Progress towards new planting areas……..

Last weekend Pat and I were in the garden extending the growing area.  She was removing lawn and I was using the removed turf, plus other organic materials to make new beds.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

It was absolutely fantastic being out in the newly minted spring sunshine but we did find it quite hard work.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

In fact very hard work….

KODAK Digital Still Camera

But no, I didn’t bury her beneath this:

KODAK Digital Still CameraThis was my work in progress – incorporating paper that would have needed shredding (already beneath the turfs), the box the paper was in, straw from a new delivery of fruit bushes, cuttings from the neighbour’s garden and ours from last autumn.  No bodies, I promise…..

….. even though the end result is a bit like a shallow grave!  After considering that last year’s bed needed something to help aerate the soil (and adding stones on top as an experiment) I think I will add some to this bed as well.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

I sowed buckwheat on the smaller bed and field beans on the other.  The downside of that has been that two local pheasants who have successfully evaded the guns for some years and are very plump and hungry came by to check out what was for dinner.  We have had real problems keeping them off the food put out for the garden birds, but this weekend they decided to dine on the buckwheat.  I covered the ground with spiky damson and holly cuttings, but they just tossed them aside.  They were busy eating every time I looked out, in fact the only time they scarpered was when I went out with the camera to catch a picture for this post!

It does all look quite messy on this side of the garden at present and I need to tidy it up a bit.  I plan to make an edge round the new beds and use them to plant what I am calling a “flower moat”.  Moat – because when I put a fork in the ground to take up the lawn edge, it takes a very deep hunk out – I can’t cut neat slices off the top.  Flower moat – trench filled with easy to grow bright and breezy flowers, mostly from saved seed.  This should help make it look great quite quickly.  Last year I was delighted with how quickly newly established perennial vegetables and flowers covered the first bed and made a lovely display.

Posted in Borderland Garden, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Within the problem lies the solution

One of the principles of permaculture is “the problem is the solution”.

One problem

The raw material of my garden is clay with a lot of stones and small rocks.   If I want to plant even the smallest thing it involves wrenching out a lot of stones and I end up trying to think of somewhere to put them as there are too many just to leave.

Another problem

Last year I built a new perennial vegetable polyculture patch from branches, sticks, twigs and upturned turf.  Mulched with all sorts of organic materials through the summer (grass cuttings, hedge trimmings, pulled up ‘weeds’ etc) it fared very well.  It was productive and lovely to look at.  However since then we have had a wet winter and as it has not had anything like sufficient time to mature into an good natured nicely textured soil much of this bed is very wet, heavy clay.


These are my twin ‘problems’ at this point in time.  What I have decided to do is to collect up stones and place them on top of the vegetable bed.  I have been sparing with them, scattering them about, not creating a dense covering, although I have enough to do so!  I am hoping that mulching on top of them plus perhaps the action of worms and other soil creatures will mix them in with the clay and that will help improve the texture and drainage.  It is an experiment, I haven’t had soil like this before, so we will see what happens!

Another solution may be to incorporate spare stones into paths and edges of the beds but not just yet.



Posted in Borderland Garden, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

St David’s Day and making a start on the new plans for the garden

The Borderland Garden is exactly that – a garden on the borders between Wales and England.  It is a very wobbly, wavy border, hard to spot on the  map and even harder to interpret on the ground sometimes as only the A roads mark the transition and most roads here are very minor indeed!  One side of the house looks firmly towards Wales, but turn a corner on the decking and you are looking at both England and Wales in the same direction!

Today is St David’s Day or Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant.  Thirty two years ago I moved from Reading (where I grew up) to Lampeter in Dyfed the day before and St David’s Day was my first experience of the “Welshness” of a small town in the west of this lovely country.  I loved it then and I love it now.  But that is a bit beside the point of the garden and plans for the coming year.  There are three themes that I can identify :

  • to plant more fruit trees;
  • to add to the growing space;
  • to organise the growing space differently.

