Messy up

I was awoken this morning by my partner with a cup of tea.  As I sipped it (appreciatively) and looked out of the window I saw several birds darting about in the undergrowth outside the window.  I think I saw a bullfinch, I definitely saw a robin, a great tit and another one that went so fast I couldn’t say what it was.  They sat on the fennel – where the seed eaters often breakfast – they perched on the tiny trees and then dipped onto the ground to forage about between plants and beneath leaf litter.

fennel with a few remaining seeds

beneath the fennel and currant bush is self heal, dock, Christmas rose

It was a ‘misty moisty morning’ as my mother would have said.  In other words, dull and damp and typical for a November day.  Usually you can see the hills in the distance behind this hedge but today you could hardly see past it.  Of course this is the time of year when more traditional gardeners will be thinking of (or actually doing) the tidying up before downing tools for the winter.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

As you can see there is a lot of greenery in the polyculture beds despite having had a few frosts this week.  I need to leave the oca to tuberise further and the kales will probably do us all winter – I have just picked a big bunch to go with tonight’s meal.

wild kales grown from seed this year

If there were no fennel stems and flower heads, no leaf litter; if all the plants that were not strictly there for a harvest or were past their ‘best’ had been removed; if the ground were therefore bare and there were no places to dart in and sit on and eat the odd seed – what would the birds, beetles, spiders, hedgehogs and other creatures do?

For all their sakes the garden is best left as it is – nice and messy, but beautiful as well.

misty dew drops on fennel

 

 

Posted in Borderland Garden, Polycultures, Relationship with nature | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Alison and The Backyard Larder

All over the place wonderful, dedicated and insightful gardeners are working away developing their own particular specialist niche in our human-gardening-ecosystem.  One of these lovely people is Alison Tindale, a lifelong gardener who grows, sells and blogs about some her wonderful collection of perennial vegetables. Here in a guest post she writes about herself, her garden and her passion for perennial vegetables.  When you have read it I am sure you will want to check out her blog and her online shop .

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I am an organic gardener living in a small town in East Yorkshire. We moved here about fifteen years ago and I immediately started gardening in our small backyard and on a town council allotment about 20 minutes walk away from the house. I set out to create a fairly conventional organic allotment. Somewhere along the way though, I changed track. I came across Patrick Whitefield’s article, “The Minimalist Garden” in the Permaculture Magazine. Patrick described his garden like this:
‘….based on perennial and self-seeding vegetables, including some wild ones, it is a garden which requires very little input, yet it can put a salad or a pot of greens on the table any day of the year’.

A tempting idea! Patrick went on to list three perennial vegetables: sea beet, ramsons and perennial kale. Thus began my perennial vegetable collection and a whole new way of gardening!

Oca, chamomile and mint moth

I didn’t imagine at the beginning that I would now be devoting almost my whole plot (and my backyard too) to perennial vegetables (with fruit trees and bushes, a pond and wildlife areas alongside). They include:

  • a handful that, between them, do indeed ‘put a pot of greens on the table any day of the year’; garden sorrel, sea beet, Caucasian spinach, several perennial brassicas, Good King Henry and sea kale;
  • a growing collection of edible alliums which I use in place of ordinary onions and leek, such as potato onions and perennial leeks;
  • hardy perennial root vegetables including skirret, scorzonera and silverweed;
  • greens that I pick occasionally to ring the changes, like patience dock, bladder campion and Turkish rocket;
  • a range of perennial salad bowl suppliers like watercress, wild rocket, garlic cress, pink purslane and ice plant;
  • and a group of plants that I’m growing but haven’t tasted yet including favoured vegetables from other cultures like bamboo and sochan (a Rudbeckia species prized by the Cherokee) and edible pond plants such as flowering rush and Lycopus asper.

Perennial veg garden 2

It has been an exciting journey so far. As time has gone on I have learnt about many, many more plants I want to grow – mostly from people who began on the same journey long before I did and have got to the stage of writing books and blogs about it to encourage others. I do my own research too – I love delving into old gardening journals (lots can be read online these days) to read about ‘forgotten’ vegetables, and using online translators to read foreign websites and find out what people in other countries are growing. Then there is the hunt for the plants and seeds themselves. At first many were really hard to find; I was scouring the vegetable seed catalogues for the word ‘perennial’. But gradually they became easier to come by. Kind people I met on Twitter gave them to me – and once I started writing a blog myself I received emails with offers of plants and seeds and proposals for plant swaps. I seemed to have stumbled into a delightful Secret Society of Gardeners! The list of nurseries stocking these rare plants is increasing too – and they are becoming much less rare!


