it’s always a struggle to sit and write about gardening…when theres always so much to get outside and actually do…on top of which we have actually seen the sun around these parts this past few weeks, so its harder again to sit at a desk and not be outside enjoying it..….however, the north easterlies are blowing today and its a bit on the chilly side, so I’m going to try write an update on progress over the past 6 months.
as a spring baby, i think i love this time of year best…there’s promise in the air and everything is coming on in such leaps and bounds. the swallows are back and all the birds around here have been pairing up…the many berry bushes that we planted last year are really looking good and are throwing up flowers and berries this past few weeks. and the strawberry plants are already in bloom and generally spreading themselves around and about the place.
as we are only into year 3 we haven’t got much canopy shade yet, but the soil is building and all of the plants look like they are doing really well. our main aim is to continue with this to develop shade, but we will be working on overgrowing the ground with grass replacements to establish more diversity and nutrient support. Mary has also advised us on what to plant in order to introduce more leafy perennial veg plants to diversify from the dependence on fruit and nuts which are seasonal and short lived..i’ve put a list below for reference.
over the winter time and leading up to spring, our main jobs have been maintenance and generally trying to keep on top of the grass situation. we’ve come up with a good solution though which has worked very well for us so far. we started to collect cardboard…LOTS of cardboard….then asked our local farmer to drop around any bales of hay that were spoiled and couldn’t be used for the animals that he would have no use for. so, this past winter i have mostly been laying down cardboard on top of the offending couch grass, then covering it with a good layer of rotten hay in a lasagne layering type fashion. its been a big job, with such a big area to work on and i must have shifted about 10 big round bales of hay but its working. where I’ve run out of cardboard i have little pockets of grass trying to poke its head above the parapet, so its an ongoing exercise. the ‘look’ of the whole place can be somewhat of a challenge to most folks that come around, and see me tucking in the grass for the winter under a stinking pile of hay, but i think this is going to work in the long run….straw may have been a better choice but i couldn’t get a hold of any organic straw that wasn’t coated in herbicide, so i went with hay. as its so old I’m not seeing any new grass regrowth from the seeds that were undoubtedly within the bales – so fingers crossed that I’m not re-sowing grass on top of my grass. even after only 3 months, when you peel away the hay and poke down to the ground below, the soil looks in better nick already.. the grass is not gone by any stretch under its cosy blanket, but it is seriously suppressing it. if i keep doing it and planting down through the hay, then the idea is that it’ll eventually be completely overgrown by things that we want in the garden and the grass will be out competed and slink off to another place to do its thing…
I’ve also been harvesting my willow whips and shredding them through my mulching machine to keep building up the paths throughout the garden. they’ve been a huge success and i can highly recommend this idea to anyone looking for a cheap and fairly labour un-intensive way of path making. with all these things garden related, once you’ve done the hard labour initially, it gets easier and the maintenance is easy enough.
in the late autumn of last year i gathered all the nettles that were growing around the periphery of the garden and stuck 2 or 3 wheelbarrow loads into a big rain bucket water collector. then filled it to the top and left to stew for a few months. the stink was strong for sure, and when i went in to fish the stalks of the nettles out to leave the good liquid behind to use as a fertiliser, i did have to hold my breath rather a lot. the upside is that i now have a really great natural fertiliser. little bit of that in the bottom of the watering can and fill up with preferably rain water from another water butt, and hey presto – a good witches brew of foul smelling but good stuff!
around paddy’s day joe planted big swathes of spuds using the no dig method. first time we’ve tried growing them without actually breaking the soil with the spade. poked them into the hay, sprinkled over some seaweed fertiliser then a big load of straw on top. the first lot we planted have sprouted through the straw already. we’re keen to see how this works and again, the large amount of straw that we’re using on top of the spuds is a great mulch for the soil in general and its one less heavy job to do – ie. digging. that’s a good thing…..plus the fact that this is infinitely better for the soil and the myriad of life within it.
also, while I’m still developing and nitrogen fixing my hugelkultures in order to grow annual crops, I’ve got other little flat beds which I’ve laid down cardboard and then covered in top soil. in these i have sown carrots, beetroots, kale, onions, garlic, beans and peas. this year I’m surrounding them with little cages so i can keep ahead of the birds and their thieving ways…
alongside trying to diversify what we have already growing, we need to start on the shrub layer. that’s the next big planting job. we need to plant a lot of nitrogen fixing shrubs alongside an edible shrub layer and other ground covers (outside of the ever encroaching strawberry plants!) so by this time next year, all these gaps in between the berry bushes might have shrubby friends around them helping to fill the holes. one can only hope! i have ordered these shrubs from Martin Crawford’s Agro Forestry Shop and they should hopefully be sent to us in November to plant.
