• Sam & Elle

Garden Diaries, part 2

Looking back from the height of Summer, when the garden is so green and vigorous – even if it is a particularly cold, wet July at the moment – it's hard to remember how the garden looked when we started the year. It has been really rewarding to watch the garden taking shape, both in terms of major structural changes, and the smaller, natural rhythm of the seasons.

Growing our own food, and making the garden feel like a place in which we want to spend time has definitely been high on our list of priorities.

Of course, the last few months of lockdown have meant we have been able to spend much more time in the garden than previously: we are still both working full-time jobs, but without our lengthy commute, we have had much more time at the beginning and end of the day to dedicate to the things we really care about, as discussed in one of our posts last month.

Growing our own food, and making the garden feel like a place in which we want to spend time has definitely been high on our list of priorities.


April

As we went into April ,we were met with several challenges for both us and our garden.


The strict government lockdown impacted on what we were able to do with the garden. While we suddenly had more time to tend to the garden (we gleefully used our lunch hour to do a spot of pottering), with the garden centres and DIY stores closed, we weren’t able bring many of our original plans to fruition.


Having foreseen a potential lockdown, we had managed to buy enough pots, seeds and compost to see us through the next few months, but it posed a bit of a problem for the new beds we had hoped to build, and the compost heap we had hoped to buy. Instead, we had to think resourcefully, and rely on the small amount of materials, tools and equipment we already had to come up with alternative plans.


Dismantling the old vegetable beds, Sam designed and built a compost heap (on which he created this post), and the remainder wood was used to create 3 diamond-shaped shallow raised beds. Though only temporary, these beds have allowed us to continue with our growing plans this year, as well as pinpoint exactly where we want to build some more permanent beds next year.

Our plum tree, which in March had looked so promising with its delicate white blossoms slowly transforming into tiny baby plums, was devastated by a combination of insects, bad weather and hungry birds. Over time, we watched our hopes of a phenomenal plum harvest slowly diminish. We are now down to a single plum – a pretty poor harvest by anyone's standard – and we are not convinced that this last little hanger-on will make it to our table either.


The month ended more hopefully than it began, with the fig showing new shoots and leaves, and the promise of a rich summer harvest as is was peppered with little figs, the most we have ever seen it produce before.


May

With the first (though meagre) harvest of the Alpine strawberries, and an abundance of chive flowers appearing (many of which have found themselves used to garnish salads, simple pasta dishes or our tuna fishcakes), we thought that it was about time we spruced up the garden and finally got around to the dreaded (and long overdue) task of painting the fence. Due to lockdown restrictions we were not able to go together to choose paint, so we had to split-up, often having to describe colours over the phone. The final choice was a bright blue/green colour called 'Seagrass' from Cuprinol, which – while perhaps a little brighter than we had expected proved to be exactly the mood-booster we needed in these challenging times.

Everyone else seems to make fence painting look really easy, but we managed to make it look like very hard work. We often found ourselves painting on the hottest days, becoming hot, dripping, sunburnt messes by the afternoon. Painting behind the elder tree in the corner of the garden was planned like a military operation, but disintegrated into farce. Nevertheless, the task slowly progressed throughout the month, and the final result was a much cleaner, unified garden that was a happier space to be in.


May saw the final frosts of the year and so, confident that warmer, sunny days were ahead of us, we planted-out our little broad beans, as well as the huge tomato plants that we had postponed planting-out earlier due to the weather, and were now 60cm tall, and looked like triffids on our kitchen windowsill. We approached the planting-out with some trepidation – both sets of parents had lost their courgettes to a late May frost – so we decided to wait until the start of June to plant out our courgette plants.

In the 'herb garden' – i.e., everything right of the path, the lovage really began to take off, and we have been once again using the larger stems as a celery substitute, whilst we used the smaller leaves for salads. Also, while the mint withered, the oregano was also flourishing, and we were able to start adding it to pizza and pasta dishes. This was the first time either of us had ever used fresh oregano before: it's usually one of those ingredients we just cannot get hold of, so it was quite a welcome novelty. The addition of a new cold frame – a gift from a parent – has also allowed us the space to start seedlings much earlier, and we have already started a small cluster of borage plants, as well as a second batch of broad beans.


Lastly this month, the beetroot, chard and tatsoi seeds were starting to germinate, so to protect the little seedlings from birds (and the neighbours' cats!) we covered the bed with netting and bamboo canes.


June

It looked like the sun was here to stay, so at the start of June we finally planted-out the courgette plants. Previously we have always grown the courgettes in a tall raised-bed in the sunniest part of the garden, and every year we find the plants overhanging the beds, threatening to snap, and the leaves white and brittle from the direct sun. To avoid these problems, we have relocated them to the shadier side of the garden, and planted them in one of the new, low, temporary beds. We shall see what effect that has!


We also planted-out three runner bean plants that we have been gifted: we planted them around an obelisk crudely fashioned from six tall, wonky bamboo canes bound together with parcel string. Next to these, we have squeezed two additional summer squash plants. At first this seemed economical with space, but seeing how quickly they are growing, we fear they will find themselves battling for space and light later in the year, but we will have to cross that bridge when it comes!

This seems to be the year of the blackfly. Of course, we have blackfly problems every year, but this has been the worst we have ever seen it. Our elder, which is always prone to blackfly infestations, has been so badly affected that it barely flowered. It was not helped by the fact our neighbour's elder, which leans over our back fence, was harbouring them in abundance. The path beneath it was was sticky with sugary secretions which is the reason ants have such an affinity with blackfly. The problem was beginning to stifle what we were trying to grow, so we eventually paid a friendly visit to ask them to prune the tree (which they graciously did), thus freeing our garden somewhat from the blackfly plague.


With the majority of our days now spent at home, either working or relaxing, we have realised that we need the garden to be more than just a space for growing produce: we need it to be somewhere we want to be, somewhere beautiful and peaceful.


One step towards this has been constructing an arbour (or covered bench), complete with delicate solar powered fairy-lights, to give us somewhere to sit in the evenings, with enough light to read and write. We have also made the decision to start introducing other plants to the garden (mostly chosen for their beautiful flowers) around the vegetables and herbs we are growing, adding both colour, and temptation for the bees.


We also harvested the first vegetables this month: beetroot, broad beans, tatsoi (a lovely addition in a stir-fry) and chard. We had hoped for a potato harvest, but this hasn’t been the case: We dug up a few to see what we had, and found only the smallest of potatoes, all about the size of a pea. We suspect the error has been ours not enough watering so we fear we might have lost our entire crop. You live and learn, and we keep our fingers crossed.

On a more positive note, the fig continues to be bountiful and beautiful. We hope we can start our the next Garden Diaries post recounting another bountiful harvest!

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