Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Transforming a garden for food growing

This week, another guest post, and another approach to gardening. Ben Pink Dandelion, a colleague at Woodbrooke, and Wendy Hampton share what they have done in their garden. They live in Clitheroe by Pendle Hill with their children, in a house which is itself a project in green living (but that's another story).

These three photos show our garden as it used to be. Three quarters of an acre in a town centre setting, lots of lovely grass to play on, and twenty trees planted as many years ago. The garden is kind of square, walled all around up to ten feet high. There are few trees on the south side so generally there is good sun most of the day, blocked in parts of the garden by the trees, but the beds are all panted in front of the trees and we have cleared the way to the new polytunnel by removing old trees. The wall behind the polytunnel faces south/south-west. The house sits north-south so the wall seen in two of the photos is on the east.

This photo shows the view back to the house from the edge of the tree line. The garden was originally quite ornamental with a sundial in the centre and beds around the outside and diagonally across the grass to the sundial. We have been discovering these beds, long hidden by the trees planted a couple of decades ago for ease of maintenance. With twenty years of leaf fall the top soil is rich and lovely and we are lucky that our garden is walled and also has plenty of sunlight coming over Pendle Hill towards us.

This year we decided to stop growing grass and spurred on by concern over food miles, our local Transition Town initiative, the 'Path to Freedom' urban farm in California, and forest gardening and permaculture principles, we have started to create our own 'good life'. Clitheroe, Lancashire, where we live, is famous for its rain and I thought we might call our urban farm the 'Noah project' with all its connotations of a new start but actually all our days outside have been hampered more by snow than rain!

We have dug as many raised beds in our lawn as still allows our push mower to cut the paths,

taken out three old and dying trees and planted seven fruit trees (apples, mulberry, chestnut , cherry and gage) and ten fruit bushes.

Wendy's grandfather's greenhouse has been collected from Preston and reassembled (photo 6) and we have bought a secondhand 30 foot polytunnel from some Quaker friends who have been organic gardening for 20 years and who now need a bigger one.

We are generally using (mainly!) donated wine bottles as the edge to the raised beds as a free, recycled, beautiful, and everlasting alternative to wood

but have used bricks in places.

We have done a lot of digging as the garden was on different levels and because we needed topsoil for the beds. We have needed to uproot a laurel and level a piece of ground for the greenhouse and have taken soil from behind that site for the raised beds.

Our three compost bins used to sit against the most sunlit wall on a raised bed complete with their own brick lined approach. All this has been excavated and the bins moved forward in front of where the polytunnel will go.

Then we excavated and levelled a 30 x 10 foot space for the polytunnel leaving about two feet next to the wall where, depending on what sunlight is left, we hope to grow grapes or hardy kiwi from next year.

We have worked around our yurt 

and hope to have rescued battery hens and maybe Golden Guernsey goats amongst the trees at the back of the garden.

Some more clearing to do! This picture is the new version of the 3rd photo at the top of the page!

This photo shows our raspberry canes with pebble stem separators, to encourage the main canes to spread out and not grow too closely together - we are seeing if that works.

and here is a seasonal picture: our witch hazel just beginning to flower.

Thanks to Ben and Wendy for this – I’ll be asking them for an update in the autumn to see how their growing season went!

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