Friday, 6 November 2009

Garden Observation from Autumn Equinox 2009

Today I am caught by the wind and blown across my garden to the foot of the old pear tree, with its ivy-covered trunk and leaves covered in rust. At its roots euphorbia is starting to sprout again. An old wheelbarrow full of brambles and bindweed sits under its canopy. The wind moves deosil around me from the magnolia, through the holly tree which is just bearing berries, and into the large ornamental grass in front of it. Sounds shift and change, reflecting back the textures it encounters. A lone bird tweets with a sound like a clockwork toy being wound. And then the wind drops for a moment.

Another sound; the one I try to ignore. Roaring, relentless traffic only two gardens and one house back. The A3 main arterial road into London: lorries rumble, motorbikes zoom, sirens wail. Non-stop white noise energy. But unlike the wind it only travels in two directions...scurry and hurtle. The breeze fluffs my hair briefly, and then moves on. I follow it now, past the hawthorn, whose berries sit next to the wind-fallen apples gently rotting on the recently re-discovered path. I watch it rattle the seed pods of the lupins, and the dried up petals of the aquilegia dance in its wake. Hover flies explore, flies buzz and bees bumble, still searching for nectar amidst last-blooming coral pink roses and yellow morning glory. Wafts of compost and the sweet-candyfloss scent of blackberries on the air. Butterflies dance a twist together, up into the sky, round and round, before breaking free and going on their way. Joy! The wind shows me that everything has its own dance, its own time and its own journey in the cycle of becoming. The world is not linear, unlike the busy road nearby.

This is a piece of writing that came from an online writing course I did with Starhawk in September and October.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Raw Earth

I had about three hours today while my niece babysat Sam, so I raked and cut and cleared and clipped and finally I can see a big patch of ground.

I haven’t posted for a while but I’ve been busy in the garden, here and there when I’ve had a couple of hours to spare, and sometimes when I’ve had no time to spare I’ve still been digging and sweeping and looking and thinking.

I’ve given up on keeping my focus on the end of the garden, although that is still my main priority. I’ve spent a lot of time out there this year. I’m getting to know her quite well now, and am seeing her as a whole environment. So to clear and nurture one part seems rather allopathic when I am a holistic kinda gal at heart.

And, if I’m being honest, which I am, no holds barred for a moment, this project was never going to be just about clearing some space to make a veg patch, although that is what started it all, and is still the main physical objective.

This is about transformation and challenge: My transformation, my challenge; My spirit, Sam’s spirit; the locus genii and the spirit of my mother.

Today I re-housed a tiny lizard; disturbed an enormous toad and then tried to put the roof back on his house until I have somewhere else he might like to live. I raked over two red-ant hills and another colony was destroyed when I pulled up a plank of wood.

That is one of the tensions of gardening. The wildlife in the garden has settled and proliferated and now I am uprooting and unsettling in the name of cultivation and care. Do all gardeners make a contract with the wildlife that shares their space? I will re-organise and re-shape but then I hope to offer as much opportunity for the wildlife in the garden to stay as was. I hope I can manage this.
I remember listening to Gardener’s Question Time on Radio 4 years ago, and one of the listeners’ questions was how to get rid of worm casts on a lawn, and whether it would be possible to get rid of the worms! This was obviously met with reserved BBC-style hilarity and an explanation of why this would not be a good idea.

So, as in life there are all kinds of gardeners, gardening for all kinds of reasons. But the above story does raise a question about how connected we are with our environment. And if we do have a connection, what kind of connection is it and what does it mean?

Last week I planted a Japanese anemone and a perennial geranium, ‘hocus pocus’, by the apple tree. Today I soaked some Winter Aconite corms in water for a few hours and then planted those in the same place. I am trying to add a mix of plant species that will provide colour and variety throughout the year.

The michaelmas daisies were still buzzing with bees today and I managed to get a couple of good bee photos. I have been filling up the large border by the patio with bee-friendly perennials and will continue to make sure the bees are well catered-for in this garden.
The importance of this must not be under-estimated with the critical situation our bee population is in. If you don’t know about this now is the time to get educated. The implications of the devastation of our bee population cannot be overstated. I will write about this again here but see the excellent Help Save Bees web site here for a feature I wrote which gives some idea of the issues.
Everything I do takes longer than I thought it would- such is life- but I am still amazed at what I achieved in three hours.

I have done every single bit of it myself so far. My dad has taken a few loads of bramble cuttings and general garden rubbish to the local recycling centre but I have done the rest. For the time being it looks like it will continue to be my own solitary project.

I’ve had a couple of offers of help but so far it’s just been me. I look forward to the help when it comes – I am sure I will be ready for it! But at the moment this is time to connect with the earth, build a relationship with this place, think and make new connections in my brain and have some precious time out from everything else.
I am doing this as well as being a full time lone mum to Sam and a full time student, so I’m on a slow-but-steady pace. Wins the race.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Habitat Wall

Last weekend Sam and I went to Pestival at the South Bank Centre. We met up with friends and wandered around some of the activities and exhibits, and on the way home I bought some insect deeley-boppers for Sam and some delicious 'Linden Wood' honey from the Slow Food market outside the Royal Festival Hall.
The London Wildlife Trust had an excellent stand with activities and, amongst other things, a Habitat Wall on display. I want to build one in the garden by the pear tree. They are beautiful- art meets insect home. Le Corbusier meets the beetles, if you get my drift (wood).

Easy and fun to construct and create, the instructions for doing so are here:
Not strictly anything to do with growing fruit, veg and herbs but I am going to incorporate this side project here as well and aim to have it in place by spring.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Put your money where your mouth is...

I visited Wilkinson’s the other day and went slightly mad buying bulbs and seeds. As well as flower bulbs for the large bed by the patio, which I have been gradually building up all year, I have bought garlic, white and red onion and several packets of seeds: butternut squash; sprouts; purple sprouting broccoli; carrots; broad beans; peas; beetroot; tumbling tomatoes to grow in hanging baskets. This seems like a good start and I would hope to add runner beans, courgettes, cabbage, salad leaves and some herbs to that to give a good selection of seasonal produce. I am also hoping to get strawberry plants and raspberry canes too.
It has made me look at planting dates and think about sowing, hardening off and planting out etc. My mind has been well and truly boggled, especially after this morning when I started to look at options for how and where to grow. I would like some raised beds but can’t think too much about this until I have cleared the plot and dug it over. Only then will I really be able to look at options for growing. I am aware that I need to test the soil too.
So I have plenty to think about but it is very exciting. I am intending to companion plant and also bought some nasturtium and marigold seeds. I also got alyssum and a wildflower mix to plant as they will encourage bees and other pollinators and just because I love them. As I continue to hack away at the brambles and bindweed when I get a spare hour, the garden that still exists underneath is beginning to re-appear. These incredible thorny plants, which have grown up through the old concrete paths, are all over the whole garden. Concentrated in this patch, I have got some serious digging to do, although I have been assured (and know from previous experience) how dastardly-difficult it is to remove the roots that go deep and spread everywhere. That’s ok – as long as I can keep them at bay I am confident that it will become a more manageable challenge as this part of the garden is cultivated. I don’t want to use weed killer as I am keen to stay organic.
There are a couple of big piles of brambles that I have cut down which must be removed once again to the local recycling centre. The new compost bin has been delivered but there is still no space for it until I have stripped away a good deal more of brambles at the back of the pear tree.
This week, apart from my ongoing mission to cut down all the brambles, I will be taking a look at what gardening equipment is hiding away in the garage and see what else I will need before I can start growing.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Another path

I really couldn't see the wood for the weeds today and so I have just been hacking away until I cleared another, tiny, bit of path and another way into the end of the garden. The apple tree looks better but its poor branches on one side have really suffered from the neglect of the last few years, although there are some fine looking apples on it!I had just over an hour today and it is enough to make a difference but there is still so much to do. I will have most of wednesday this week and then I am hoping to have a whole two days next week.
As I garden I think. I think about writing. As I write I think about gardening. Can anything be better?

Apples are the fruit of transformation. So I invoke spirit of Apple to help bring transformation to this spot.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Compost and rumination

I have just ordered a compost bin through This is from the WRAP home composting scheme. The cost of the bin is subsidised, so was much less than its normal retail price.

There is still a tonne to clear before digging can commence, but yesterday Dad cleared some more and just in the space of an hour it looks different again. Sam has now been down to have a look at all the 'Ouch!' being cleared away. He enjoyed visiting our friends' allotment in Bristol so much he has been asking to go back. I asked him what he thought about us growing vegetables and fruit in the garden and he is very excited about it- especially the picking raspberries and strawberries part.

The subject of compost is a huge one and the more I look into it the more interested in it I become. I am liable to go off on tangents and get caught up in the complexity of one particular area, and I cannot afford to do that at the moment. My time and focus is limited and already spread thinly enough as it is. But it is something I will come back to.
So I will add that thought to the heap of subject matter currently occupying my brain, let it rot down a bit, and then see what happens when I get writing again.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Pressies, paths and progress

My chance to get started on this project coincided with my birthday (how handy) and I received from friends some great birthday gifts of books to help me along with my plans. And this gorgeous pressie from my friend Tania, an avid gardener and grower, who is a mine of information and enthusiasm.
Packed with flowers, squash, courgettes, cucumber, a brassica and leeks in a pot to plant out, rocket-tape, sunflower and salad seeds. Plus a book on low-cost living. My own personal starter kit.
I stuffed the squash with butterbeans, mushrooms, sage, oregano, chili, capers and tomatoes, and baked it in the oven. It was delicious. Thanks Tania! Thanks also to all those people who have offered advice and support. It is much appreciated
Yesterday morning I went to the garden centre and bought some very thick, long gloves for protection against brambles. They've been pretty good but I wonder if there is anything that will protect from brambles 100% of the time? I am hoping that the end of today will see enough of a bramble sacrifice in the way of drawing blood and welts to appease the goddess of Bramble and gain Her blessing.