The idea for more fruit trees only arrived in my head a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not even sure how I came across it, but in wandering about the internet I found a book called “Grow a Little Fruit Tree” by Ann Ralph.  I ordered it and am currently reading it.  She uses a pruning method that keeps fruit trees very short – so that the gardener can easily reach into the top of it.  She has been doing this for decades and the pictures in the book clearly show delightful small trees bearing delicious looking fruit.  Adopting this method will enable me to include more fruit trees when I had previously thought it might not be possible.  The border in the photo below will be extended outwards and the trees will go in there.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This will extend the growing space and the turfs removed will be put to use on an extension to the main vegetable polyculture.  I began work on that today using organic materials left over from last year.  Branches cut from the hedge in the autumn were stowed  for the winter at the base of the hedge, in large clumpy piles.  Today I moved those piles and spread them out over an area of grass.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

I added some fennel stems which the birds have finally stripped of their seeds.  It does look messy at present and won’t look any better for a few months to come.  After the turfs are added some time this month I will be able to plant and sow into it.

I plan to organise the planting in all the areas of the garden by different edible themes.  As there will be more space than before I hope that it won’t be necessary to grow plants rather closer together than I would like.  Last year’s joyful mixtures of perennial vegetables, herbs, flowers and shrubs worked absolutely fine and looked really nice, but I would like to make the garden easier for other people to interpret and to that end it needs a bit more definition.  I have plans for what will go where, so here’s hoping I manage to stick to them.

In the meantime from a damp, windy, wet and occasionally sunny Wales – Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus!

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Fruit, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures | Tagged | Leave a comment

The year’s work and produce in the Borderland Garden 2014

I am pleased with the results from the Borderland Garden for last year.  Before I began to add up my figures I anticipated more time spent and less produce than there was.  In a perennial vegetable garden the harvests tend to come in relatively small amounts over the whole year and this year I harvested 22 kg.  For this harvest I worked for 59.5 hours.

This was the second year of gardening here.  The main perennial vegetable polyculture was re-located to make way for an extension to the house.  This accounted for about twenty hours of time and planting six fruit trees accounted for another six or so hours as the groyund is solid clay with embedded rocks.  There was no digging involved in the preparation of the polyclutre bed as this was “constructed” entirely above the existing ground level as detailed in my post of 2nd March.

The new bed gave an expanded growing area and the opportunity to add more plants.  The majority of these were transplanted from the Telford garden which (as regular readers will know) was sold (with its’ adjoining house) in November.  Hence a relatively large amount of time spent planting out and very little sowing seeds.  I will post the results for the Telford garden in due course, at present I can’t find the notes in the remaining post move muddle!

The tables below summarise the harvests and hours spent working in the garden.

Produce from Borderland Garden 2014
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Onions 156 378 61 595 3
Cooking greens 100 1841 610 52 2603 12
Salad leaves 7 379 0 115 494 2
Roots 3310 132 246 416 4104 19
Pods / fruiting veg 0 43 13084 768 13895 63
Fruit 0 0 0 151 151 0.5
Other 7 154 161 0.5
Total (g) 3573 2927 14001 1502 22003  
Total (kg) 3.573 2.927 14.001 1.502 22.003  
Produce 2013
Total (g) 1695 4015 5813  
Total (kg)     1.695 4.015 5.813  


Time spent in Borderland Garden 2014
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Sowing seed / taking cuttings 0 2.25 3 0 5.25 9
Planting out 10.75 3.25 5 0.5 19.5 32
Management / maintenance 0.75 4.5 0 5.25 9
Preparation of new areas 27 0.5 0 2 29.5 50
Other tasks 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 2014 38.5 6 12.5 2.5 59.5 100
Total 2013 2.25 54.25 17.75 3.75 78 100

The principles that I adhere to in this garden are as detailed in my book Edible Perennial Gardening – minimum time and effort, letting nature do as much of the work as possible, building fertility by adding biomass of all kinds as a mulch on the soil surface.

There is a long way to go before it is anything like as alive and fertile as the other garden became over the years, but I am very happy with progress so far.  Having a rich clay soil is of course a help in respect of fertility.  I noted that some of the small branches and twigs embedded in the polyculture bed have begun to break down as I could see the white mycelia coming from them.  But in other places, such as along the carrot and fennel “hedge” / edge plant material that I cut and lay down on the soil has been there without breaking down for months.  Clearly it will take time for the decomposer organisms to establish across the garden.

Here are some reminders of how the garden developed between March and September:

photo (14)

Newly constructed polyculture bed in March


…. and in Jun

DSCN6554 polypatch 1


DSCN6692 bursting with lifeand September!

