I wouldn’t say I am a gardener but have never felt that cutting the lawn or watering a few plants was a chore. Who knew that nearly a year to the day we moved into our new home how important the garden would become to us as a family and me personally?
The outdoor space was one of the biggest selling points for us, we knew it was going to be a lot more work than our previous house but offset that against having a lovely safe outdoor space that we would be able to enjoy as a family.
JK was 11 months old when we moved in, and as is normal when you move into a new house, our focus was on getting the inside in order and to make it feel like home. Decorating JK’s room and planning his first birthday were top priority. Other than mowing the lawn the garden didn’t really get a look in until the late autumn.
It was a pang of nostalgia about my childhood and spending time with my grandparents – both sets of grandparents had/have beautiful gardens and vegetable patches – that ignited a wanting to provide similar experiences for JK. I can vividly remember podding and eating freshly picked peas, pulling a carrot from the ground and crunching on it (obviously it had a quick rinse first) and the taste of freshly dug new potatoes steamed with a sprig of mint. All very Darling Buds of May!
It was that moment that I decided to try and transform the 4 small neglected vegetable beds into a more formal kitchen garden and try to grow as much food as I could at home. This is my pictorial diary of how we went from this to this:
It all starts with child labour!
Actually, it starts with planning and research. Previous to a lot of hard work clearing and digging the existing beds, I spent many an evening watching Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh, looking at Pinterest and various websites for inspiration and how to guides, what to grow, how and where, soil types, raised beds, double digging and frost forecasts! But this was the point one chilly Autumn afternoon, with a 15-month old JK in tow that kicked off a new hobby, gardening.
We started by building 4 new raised beds using recycled floor joists that a friendly builder gave to us for free. They were waste from a job and would have been burnt. We were also lucky to get the topsoil from him as well, he said it would save him about £1,000 in skip charges and was more than happy to dump the 10 tons of soil on our drive that had been dug out of footings for an extension he was working on. This was mixed with a couple of trailer loads of well-rotted horse manure from JK’s grandparents’ house and voila, 4 new beds and a central focal point created for free using all recycled materials and a bit hard work – well it saved going to the gym and was a real family effort to create.
Next up was planting. And with all the digging I had several visits from a couple of resident robins to grab grubs! I saved raspberry suckers, a blackcurrant and gooseberry bush from the old garden, transplanting them into a dedicated fruit bed and added strawberry’s and rhubarb. I bought the rhubarb at the local Makers Market, it’s the tiny plant in the background of picture with JK about to dig up the tiny raspberry plants! But from those 3 small rhubarb stems (2 of which JK removed) it has thrived into a massive plant in just 3 months and has made a tasty crumble already!
Following the fruit came the vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, leeks, courgettes, asparagus, broad beans, cabbage, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, purple sprouting, onions, peas, French beans and tomatoes, all grown from seed. Luckily the previous owner left the greenhouse which has been amazing to get seeds germinated and established before planting out.
Work in the garden started way before lockdown impacted on us all so heavily. Having more time at home has given us all time to appreciate our surroundings. This is the first spring we have spent in the house so seeing the rest of the garden burst into colour has been amazing. As well as the vegetable patch and flower boarder we’ve left a couple of wild areas for wildlife. We’ve got resident rabbits, toads and frogs, butterflies and moths, all sorts of insects, so many birds and even a hedgehog (although I’ve not seen him for a while). The rabbits drive the dog mad but JK’s face when you tell him Peter Rabbit is in the garden is a picture!
And now we are in summer (allegedly) we’re starting to reap the rewards of early morning weeding and late-night watering to harvest some of what we are growing and turn it from this to this.
The taste of freshly dug new potatoes and asparagus was out of this world, the English wine wasn’t bad either!
It’s funny, although the garden has and is a fantastic way to switch off from work, I’ve realised during writing this blog, and completely unconsciously, the two are linked in more ways than one. For example, the forget me nots that flooded the garden with early spring colour were a reference point in a recent pitch as a campaign idea, and the way I’ve approached creating the garden so far (plan, budget, execute and evaluate) is exactly how I approach my day to day work. It just doesn’t feel like work and I guess that’s the point.
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