Herbs, pond and edible hedge behind wintercress in flower

And the plot has changed in a way which has delighted me. It has become more of a garden. Allotments often have a garden feel, special places for people and nature, especially if they have a tree or two and permanent beds – but permanent plantings enhance this effect. I am moving towards the perennial polycultures that Anni writes about. I’m after fairly simple mixes in each bed of maybe three or four different plants as I still want to get a lot of each vegetable from each patch of ground. In this process each bed becomes more like a flower bed. It can accommodate insect attracting plants alongside the vegetables and that pulls in lots of other wildlife. I loved it when I found a dunnock’s nest in the Daubenton kale. And when mushrooms pop up here and there I imagine that the same sort of fungal networks that transport nutrients around a woodland may be forming beneath the garden.

Ice plant, red admiral, ox-eye daisy and sea beet

Another unexpected pleasure has been becoming involved in plant breeding. Amateur plant breeders work on the basis that, if you can’t find the plant you want to grow, you just have to breed it yourself! Well, it will be a long road to the perennial vegetable gardener’s dream of perennial tomatoes, beans, squash and so on, but there are people working on that dream and social media networks where they willingly give a hand up to beginners. And so it has come about that I’m growing a perennial bean called Phaseolus polystachios and hope to help with the task of improving it to useful vegetable status.


Alison

I’m so pleased to have found something that I feel is worthwhile work and that I love doing. Perennial vegetable gardening has huge potential in the movement towards more local, carbon-friendly food production. There are thousands of people with backyards and gardens who don’t have time for growing conventional vegetables but who could manage a few easy-care perennial vegetables – if only they knew they existed. Perennial vegetables are ideal for community gardens too (and presumably for commercial growers also when suitable trials have been carried out). I like to think I’m contributing to their growing popularity by writing about my experiences with them and selling them through my online nursery. 

Perennial veg garden 1

Posted in Guest posts, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures, Relationship with nature, Suppliers | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Garden journal – 6 October 2017

I did some ‘work’ in the garden today.  Not counting minor interventions like taking off dock leaves and flowering stems it was the first time I had done anything since pruning the fruit trees and removing the flowering stems from lots of salsify plants in the height of summer.

It is bulb planting time and I had bought some narcissi and grape hyacinth for spring colour to go in the bed with the step over fruit trees.  Wherever I could find a space I put a mixture of the flowering bulbs, garlic bulbs and some saved vetch seeds in all together.  I hope that they will come up in a clump with the spring bulbs first and then the garlic and vetch growing on through the summer.

From the outset I have put other plants in with the apples.  This was one of the little fruit trees just after planting in April, with a Japanese stauntonia to the left and aubretia and catmint either side.

step over apple after planting with flowers and herbs

Soon after that I put sweet peas along the row which bloomed beautifully all summer long, although I didn’t get the flowers in this picture!  Later on I split up chives and put them in as well.

step over apple three months after planting (July)

Those apples have ripened well and the herbs beneath have continued to flourish but are not yet ready to be picked.

step over apple and herbs

I also had some tree onions saved from the plants in one of the polyculture beds to plant.

 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

tree onions growing with marjoram in July

The bulbils formed at the top can be removed and replanted and I have put them in various places, some close to the original patch and some a bit further away.  In each case I have tried to find a similar place with deep soil and a sunny position.

tree onions planted here – topped with mulch from the immediate vicinity

I planted some at the highest point of this raised bed, close to the original plants.  The planting site has been mulched with grass cuttings through the summer.  After planting the bulbils I then put some marjoram stalks taken from adjacent plants on top.  (I had removed the stalks to make room for other bulbils to be planted between the sprawling marjoram plants.)

And atop the marjoram stalks I placed seed heads from honesty plants that have been forming since the spring.  In the spring when a whole patch of tiny honesty plants came up en masse it occurred to me that I could use these seed heads to sow as a green manure and also as an indicator of where I have planted something else that my not yet be visible.  So the idea is that the honesty will drop its seeds which will then germinate and show me where the tree onions are before they show up.  Some of the honesty plants will grow to a good size but most won’t make it.  Those that survive can grow alongside the onions and then the following spring they will flower and the cycle will start again.

Having done all the ‘work’ I needed to do I spent some time looking around the garden.  I was pleased to see that the kales which had been eaten back to bare stems by the cabbage white caterpillars in August have now started to recover well.