In my notes from last year – along with the details of plantings and times – I wrote:

“Take time, no hurry, nature is bountiful.  Rush and you miss opportunities, rush and you miss possibilities, rush and you  miss the point of it all.  Go slow.”

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures | 2 Comments

….. and the beginning of a new challenge

Over the years of experimenting with perennial vegetables I have been buying and also saving a lot of seeds.  Of course I have planted a lot too, but I seem to have ended up with an amazing quantity.  As we moved house I was finding them in all sorts of drawers, cupboards and corners that I had forgotten about.  Yesterday I finally had time to sort through them and laid them out on the floor, still in their boxes.  What a lot!

DSCN6901 seeds galore

I sorted and listed them and have 167 different things which is far more than I thought.  I have had some of them for a number of years and they will be less likely to germinate, but many of them will still be fine.



In view of this massive stash it is just as well that as we were going through the process of selling our home the offer of a new place to grow veggies arose.  Graham, who I met at Shrewsbury Flower Show in the summer, has offered me the chance to grow on a patch of land where he lives.


The polyculture patches I have grown in to date have been small, in contrast the potential growing area in the new location is, at a guess ten times the area, or possibly more.  So, it’s just as well I have a lot of seeds to start things off.  I also have some ideas I want to try out so watch this space to see how things evolve!

PS I do still have the Borderland Garden which I will be developing at the same time as taking on the new challenge.

Happy Christmas to everyone!

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Seeds and seed saving | 2 Comments

End of an era

Next Friday we move out of this home.  My partner has lived here for 32 years and I joined her fourteen years ago when the new millennium was a few months old.  Needless to say we have a lot of packing and sorting to do which meant that today was my last chance to get out in the garden – harvest a few things – and to say a sad farewell.

DSCN6858 back gardenI have removed the perennial vegetables from the back garden now and what remains are herbs, wild strawberries, wild flowers with an edge of shrubs.

DSCN6862 faithful red russian kale

This may not look like much of a plant but it is a red Russian kale that I have had for many years.  It lost its redness a long time ago, but has been a really, really hardy and useful plant.  It will live on via the many cuttings I took a few weeks ago which are already sprouting.

DSCN6867 P2The perennial vegetables are also gone from the front garden polyculture but the edges of fruit and shrubs remain and will always be abundant and attractive.  I have only used part of the garden for my experiments.  Most of the front looks quite normal –


DSCN6868 front

although the lawn is mainly moss.

DSCN6879 moss or is it lawn

I said goodbye to my favourite trees, plants and places:

DSCN6865 pond

There’s a pond under here, home to frogs and toads;

DSCN6869 greengage and hollyand this gnarly old trunk belongs to a very old greengage tree.  It is hollow on the other side and hardly able to produce any greenery or fruit.  The garden was once part of an orchard belonging to a manor house and this plus other fruit trees in the neighbourhood is a survivor from those long lost times.  In contrast the holly bears its vivacious berries most years.

DSCN6871 edgeIt was the tendency of the garden to be somewhat wild around the edges, (as well as damp and shady) that first set me thinking about growing different things here.  I used to try to tidy up much more but since learning about forest gardening and permaculture I have totally relaxed about that and really love the way plants intermingle and entwine themselves.

DSCN6872 winter jasmineWe have a beautiful willow tree which gets its water from a stream in the front, however it needs regular pollarding to stop it getting too massive.

DSCN6877 willow all

DSCN6883There are abundant ferns on the stream-side which I used for mulching the garden when they got too large.

DSCN6884 lane

I have always loved our quiet lane,

DSCN6889 lane other way

with the stream gently trickling alongside.

DSCN6888 stream

Despite living close to the motorway, retail park, the college, football ground and station the house is tucked into its’ own little corner of peace and tranquility.

DSCN6886 front view

DSCN6893 front


DSCN6874 P2

And this is how I will remember the garden – on an afternoon in late spring – exuberant, abundant and vibrant with life; the perfect place to sit and unwind after work!

DSCN3484 P1 plus flowers


Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Telford Garden | 5 Comments

Mashua in flower

How lovely is this!


What a sight for a damp and windy November afternoon on a Welsh hillside!


It was windy and the flowers kept moving about so this one’s a bit out of focus, but I was so glad to have seen these lovely flowers!


Posted in Borderland Garden | Tagged | 13 Comments