden, being able to grab something for lunch or dinner rather than having to remember to bring it back from the allotment at the weekend or when we were there watering during the week. I loved our allotments, but I love this new stage in life too.

Our allotment experience did build a passion for community gardening and I feel that in the 20 years I was an allotment holder the meaning of community gardening changed radically. Community gardening shifted from individual plots on a shared allocated space to many different models of collectively working the land for a myriad of purposes and using such a wide range of growing methods, techniques and plants. There are so many more ways people can access gardening as an activity, and locally produced food, from help yourself community growing spaces to collective farming. I’ve listed a series of directories below if anyone wants to explore these options and the richness of models and projects throughout the UK and the US. I’m sure other countries have similar projects and directories, please do link to any you know you know of in the comments.

With concerns about the cost of living crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompting concerns about global food distribution and potential for famine in areas dependent on the import of blocked food commodities, re-thinking our dependence on international food corporations through community organising is one way we can challenge the international food order and address food poverty.

Community projects provide an option to grow food with no access costs, and some allow you to harvest food grown by others, a living food bank if you like.

For those able to go it alone, allotments are a great choice and in my 20+ year experience, fellow allotments will alway help out newbies with advice, loan of tools seeds and seedlings. By going it alone I mean that you need to find the rent and will probably need to be able to buy some of your own tools and some seeds. However, on many sites you may also inherit perennial plants such as rhubarb, strawberries, fruit and herb bushes or even trees to give you a head start.

If you have an allotment or garden and produce more surplus than you can preserve or give away to friends, please do consider whether a community project or food bank could use your excess, especially for example summer salad crops and things that can be eaten raw (fuel costs for cooking are a concern for many at the moment). Anything that comes fresh from your allotment is considerably fresher than the close to/past its sell-by date fruit and veg that supermarkets donate to food banks and social projects. Not all organisations will be able to take fresh food, but they may be able to point you in the direction of those who can.

Below the links I’ve posted an Instagram reel, my first and a little blurry, I’m not convinced they transfer well, but these marigolds in the top corner of the garden have flowered all winter long are now being joined with a whole host of other plants and will keep the bees and bugs happy through the summer. Gardening with nature is so much better, and easier, than gardening against it.

Until next time, take care and happy growing.

Tess xxx

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The Social Farms and Gardens website has a map of community gardens and social gardens across the UK, so you can check out what’s in your area. I checked it out and ‘Fruity corner’ our old neighbourhoods help yourself community planted, green party led, community garden initiate is included. This map includes projects across Scotland, Wales, Norther Ireland and England

Gardening 4 Health also has an interactive map directory and again I checked it out and recognised other one local to us projects included. These projects recognise the health benefits of gardening and many are linked to social prescribing programs.

Trellis Scotland has an interactive map of therapeutic gardens in Scotland.

The American Community Gardening Association has a map based directory of local projects.

The USDA has a series of resources to set up your own community garden and I’m sure if there’s nothing completely local to you, nearby projects would be happy to share their experience and knowledge.

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