Daubenton’s kale recovering

I know that now is the time when many gardeners are tidying up, but I won’t be doing that.  There is still so much life and vitality in the garden.  Insects are enjoying the late flowers and the oca, Jerusalem artichoke and other root crops are still growing nicely.  Nasturtiums are almost flowing across the polyculture, so vigorous are they!  The kales are harvestable again – we ate from two other plants the last two days and the lamb’s lettuce and land cress are growing back from seed.

nasturtiums in full flow across polyculture bed

And to make things as good as they can get the weather has been warm and pleasant and we have been able to sit out and enjoy a cuppa and the autumn air.

Posted in Fruit, Polycultures, roots and tubers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What makes a forest garden?

In July I posted about ‘Les Bois de St Hilaire’, a French campsite I stayed at which provides a wonderful model of the kind of natural woodland that a forest garden is modelled on.  As a follow up and contrast to that post this is about an English campsite I stayed at in September.

Like the site in France this site is situated in an agricultural area mainly devoted to cereal crops.  It was similarly an isolated island amongst many miles of fields and the landscape was not unlike that of northern and central France – large open fields, very few hedges and also very few trees apart from the occasional singleton or small copse.

The site was just like many other campsites that offer a green space with trees and shrubs etc; and it had been planted to look attractive and provide a nice environment for people to stay in. And indeed it was attractive to look at and very pleasant to stay in.

I am not in any way being critical of how the owners of this campsite had planted it, they have done it the same as many others that I have stayed at and have won conservation awards for it.  On one level it does have habitat for birds, for bats, for small mammals and for insects including bees, but on another level with a different approach it would have been possible to make even more of these features.

I wanted to look beneath the surface a bit more and pinpoint exactly what the differences are between this very conventional approach to amenity style landscaping as practised by humans and the way that nature works when left alone.  In other words why this one would not provide a model to follow even though it looks nice and superficially is biodiverse and apparently good for nature.

I didn’t have my camera with me and took pictures on an Ipad which unfortunately have come ot a bit fuzzy.

woodland edge

The planting on the site comprised the following components:

  • a woodland edge
  • a shrubby / bushy border
  • hedges between the pitches
  • fruit trees
  • a lawn
  • an herbaceous border near the lake
  • a raised flower bed close to the amenity block
  • a lake

I think that it was not so much what was there but how it was put together that meant the different elements did not appear to function together as a single (eco)system.

The woodland edge comprised a selection of trees that were all of similar size and age and they were planted very close together.  In a natural woodland / forest garden you would have trees of different ages and heights and they would not be growing so close together.

Alongside this edge was a shrubby / bushy border which included edibles such as goji berry (Duke of Argyll’s tea – which I have seen naturalised in the east of England before) and blackthorn (for sloes – also widely naturalised across England / Wales).  With the inclusion of some more diversity and some more wild plants such as primrose, dog rose, violets, vetch, ivy, holly etc it would become a really good habitat for birds and other species.

Blackthorn bushes bearing ripening sloes

The alder trees planted in the grass fix nitrogen which is a useful function in any garden but there could have been more of them or more nitrogen fixing species in general.

tree planting in the grass including alders

The hedges between the pitches were of laurel and some had not grown very well.  The laurel looked and felt very sterile and lifeless although it was green and glossy and it did provide a bit of greenery to break up the gravel of the pitches.  A more mixed planting including fruiting berries such as wild raspberry, blackberries and currants or jostaberries would have been both edible and something like hawthorn, cotoneaster, pyracantha or dogwood would have been better for wildlife.

laurel hedge between pitches

The fruit trees were planted in an immaculate lawn which was bright green and had no ‘weeds’ in it.  It has been a difficult and dry summer anyway and I am not surprised these trees are struggling.  But also they are planted in a lawn and grass is very competitive with other plants and the trees do not have the benefit of any other plants such as you might find in a polyculture to encourage a healthy growing environment.

immaculate lawn (plus a few leaves)

I think it more than likely that the lawn was both fertilised and had weedkiller applied.

I know that campsites need to keep the weeds down off the pitches.  The gravel is quickly punctuated with new plants appearing and on some of the pitches these were brown – having had some chemical treatment presumably.

