This morning I came across a picture of my garden last Summer. A lush green canvass full of happy dots of purple and pink and looking at out the window at the Winter garden now, it almost feels like I dreamed it. Is it really possible that a garden can be so vastly different? In a way this is what I love most about gardens, the changing seasons and the different faces of the space throughout the year. From the first spurts of Spring growth to the gradual dying down of oranges and brows, the garden offers us many surprises throughout the seasons.
Making a Plan
In my own space it’s been a while since I sat down and made a plan. Many years ago when I was laying out my borders around the house I did an overall design plan with shapes, sizes, heights and planting but after this the garden sort of took on a life of its own. Over the years I added plants randomly, often pulling up what had outgrown certain beds and often changing things up on a whim to accommodate my ever growing collection of perennials and grasses.
People often ask me if I design my own garden and I always tell them that my garden is my laboratory, where everything is tried out. My own borders are where I get to know the plants I specify first hand and I always order a few extra plants for planting schemes for exactly this reason. I guess this is one of the reasons why over the years the borders have taken on a bit of a wild feel. Not that this is unsightly but now that we are moving into a new year I feel like I could do with a little rethink. This year I have decided to take a bit of time to plan out a new concept for one particular area which needs a little tlc.
What you have to work with
Many people looking to design their garden have some form of existing planting or planted borders to work with. This is especially the case if you’ve moved into a house which someone else owned before you. Or maybe you had, like me, created some form of planting years ago and are now ready to look at making more of the space. Or you may even have a total blank canvass and want to get a start on your own new garden. No matter what, I always think the new year is such a time of hope and whether it is your own health, work or home, a new year carries with it the endless possibilities of a fresh start.
“So, taking a page out of my own book, my new year resolution is this: make a new plan”
The first thing I would advise you look at is what you want your garden to do for you. When I considered this I realised that while I wanted the garden to look lovely, I actually also wanted it to perform another function in the coming year. Over the last year I’ve become more and more interested in growing food for cooking and have found that there is nothing better than using home grown vegetables and fruits in the kitchen. So with this concept in mind I have decided to use one border which went particularly wild to create a bed dedicated to beautiful edibles.
Considering I will try and take on the garden on my own, I thought it would be a nice idea to outline some easy steps to creating your very own happy edible garden space for the new year. Here, I’ve broken it down into a few small steps to that it’s achievable and not too daunting. So if you’re feeling inspired by the new year, join me in my simple step by step way of achieving your new edible garden.
Step 1.Choose your garden
The very first thing we need to consider is what type of garden you want. There are many ways of creating edible planting beds from raised beds to containers in smaller gardens and also the traditional in-ground approach. Even the smallest gardens can benefit from a small container of edibles. These are all viable but considering I already have an existing border I have decided to use the in-ground method which simply plants the vegetables directly into the soil.
Step 2. Location
You should not underestimate the importance of location-especially with edibles this becomes a vital factor in the success of your plants. What you’re looking for is a location with plenty of direct sunlight and one not over shadowed by trees or houses. When you’ve identified the location you can start to mark out an area. It is good too start with a small area and if you want to expand it later you can always do this. Same applies to a container- always consider the location.
Step 3. Get digging….or not
I am personally a big fan of the ‘No Dig method’ one advocated by Charles Dowding. Not only is this a simple way of achieving a well prepared bed for you plants, it is also proven to be the least disturbing way of doing so for she soil, which is in essence a living organism. The idea, which is particularly handy for smaller beds but also works on larger ones, is based around the concept that the less disturbed the soil is, the better nature can do its thing. By adding a layer of cardboard and then a heavy layer of well rotten manure to the soil, the soil can take on all the nutrients of the compost and retain its structure. Many famous kitchen gardens such as Kew and Ballymaloe use this method so definitely proven to work wonders for the soil!
Step 4. Choose your plants & seeds
Now we can get really excited. Choosing which crops to grow is dependent on what you like to eat, what grows well in your environment and the size of space you have to work with. Don’t forget, in smaller spaces you can choose plants that grow vertically such as beans, peas and mangetouts to make the most of the space and plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers and some squashes like to grow on trellises or will need some form of support.
There are a few plants which I have found to be fantastic to start with and which just keep giving year after year for the kitchen. Lettuces and salads such as Rocket, which literally grows like a rocket in my garden are a fantastic crop to grow as they keep giving over many months. Plant a few different varieties and add some edible flowers such as calendula, viola, borage and nasturtiums and you can have colourful salads almost all year round. Sugar snap peas and mangetouts are so easy to grow and do very well in our climate. I used to plant them interspersed with other perennials in the garden and while they look pretty but they tend to do better when given more space. In my new bed I will grow them on bamboo teepee sticks and allow them plenty of space.
When considering what to plant there are also many handy rules for good companions. I have created a list on my own website of good and bad neighbours if you want to get a little more detail here.
Step 5. Get planting
Now your garden is planned and ready to go but depending on what you plant you will probably have to hold off until the first frost has passed. Now is a good time to get prepped with the tools you need for sowing then indoors on a windowsill so consider getting your seeds ready, your trays and your organic soil. If you have all these ready to go for Spring then you can get sowing and make your plan a reality. Remember to follow the instructions on the seed packet and consider the correct spacing as this will ensure for healthy growth.
If you want to create an edible garden that not only provides lots of goodness but also looks great consider planting some unusual varieties of plants, look out for purple carrots, rainbow corn, purple cabbages or black tomatoes. And there’s truly nothing prettier than the colour of artichokes in flower! My advice-play around with edible colour and most of all-have fun!