Wednesday 31 December 2014

End of month/year view: December 2014

Short video of the garden each month during the year (c. 48s)
NOTE: this is best viewed by clicking on the YouTube icon*

2014 saw the first full year of my new garden in growth after the landscaping was undertaken in December 2013. As the garden is currently covered under several inches of snow, there isn't much to photograph, so I thought I would take the opportunity to review how the garden has grown during it's first year. The aim I had for the garden when designing it had been: have a small kitchen garden, along with borders for perennials and herbs and a couple of fruit trees, within the aspect constraints. So my observation and thinking was around how I could achieve this, maximising what I can grow in a small urban garden.
Something I was thinking but forgot to include in the aim was also that it should be as attractive to view, and to sit in and enjoy as possible. And, that garden had to work around the constraint of my health issues, I have ME, which could effect energy levels and limited my my ability to always be able to garden.

The key dimensions of the garden are: 12m long and 4m - 5.5 m wide; with the aspect East-facing, the garage wall being in effect South-facing, and the fence border on the right effectively North-facing.

So, how did the garden grow in 2014?

Kitchen Garden
This encompasses the raised vegetable beds, some veg grown in pots, plus the Herb Border and the fruit trees: greengage, Morello cherry, damson and grape vine.

Some successes: broad beans and dwarf french beans

It's not a large space, but since June we have been eating some veg from the garden on a weekly basis. This started with an amazing Broad Bean crop 2.5kg of (shelled weight) beans from a 1m square bed. The small strawberry patch gave us several desserts, plus a few for the blackbirds (!) and I also had a fantastic crop of dwarf french beans. On and off from June to December I was harvesting everything from carrots and potatoes to kohl rabi, fennel bulbs and kale. In just the last couple of weeks I've also been harvesting the sweetest and most delicious parsnips too.

It wasn't all great harvests, there were some difficulties as well. I got a reasonable crop of courgettes, though not as many as I would have liked, no gluts for me! The pumpkins/squash however, did no good at all. I did get some starting off ok, but then they got blossom end rot. I'm going to add a lot more manure/nutrients to the area they will be growing in during 2015, in the hope that this will resolve the problem.

My tomatoes got hit by blight very badly and we only got to pick a few.

And when my climbing french beans were ready to be picked, I wasn't ready to pick them. I was going through a bad ME period and something had to give, I had to leave them and just pick the dried pods and use the beans in stews, which is what I did. So I did get to eat some of them, just not how I planned.

Reflecting on the good and bad, I've made some decisions that will be implemented next year. I've decided to only grow a couple of tomatoes and aubergines in pots, rather than in a whole bed. In their place I'm going to grow more brassicas, which I find much more reliable than tomatoes and aubergines. Another decision is that I've also realised that from a taste bud point of view, that I prefer curly kale or the nero di toscana type, compared to perennial kale. The perennial kale also ended up getting messy and took too much time cleaning off the white fly when preparing it to eat. So I'll be taking the perennial kale out, but now need to decide what to grow in it's place. I am keeping the non-flowering sorrel which was also in this bed, as it's a lovely lemony tasting perennial that is a great alternative to spinach. Pondering what else to add...

Perennial garden
The Herb and Strawberry borders have been very successful. In particular, I use the herbs all the time in cooking and I always have plenty on offer depending on the food I'm cooking. Next year I hope to have the time and energy to take cuttings of herbs like oregano, in order to dry them.

I don't eat chives, but I love them for the flowers, as do the bees. The sage has got a bit unruly and I don't use it as often as other herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary and French tarragon, so I'm reflecting on whether to keep it in the border or put it in a pot to control it's size a bit.

I have mixed feelings about the Cornus Border. It's quite young in its development and I need to be patient to let it mature. To increase lower growing/ground cover plants, I've added cyclamen cilicium and Cyclamen coum to the earlier planted Cornus-canadensisSedum 'Mr Goodbud' is looking good, and I assume that the Hellebores, Pulmonaria and Veronica gentianoides will fill out more next year.

However, as much as I love the Cornus I've chosen per se (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' and Cornus alba 'Kesselringii'), I'm not sure they are the right ones in this position. This is because the main feature of the Cornus is it's beautiful stems, and I chose them when seeing grass, not thinking about the black raised beds that would be behind them. So the beautiful red/dark red stems aren't all that easy to see... I quite like the colour of their leaves and think they help break up the space between the lawn and kitchen garden, but for stems, something like the orange-yellow stems of Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' may have been a better choice. So I'll need to make a decision soon-ish, before the current plants get to established, making them harder to dig out.

The other main perennial border is the Long Shady Border. This has some wonderful plants in it, for example: Amsonia tabernaemontana, Geranium pratense Midnight Reiter, Lychnis flos-cuculi (Ragged robin), Osmunda regalis 'Purpurascens', Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' (and several other epimediums - I've developed a 'thing' for epimediums) and the two Acers, Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' and Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'. It has the Morello Cherry being trained along the fence, as well as Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin'. And it is scattered with bulbs and corms like bluebells, anemones and fritillaries.

The problem is, well, I'm not sure, but it's just not right. Or maybe it is still quite young and I need to give it time to mature (again). I've realised that I haven't focused on this border enough and need to really look at it properly. So for 2015, this border will be the focus of my End of Month View. Let's see if giving it more attention, and hopefully getting feedback from readers of my blog, I might be able to pull it together.

This focus may also help me what to to with the boggier part of this border, which easily gets waterlogged, as I've mentioned in the past. Despite all the observation I did over 2013, it wasn't until after the landscaping was complete and the heavy Spring 2014 rains came, that this became a problem. Some plants seem to accept being waterlogged, such as the Persicaria affinis 'Superba'Astrantia major 'Hapsden Blood' and Primula 'Guinevere'. I had to move the Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' to another part of the border as it doesn't like water logging at all. And I've added Ligularia 'The Rocket', primarily for it's foliage and the fact that it's happy in a boggier situation. You can see the large serrated purple-green leaves below.

I'm just not sure if I want a 'bog garden'. So again, this will be something I'll be reflecting upon during 2015.

So the main question: has the permaculture design worked? Well, mostly. Clearly their are some problems, but I have, on the whole, maximised what I grow and where, within the constraints I have, meaning both physical health and the fact it's a small urban garden. There is of course, room for development, the Long Shady Border, etc.

That garage wall is a glaring omission. Well, even that, not quite. I deliberately created individual beds with paths to the wall because my plan is to eventually build some kind of bespoke 'greenhouse' on the wall, and I wanted to make sure access was built into the design. So whilst the garage wall is a large empty space, and a bit of an eyesore if I'm honest, the plan is that eventually it will be a vertical growing space in which I can get seedlings off to an early start each year, and a place for growing winter salads and other delights.

Ignore the garage wall. Doesn't my arch look pretty in the snow & blue sky :)

I'm am aware that my garden isn't the most aesthetically pleasing. Having a functional space for growing food is really important to me. But flowers/perennials have become just as important; I sometimes feel torn in two, but am determined to have both! So I am hoping to get better incorporating flowering plants & foliage, shrubs and climbers into the garden, to add form to the function, and make it more attractive to view through every season.

At the end of the day, the month, the year, despite sometimes having no energy to do anything other than look out the window, the garden has given me so much happiness this year. Whether it has been short bursts of micro-tasking, popping out to pick some flowers or harvest food, or sitting outside and reading or just looking at the plants, I really love and enjoy my garden. So that's another aim to add to the list. I think that should be number one.

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End of month view is hosted by Helen Johnstone, aka @patientgardener. Visit Helen's blog for her December/yearly 2014 EOMV and links to other bloggers EOMV posts.