‘weeds’ growing through gravel on pitch

All the elements of the landscaping and planting on this site felt very separate – which of course is the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

fruit tree

You could take virtually the same ingredients – woodland trees, birch, sycamore, ash, fruit trees, hedgerow plants and bushes like goji berry and blackthorn and some of the herbaceous plants growing in a flower bed – including eupatorium (Joe Pye weed) and hosta, add in some more planting into the mix to increase flowers and biodiversity and different spacing and more effective layers.  You would then have a more natural style of planting that would hopefully be able to function as a system.

poorly tree

So in summary I think that these changes would have made quite a difference:

  • fewer trees on the woodland edge, of different ages and with more spacing between them to enable new growth to begin
  • greater variety of shrubs and wild flowers in the hedge / shrub border including berry plants for birds
  • more nitrogen fixing plants
  • change the laurel between pitches for a mixed hedge of natives and some edibles with wild flowers
  • stop applying chemicals to the lawn and let wild plants, especially dandelions and clover grow in it
  • a greater mixture of plants in the herbaceous flower bed and the raised bed and including some herbs like fennel and sage for their flowers and also for the campers to cook with
  • fruit trees to be planted apart from the lawn and surrounded with a range of beneficial flowering plants such as herbs as above or chives or other alliums.  They also need to be pruned appropriately.

 

 

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The Launch of the National Forest Gardening Scheme

Calling all aspiring forest gardeners

I know there are lots of people out there who are passionate about forest gardening and would like to see more of them planted across the country particularly in places that are accessible to the general public.

For the past year I have been involved with other link minded people in the formation of a new group to support more access to forest gardens for more people.  It is called the National Forest Gardening Scheme (NFGS) and its aim is to support communities to plant forest gardens in publicly owned spaces where everyone can visit them and enjoy them.

The NFGS is due to be launched in Newhaven, Sussex on 21st October 2017 and we would love to see as many interested and supportive people there as possible.  You do not need to have any prior experience of forest gardens or knowledge about them, this is an open invitation to anyone who is interested in the topic and would like to find out more.  It is going to be a great event where you will hear inspiring presentations by leading practitioners, be informed of the latest policy moves within Government, and hear about some exciting community forest garden projects already underway.

This will be a chance to network with some of the most forward thinking practitioners and strategists in the area of public space, well-being and local food production. And to eat a delicious forest garden lunch.

The link below will take you to the site to book a ticket and gives some further details.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/launch-a-national-forest-gardening-scheme-tickets-37911474240

Posted in Forest Gardening | Tagged | 2 Comments

Leaving well alone

Another lovely post from Carole, it is a perfect illustration of the need to leave things be, as much as possible!

We had a couple of sunny Autumn days lately, and I determined to get out into the garden. The profusion of spent borage, exuberant pot marjoram and ancient alchemilla were bugging me. It needs tidying up, I decided. So out I went, secateurs in hand. The garden greeted me with a sunny smile and a […]

via Bugging me — iSustainability Project

Posted in Polycultures, Relationship with nature | Leave a comment

Summer time ….

….. and despite the largely cool, cloudy and damp weather the garden is singing to me.

Hinomaki red gooseberries

We have eaten the offerings of the berry and currant bushes.

whitecurrants

The tree fruits are ripening on their as yet slender boughs.

apple Sunset ripening

 

the first and so far the only, very lovely, mirabelle ripening

 

damson Abergwyngregyn bearing its first fruits and surrounded by marjoram, oca, tree onions and more

 

Jerusalem artichokes and mashua are rocketing skywards and oca is fast expanding outwards and upwards.

oca thriving in deep, fertile soil

When the sun comes out bees, butterflies and an assortment of other flying insects are attending closely to the thousands of blossoms on the cardoons, mint, catnip, marjoram, budleia and hyssop.

cardoon flower plus bee

 

Swiss mint (I think) – the flowers are super attractive to honey bees and another species I cannot identify yet. They flew away when I took out the camera.

 

red admiral and peacock butterflies were swarming around these alliums

 

 

skirret in flower

 

tree onions ripening beside marjoram, elder bush and fennel behind

The birds (blackbirds I think, but I wasn’t here to see) ate the aronia (chokeberry) berries.

aronia (chokeberry)

 

Californian poppy attracts a particular fly to its gorgeous flowers

In contrast to all this wildlife activity I am doing very little – nothing in fact – just enjoying it all.  By this time of year I am always let go completely.  The plants in the polycultures are growing together so closely that there is a general surge of growth and loveliness which I just want to spend time gazing at.

looking down the garden from fourth polyculture bed in front

 

second polyculture bed, currently dominated by nasturtium, alliums and fennel with berries and roots behind

 

first polyculture bed

 

‘triangle bed’

I want to look at the flowers …

views across two valleys to the hills beyond

… and the views.  After all, winter is only round the corner.

29th November 2016

 

 

 

Posted in Borderland Garden, Fruit, Polycultures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments