The Walled Vegetable Garden
One-and-a-half acres is a big space. And “vegetable garden” is a misnomer. But “vegetable, fruit, flower, wildlife-friendly, companion planted garden” would be a bit of a long title!
We are in the process of restoring the space to a productive source of food for the household. We have seven designated annual vegetable beds, each 5 metres wide to make netting etc. standard. There are further beds for perennial artichokes and asparagus. They aren’t all functioning yet. There are more wild spaces to be claimed. We have fruit beds – one for raspberries, redcurrants and alpine strawberries, one for rhubarb, another for strawberries and currants. There is another self-contained “allotment” and fruit beds currently overgrown and in need of cleaning and replanting. It’s a long-term project.
We can’t grow alliums here because of white rot which takes 15 years to go away. But this year we are growing potatoes, legumes, brassicas and root crops. There is a seven-plot rotation plan which will have to include fallow/green manure years – probably on two of those each year.
We have a lean-to greenhouse on the west wall which produces early-season salads, then tomatoes and peppers. We want to build a new potting/tool shed to replace the rotting structure we currently use. The butterfly/bird/rabbit-proof brassica cages are proving a success – not slug or aphid-proof – but natural predators are encouraged and at least partially effective.
The soil, after 200 years or more of cultivation is excellent – so long as we can maintain its structure and fertility.
The biggest problem in this garden is shade. The self-set ash and sycamore trees on the south and east edges, neglected for decades, are now towering magnificent mature specimens – in the wrong place! How much of a problem – and what we can do about it – are issues to be worked out over future seasons.
The ponds need relining, the fruit cages need building and the comfrey bed needs weeding and extending. Gardens are a lifelong project!
The Walled Herb Garden
… probably wasn’t meant to be a herb garden. With its grand south-facing wall it was likely a fruit garden. Only in the 1990’s was it planted up as a medicinal herb garden. We are beginning to tackle the challenging task of clearing the overgrowth and “weeds” to find and revive the hidden herbs (not so hidden in some vigorous cases). The vestiges of its fruit identity – a fig, a peach, cherry, tayberry at least – could be rescued and added to. The big wall cries out for nectarines, apricots and the like!
(There is also a small culinary herb border in the back courtyard by the house. It seemed sensible for the cooks to have the common herbs to hand.)
The Walled Fruit Garden
Well it will be … It’s our own little lost garden of Heligan. A year ago we knew it as a narrow path beaten through a thicket of close-growing damson sucker trees and brambles head high and more, in-filled with great nettles and undergrown with a mass of ground elder. We hacked, felled and cleared it – and found a space the size of two tennis courts with another great south-facing wall. We have already planted various fruit trees and bushes – including an acidified blueberry bed. The challenge now is to keep on top of the ground elder and re-emerging brambles and nettles to let the fruit flourish – and gradually establish a pattern of paths and clear beds.
There are six of them. Three and a half of them support a members’ salad-growing enterprise with a huge range of rare, exotic, interesting, eye-catching and downright weird salads for notable local restaurants. And the household gets supplied too.
The other polytunnels produce mediterranean vegetables, experiments (like ocra, loofas and the like) and extend the season for more common or garden produce.
We have a smaller plastic propagating house too – which makes early season starting a lot easier and more successful.
It’s a lot of plastic – but it’s one of those compromises we end up accepting, all things considered.
The Triangle Field
It’s about one-and-a-half acres, about a furlong from the house. It was, briefly, a commercial market garden twenty years ago and it has known field crops like oats and barley. But for a decade at least it was mostly neglected.
After 2 years hard work, it is now a market garden scale project again. There are seven 5 x 20m vegetable plots, two allotment-size plots for perennial vegetable experiments, a gooseberry strip, a comfrey bed, a cottage garden (well, truck garden), a globe artichoke/bee flower border, a polytunnel, a propagating greenhouse and a field edge of fruit-to-forage. Adjacent, in the memorial garden behind a hawthorn hedge, is the apiary. There will be a strawberry strip, a small overflow (leeks this year) cum experimental bed, mini-orchard and a further fruit strip – probably summer raspberries.
We manage the project as a community-supported market garden on a workshare basis. That means we welcome local volunteers every/any Tuesday from 10 – 4. We provide elevenses, lunch, seasonal produce to take home, convivial company, experience and training in return for a day’s work – whatever needs doing at the time. We have had some lovely participants. We welcome others. Contact us if interested.
We have them – around the house, in the walled garden, in the market garden field, in the courtyard, here and there.
There was an intense time in this place when growing flowers was deemed indulgent, time-wasting frippery. What misguidedness! If growing vegetables can be deeply satisfying, hugely rewarding, and feeds the body, then growing flowers is deeply satisfying and hugely rewarding because it feeds the soul.
There’s a good case for mixing it up – and we do. There are good reasons for colourful marigolds, poached eggs, nasturtiums in with the vegetables. But there’s a good case too for the unapologetic flower beds: the perennial borders – dazzling rainbow swathes of spirit-lifting varied beauty; the guarded gems of azure hydrangea, of coral rhododendron and other luminous shrubs to be happened upon in their more hidden shady places; the insouciant, tumbling, bewitching confusion of the overflowing cottage garden with its intoxicating scents; the bee-friendly border with its jostling and startling array of summer cornfield poppies, cornflowers, marigolds, and, too, the cheeky preposterous sunflower tubs.
And then there are the darting dragonflies, the humming bees, the flitting butterflies to stitch it all together.
Let’s make no apologies for growing flowers.
Let our souls feast!