This bed was started in the spring of 2014. Originally I just needed somewhere to transplant a number of perennial vegetables from my first bed in this garden (below) which was about to be covered over with an extension to the house.
The original polyculture bed that I was about to lose had been ‘constructed’ the previous year from all manner of organic materials found in the garden – decomposed leaves etc from the hedge, ivy from the hedge, lawn cuttings, hedge trimmings and more. Over the first growing season it had taken on a reasonable texture and I wanted to re-use this material.
The spring polyculture bed lies on the southern border of the garden adjacent to an evergreen hedge. The garden slopes down to the south and also to the west, so the corner of this bed that lies in the south west corner of the garden is damp and shady as it also lies in the shade of the neighbouring house and fence. It is a curvy shape, about 6.5 m long and between 1.75 and 2 m deep.
On top of the lawn, without removing any turf, I first laid some decent sized branches that had died within the hedge and some that I had also cut out. On top and amongst these I placed other woody, twiggy materials and then covered these with the material from the original polyculture. I put an edge of stones taken from other parts of the garden and put a decorative edge of willow round it. To my mind the decorative edge was not strictly necessary, but knowing that the planting was going to be unconventional the edging was included to provide some reassurance to the neighbours.
Over time the bed has been extended lengthways to where it meets an apple tree. It has also been built up with upturned turfs removed from elsewhere in the garden and lawn cuttings.
The current aims is for this bed are:
- To grow leafy greens and fruits
- For the slightly newer westerly end, which is sunnier and better drained – to grow different onions and a few root vegetables.
- Across the whole bed to supplement the edible planting with herbs and flowers for both visual effect and for the insects
- To be as maintenance free as possible
The table below gives a comprehensive list of what is in the bed at the moment. As noted in my previous review posts in the table the purposes the plants can have are:
- Medicinal properties
- For biomass – at the end of the season, or sooner if they are too large for their space I cut back plants and mulch the ground where they grew, feeding organic material to the soil.
- To supply nitrogen
- To help break up the soil
My observation is that every plant that flowered attracted a good deal of insect life and was also visually delightful so my notation of ‘flowers’ in the table is intended to reflect this dual purpose (unless noted otherwise the flowering period is summer).
|Name||Purpose||When sown and notes|
|Jerusalem artichoke||Edible root
|Probably planted 2014
Will harvest later and replant for next year.
|Mashua||Edible root||Not yet harvested. Remains of last year’s crop not intentionally planted in this area as it gets a bit big. Have been cutting / pulling it back through the summer.|
|Oca||Edible root||Not yet harvested|
|Replanted from other borders where they were too congested. To leave to flower.|
Not harvested yet, will be digging up and splitting the plants at some point.
|Chives||Planted along the edge for decoration as well as for cutting.|
|Perennial leek||Edible||Planted 2014/5
Not harvested this year, produced flower heads and large collections of bulbils.
|Three cornered leek||Edible leaves and flowers||Some planted in previous years, self seeds and increases each year.|
|Welsh onion||Edible||Transplanted from another bed in 2015, being left to grow and multiply.|
|Wild garlic||Edible leaves and flowers||Planted along the back edge in 2016 to help prevent grass and buttercups growing over the bed.|
|Blackcurrant||Edible fruit||Maturing bush, has buds on for fruit next year.|
|Edible fruit||Young plant from cutting not mature enough to fruit yet.|
|Jostaberry||Edible fruit||Maturing plant, should fruit next year.|
|June berry||Edible berries||Planted 2015
Still a young plant, no fruits yet.
|Wild strawberry||Edible fruit||Small plants along the edge produce small quantities of fruit through the summer.|
|Edible greens and herbs|
|Buckshorn plantain||Edible leaves||Sown from seed in 2015. Small plants struggling a little bit in the damp, shady end.|
|Cardoon||Edible leaves and flower buds
|Young plant, still small.|
|Fennel||Culinary and medicinal herb
|Transplanted from elsewhere.
Fantastic for insects, harvested for seeds, blue tits also eat seeds.
|Good King Henry||Edible greens||Trying again in 2016 after finding out this is palatable if soaked in salt water before cooking.|
|Lamb’s lettuce||Edible greens
|Self set 2016|
|Land cress||Edible greens
|Originally sown in 2014, has been re-seeding since then.|
|Lemon balm||Culinary herb|
Not harvested, has attracted insects and looked lovely.
|Sorrel||Edible leaves||Planted 2014.