I also bought a book on composting: The Garden Organic Guide to Making Compost. It looks very practical and easy to read and lots of photos! I have used a compost bin before and know a bit but with clearing such a large space and with growing vegetables I thought I would try and do some research so I get it right and maximise my compost-making opportunities.

Yesterday I re-discovered two of the paths, one of which leads to the compost bin which hasn't been used since Mum died. So I can't wait to open the lid and see what's in there. And, more importantly to start using it again.

Today Dad helped me bundle up the first lot of brambles to take to the recycling centre. I have nowhere to put them for compost until I have cleared some more space but I hope to have that problem resolved by the end of next week.

Dad also removed the wheelbarrow which had become wrapped in brambles, honeysuckle and jasmine that had crept off the archway. A large black toad had been living there. I am sure he will find somewhere else to live in the garden but I saw him later this afternoon, back where the wheelbarrow had been.

I also found the coldframe, dilapidated and rotten but probably salvageable which was covered in brambles and roses. I moved it there last year, with the help of my best friend, away from the patio where it had lived when my Mum used it for propogating plants. I was amazed at how fast it had disappeared under a network of fearsome rose and bramble thorns, flowers and blackberries. Next to it appeared another wheelbarrow after more hacking and harvesting of berries. I moved round to the other side of the coldframe and carried on clearing and cutting until I reached the other corner of the garden- opposite the compost bin. Finally I found the other lost path and the memorial of our first family cat, Pepper, who is buried there.
I am surprised at how much I have uncovered in about six hours work, not to mention the huge haul of delicious blackberries, many of which lay trampled underfoot, giving off a slight candyfloss smell as the afternoon wore on.

I made blackberry and apple pie for tea, telling Sam excitedly that "this was made with berries from the garden!" but he said "yucky". I didn't put sugar in it so I will try again with some crumble. He loves picking them though.

I am nurturing a little scrumper.

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Yesterday I began to cut down the brambles and clear the space. I worked for three and a half hours. It was a glorious day and I made a good start. Although this is a small space in the back garden of my Dad's house, in the midst of surburbia, it felt momentous- the beginning of something meaningful and life-changing.

It seems apposite that I embarked on this new direction on my wedding anniversary. Nine years ago I went through that rite of passage which at the time was exciting and life-changing and, I thought, offered all kinds of new opportunities for building a shared future with someone I loved. It didn't work out and after several years of separation last year I finally got divorced.

August 19th is now transformed into the anniversary of the day I started to garden in earnest.

Friday, 14 August 2009


I've just been down to the end of the end of the garden to take some photos of its current state, and in a moment of clarity thought: "How the hell am I going to do this? I must be mad..." But I seem to say that to myself quite a lot and plough on ahead regardless, and generally I get there in the end. So I am doing this in a "Build it and they will come" way. Let's see how the next year unfolds.
The blog will document this year-long August to August project. I expect the blog to grow and change shape much as this patch of garden does. I want to see how I change as a result of doing this too. It is something I have been thinking about for several months but being a full-time student and a full-time lone parent means I can only tackle so much at one time. Now is the right time to begin. My first aim is to have the plot cleared before I go back to university at the end of September.
By next August I hope to be posting with pictures and details of my bumper crops of onions, beans, courgettes, raspberries and strawberries, and whatever else I decide to grow. But first there is alot of hard work to do just to clear a space to walk in, let alone dig over, mulch, compost, structure or plant stuff in! A bit of background: This is not really my garden at all. I live with my two-year-old son, Sam in my Dad's house, so it is his garden. More correctly even that that, the garden was my Mum's territory. She had plans for the end of the garden- in her head. She knew what she wanted to do with it. But she died three years ago of lung cancer, and was really too poorly for some time before that to take on and finish any major projects, although possibly if she were here now, she would say different.

I want Sam to know where fruit and vegetables come from; to get his hands in the soil; to appreciate his food more fully and see what is possible when you put your mind to it.

I want to learn about growing for myself, to be more self-sufficient, to feel more connected spiritually and physically with the earth. And I want to do this as a way of remembering my Mum too.
That is a lot of 'wants'.

So later on today I am going to harvest the glut of blackberries. The benefit of so many well-established brambles. And then next week I am going to start cutting and digging and pruning and weeding and sweeping...

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Roar! Earth

This is a space to document and write about the end of my garden, which has been neglected for at least four years. I am about to reclaim it from the brambles and turn it into a vegetable patch.

Pictures and more to come soon.