The second half of the year 2022 has been a time of experimentation – some intentional, some forced on me by nature!
For East Anglia and parts of south-east England it was the fourth driest summer ever recorded, according to Met Office time series stats. I was keen to prevent the crops in my small vegetable plot from being attacked by pigeons and also wanted to put them into a kind of “intensive care”, in a configuration which would enable me to keep a close eye on watering, fertiliser, etc. The boxes meant I could grow as wide a variety of veg. as I’ve grown in the often much larger gardens we’ve cultivated in the past – and protect the plants from the pigeons!
Part of our veg. patch in 2012 is shown below. One thing that has occurred to me since those days a decade ago is to wonder whether it’s really necessary to grow basic staples such as carrots and parsnips. There are certainly advantages in terms of flavour and if the space is available I’d vote in the affirmative; however, having a smaller patch has persuaded me to grow some slightly less commonly grown veg., such as celeriac, Swiss chard and kale.
Not for one minute did I expect everything in our new garden to go according to plan; and sure enough there have been disasters as well as triumphs.
As detailed in my previous gardening piece, I grew five varieties of tomatoes in the greenhouse. I’ve been growing tomatoes, outdoors mostly but also in a greenhouse, for most of my adult life. It was a worthwhile trial, my main conclusion being that there are definite aesthetic culinary advantages in producing a variety of shapes (eg pear shapes), sizes (large and small) and colours (yellows, reds). The one disappointment was the Roma VF variety, well-placed to catch the sunshine but not too forthcoming with fruit …
I’ve put some kale in part of the patch previously occupied by the runner beans. I believe they do well in Scotland and are very nutritious (I’m not going to look it up!). They seem to be growing only slowly down here in Norfolk but maybe they’ll suddenly have a growth spurt in the Spring. I remember growing kale a long time ago and deciding that it was rather bitter, but hey ho, let’s give them another try.
I started the kale off in one of the plastic cases that I upcycled from those we purchased to transport extra items to our new home, last January. Again, I’ve described the process I used to make around a hundred holes in each box. This form of container growing is something I want to pursue. The soil in some has become rather sour, sometimes with moss! So clearly I haven’t got it right but I’ll carry on with both experiment (add grit, ash, lime?) and research to try to find a successful strategy.
The back garden was a simple rectangle of mown grass when we moved in. I spent the first half of the year constructing borders – very satisfying! This autumn we’ve selected some bulbs for the many pots we brought with us – remember when I was deciding which to bring this time last year? – as well as planting a wide variety in the borders at the front and back. More news later …
… though some are already on the move.
Ah yes, triumph and disaster … sadly, the two roses I planted in Spring never made it. I’d hoped they wouldn’t notice the shadows from fences and the enormous oak and sycamore trees at the end of the garden, having known a few roses survive in shady conditions previously; but you can’t expect miracles and, despite my best efforts with rotted farmyard manure and rose fertiliser, like all roses they were obviously sun worshippers. RIP.
But … all is not lost and I’ve added three new specimens of apricot-coloured roses into the front garden, which receives full sun. The varieties we chose were Grace, The Lady Gardener and The Lady of Shallot. I’m looking forward to examining the different habit, fragrance, bloom shape, etc. of each rose, given that they should be approximately the same colour. I purchased bare-root roses from David Austin again.
It was very soothing to watch the sheep grazing in the meadow at the back. I got out my pencil and paintbrush and started sketching. And then one day they weren’t there any more …
I’ve moved a few prime specimens into the greenhouse for protection over the winter. Getting the balance right with winter watering is never easy.
Indoors, we’ve been using the hydroponics machine to grow Pak Choi, so far, and it’s been a great success and far more interesting that I expected. It’s worked like a kind of production line, seemingly with a plant ready whenever we need one!
Why Pak Choi? Simply because it seems about the right size to grow to maturity. The 24-hour lighting module (automatic 16 hours on, 8 hours off) is adjustable upwards if necessary. But my thoughts now are turning to the idea of using the ten “bays” as a propagator to germinate and grow on a wide variety of seeds. It’s many years since I had the space to use a full size propagator but this little machine could be just what’s needed. I’ll report back in due course.
The packet of cacti seeds that I purchased when I was a student must have given me more pleasure over the years than any other. There are about eight survivors from my days in a Blackheath, south-east London flat. For many, cacti-growing is a hobby in itself and I can well understand why.
The clearing of autumn leaves from the two trees – oak and sycamore – at the end of the garden was a monumental, two-month task. I filled countless trugs with acorns (though the pigeons gobbled up a fair few): not a task a non-gardener would relish but to me it’s excellent exercise, with a strong sense of achievement at the end.
Happy New Gardening Year, everyone!