Substantial perennial plant.
|Sweet cicely||Culinary herb
|Wild rocket||Edible greens
|Probably self set one or two years ago.
Not harvested, more in the garden than we need.
|Bugle||Flowers, not edible||Transplanted from elsewhere in the garden for edging.|
|Buttercup (creeping)||Flowers||Already in the garden. I always pull this up when I see it.|
|Calendula||Flowers||Has been re-seeding itself each year|
|Clove root||Wild flower||Already in the garden. I always pull this up when I see it.|
|Dandelion||Wild flower||Here already|
|Forget me nots||Spring flowers
|Self set 2015
|Foxglove||Flowers, not edible||Spring flowering plant.|
|Honesty||Flowers, not edible||Spring flowering plant.|
|Nettle||Edible leaves||Already in garden. I pull it up from this border.|
|Donated plant from a friend, half dead on arrival. Planted and left to flower to get more plants next year.|
|Pulmonaria||Flowers, not edible||Spring flowering plant.|
|Radish||Flowers||Has been in the bed for several years, self seeding each year. Not grown for root but for flowers which are amazing. Flowers are edible as are young pods and flower shoots.
|Self heal||Medicinal herb
|Transplanted in 2014 from elsewhere in garden|
|Wild marjoram||Culinary herb
|Has been in the bed since the beginning, lovely!|
Tap root to break up stony soil
Leaves for accumulating nutrients
Leaves pulled when too large / encroaching on other plants and mulched on bed
|Spring pea||Garden plant bought for early flowers and nitrogen fixing.|
|Ground ivy||Spread from next door and is prone to over run this and other beds. I will be removing it as far as possible next year.|
This bed very quickly established itself, looking very good and producing harvests in its first year.
It has continued to be easy to look after, productive and attractive!
- Lamb’s lettuce which self seeds from year to year. Harvests can start early in the year and last for several months until the plants run to flower and seed.
- Land cress – some plants stay in situ and new ones are self set. Harvests are from early in the year for several months. Later, larger leaves can be cooked.
- Wild rocket – harvests are from spring to late autumn every year.
- Leaf beet – some plants stay in situ and new ones are self set. Harvests are from spring until the plants send up flower shoots. I let the seeds ripen and collect them to share with others.
- Variegated Daubenton’s kale does not flower and is potentially ‘harvestable’ all year round. This year has been a very good year with harvests through much of the summer. I take cuttings in autumn and winter to propagate more plants.
- Other kales – currently Taunton Deane and Asturian kale. Harvestable in the spring, autumn and winter.
- Herby harvests have included chives and lemon balm. The former for salads and the latter for herbal tea to help me sleep – for which it is very effective.
This bed is elevated above the level of the underlying stony, clay soil and has a high proportion of organic material within it. It has developed a lovely textured soil, full of worms that seems very fertile and produces good, healthy plants. It doesn’t need any additional edging to hold it in place.
I have tried growing peas in this bed for additional nitrogen fixing, but they don’t grow at all well. I will try with more field beans next year, which I think I have used here before.
Flowers and biodiversity
This bed has lots of flowers in the spring – wild garlic, three cornered leek, sweet cicely, forget me nots, pulmonaria, honesty and more. In the summer it is awash with radish and marjoram flowers but could include more variety, which is something to think about for next year.
Because of the dampness here I have several times spotted frogs and toads lurking just beneath the soil surface. There are no ponds or streams very close so it is good that this provides a suitably damp habitat for them.
This bed looks after itself very well apart from the need to keep on top of the buttercups that would surely over run it in this damp corner if I did not remove them. They still grow in the lawn behind the bed, so will continue to be a ‘problem’.
There is not a problem with slugs here, though you might expect that given the damp conditions. This is due at least in part to them not really being present when I started this garden.
Cabbage white butterflies are a problem later in the year. To begin with I do take off either the eggs or the affected leaves, but after a while they get ahead of me and I give up. This year when we went on holiday in September there were lots of caterpillars all over the kales, but by the end of October the plants had re-grown and I was harvesting
This is what it looked like this morning on a glorious, sunny, frosty, clear November day!