Growing as much as I can of my own food has been something I’ve always wanted to do, with varying success. Eating a meal of mostly home grown food is an enormous satisfaction!
Maybe it’s an atavistic thing, like a love of a warm fire, maybe it’s something I’ve inherited from Poppy, the grandfather whose house we lived in until I was ten. He kept a huge market garden, a home orchard, and kept hens and bees. At both the houses I’ve owned in Australia, I planted fruit trees and veggie gardens.
In London, even though I lived in a flat, I had a allotment, a wonderful British idea where people can rent a small plot of land from the local council to grow food. These were wonderful, people could have gardens for pleasure as well as just grow vegetables. I had an orchard, an asparagus bed, a lovely summer house so we could picnic there. It was my favourite place and I spent hours there most days. I even could have kept hens there if I’d wanted, except I worried about foxes too much and I wasn’t going to rescue a battery farmed hen only to have a fox maul her.
It broke my heart leaving that allotment behind when my boyfriend ended our relationship. I missed the allotment more than him. After all, he cheated on me, the allotment never did!
Unfortunately, the council where I moved took a far more puritanical view. Allotments were for growing vegetables and nothing else. No perennials. No fruit trees. No flowers. And the space allocated to allotments was a windswept plain with the heaviest imaginable clay soil, just too far away from home to comfortably walk there.
I didn’t grow any food plants for about ten years.
I moved in with my husband, to his tiny house and sad garden. A small patch of over mown lawn, a path worn across it by kids taking a short cut to the public foot path on the other side, a shrub stationed at each corner. No privacy, open on three sides. No beauty either. No chance of growing anything edible there. I wanted to fence it, but the local by-laws don’t allow fences. Everyone has them now, but back then my husband had a mortal fear of breaking rules and wouldn’t let me have a fence. A hedge was my only option. I chose hedging roses, and ordered bare rooted plants which arrived in the middle of winter. I have a photo from when I first planted the hedge- a row of what looks like dead sticks poking out through six inches of snow.
Miraculously, the sticks sprouted in spring. Ten years later, the hedge has grown a bit.
It’s as tall as I am now. We have privacy in the garden, at least through three of the four seasons. All Spring and Summer it’s covered with gorgeous lightly scented flowers, in light pink, cerise, or white. Bees love them! Autumn, my favourite season, brings hips, up to an inch across. I’ve eaten a few straight off the bush, sweet enough with just an edge of tartness. I’ve never made rose hip syrup or jam, though I’d like to.
We dug a wildlife pond, and I convinced my husband to become enough of an outlaw to put in garden sheds. I planted herbs and flowers. But I never planted any food plants (also prohibited under the by-laws!), apart from my cherry tree. I’m not sure why. Not fear of breaking a ridiculous rule, that’s for sure. But the garden is so small. The north-west aspect is all wrong. My husband didn’t want me digging up any of his precious lawn for a veggie bed.
The mystery is, why I stayed so attached to the idea that the only way to grow food was in a rectangular bed in the ground! This year, I did it differently. I planted up pots. I started putting food plants in the hedge, a pear tree, two apple trees. I used odd corners of the garden I’d never thought of planting up before. I dug up some self-seeded hazelnut seedlings from the railway path, and planted them on the boundary line with our next-door neighbour. I did some guerilla gardening, and planted a couple of cheap bare rooted apple trees on a tree-less patch of waste land along the railway path. Once they establish, there will be plenty of fruit for anyone who wants to pick it. I even planted an apple in a pot, the last pathetic bare rooted tree in the supermarket, looking dead with all its branches broken. I touched it and knew it wasn’t yet dead, but the life was weak and it would die soon.
I love that feeling, touching the buds of a tree and having my fingers tingle with the sense of the life force contained in the bud, all ready to burst out. If you’ve never done it, try it next Spring. Just gently stroke a finger along a tree bud, and see what you feel!
That dead stick is now twelve feet tall and has an apple on it. I need to plant it into a much bigger pot.
Anyway, I got more food plants growing this year than since I left my allotment behind, but I’m not claiming massive success. I haven’t been able to eat much from the garden. I didn’t even get more than handful of cherries, when last year I got buckets of sweet dark fruit. The weather this year has been terrible for growing. We had a hot early Spring, followed by unseasonably cool rainy weather.The bees weren’t active at all when the fruit trees were blossoming, so the cherry set far less fruit than normal. Then just when the fruit that was on the tree was developing nicely, it began to rain. And rain. And rain. The cherries all split then got fungal infections. What few I rescued from the birds were flavourless.
Then the wet season brought out more slugs than I believed possible, huge voracious slugs that ate everything and climbed incredible heights to do it. None of the pots was safe. My strawberries. My rocket leaves. All my pepper seedlings. All my climbing beans, but not the sweet peas in the same pot. All my tomato plants apart from one, which seems to have slug resistant properties. I’m transplanting the strawberries into hanging baskets where surely even the most determined slug won’t reach them, and I’ll try copper tape next year to see if it really does repel them. Because we’re vegan, killing them isn’t an option, though I know commercial growers must.
So I’m thinking- what’s slug proof. Trees and shrubs.
The answer is the hedge. More food plants in there. Hazelnuts. Maybe I can squeeze in another tree, I’d love an almond. More soft fruits like blackberries and loganberries. I wonder if raspberries would grow in the hedge. I need to do some research on food plants that will tolerate semi-shade under the hedge.
I love the idea of a forest garden. Robert Hart, also a raw vegan, planted a wonderful example of a permaculture forest garden at Wenlock Edge. These gardeners converted their suburban backyard to a small scale forest garden. So that’s my plan. Use the hedge for more than just privacy and to protect the lawn from straying cyclists. I’ll let you know how it goes. For the time being, my broken foot limits me to planning, not doing.
Oh, and I may have converted my husband. He just came in talking about building a raised bed for veggies in the middle of his lawn!