right. better get back out there with a scarf on and see that sun before it disappears. suffice to say, if nothing else the forest garden remains a really beautiful little spot to sit in and enjoy…it’s getting better with age as all things do, and i am very lucky to have had Mary design this space for us….i read interviews with Mary where she describes herself as having failed with some of her previous designs, before her book, The Garden Awakening, was born…..but this design is by no means a failure. its buzzing with the good stuff and is very much alive…there are certainly not a lot of landscapers that can bring that real energy into a place…it works Mary!
ps: some snaps of the last 6 months too…from October when the blackberries and the borage and the calendula and the dynamics were still growing strong, through to the lovely cold crisp icy mornings that we had later in the season, through to this may when the sun started to shine and everything sprung back to life. we had a lot of lovely and interesting mushrooms that sprouted up around and about the place in the autumn time too. i take that as a good sign..
List of plants to get in the ground in November:
Nitrogen fixing shrubs
Eleagnus angustifolia x 1 – edible fruit n seeds, and good fuel crop for burning
Ceanothus prostratus x 2 – leaves make good soap substitute
Eleagnus multiflora x 1 – edible fruit – best dried
Leptospernum scoparium x 1 – tea tree oil made from its leaves
Caragana arborescens (Siberian pea shrub) x 1 – Seed pods and pea like seeds are numerous and edible – great choice of shrub for us
Myrtus ugni x 1 – evergreen small shrub – excellent fruit
Other shrubs and ground cover plants for the garden
Symphutum ibericum x 3 – dwarf, ground cover comfrey, cover up more ground with this full on plant tonic which benefits all fruit trees etc
Gleditsia tricanthos Millwood x 1 – seed pods – honey locust thornless variety
Acer rubrum x 2 – tree – better than sugar maples over here for tapping for sugary sap
Rheum rhaponticum x 2 – Siberian rhubarb
Oxyria digyna x 3 – mountain sorrel – edible raw leaves – lemony salad leaves
Cornus kousa chinensis x 1 – large shrub but pretty and fruits and young leaves are edible and tasty
Cornus Canadensis x 3 – ground cover 15 cm high edible fruit
Apios americana ‘Nutty” x 1 – perennial scrambling plant
Petasites japonica x 1 – suckering large perennial with large leaves– Japanese widely cook leaf stalks as veg
Rubus pentalobus ‘Emerald carpet’ x 3 – 10 cm highground cover carpet, non thorny, edible fruit, ususally evergreen
Rubus Berry Ashburner x 2 – 45 cm high evergreen – raspberry fruits will form if you have the other rubus I recommended present (R. pentalobus)
Chenopodium bonus-henricus x 2 – perennial spinach type staple leafy veg from old England
Claytonia siberica x 1 – ground cover, spreads, edible leaves
Sanguisorba minor x 3 – salad burnet – leaves available all year round – cucumber flavour salad leaves
Allium ampeloprasum babingtonii – Babingtons leek x 5 (comes as bulbs)
Allium moly (golden garlic) x 5 – (comes as bulbs)
Beta vulgaris “Maritima” x 2 – great cooked leaves – good plan to build up things useful other than berries n nuts
Aralia cordata (udo) x 1 – Staple vegetable in japan
Levisticum officinale x 2 – perennial also known as lovage – stalks are a celery substitute
Crambe maritima x 3 – periennial sea kale – will handle that wind and leaves and flowers are great cooked veg – and acts as a ground cover
Brassica oleracea ‘Acephala ‘Ewiger Kohl” x 1 – great cooked leaves – again it’s a good plan to build up things useful other than berries n nuts
Brassica oleracea ramose (Daubenton kale) x 2 – perennial kale leaves useful all year around
Brassica oleracea “Nine star perennial broccoli” x 2 – perennial broccoli – flowers and leaves
Mentha x piperita ‘Nigra’ x 1 – Black peppermint
Bunias orientalis – Turkish rocket x 6 – to build up leafy edibles