The Ordinary Gardener
Garden Design By Julie Dowding
I could write about when to plant, what to grow, and what to harvest, but I am ‘The Ordinary Gardener’ I have a busy life and things don’t get planted at the right time, they certainly don’t get planted in the right place, though I must admit I am improving in that department, it just happens that whilst shopping in the garden centre you see the most perfect plant and have you got the right location for it?, no, but you purchase it all the same and try to encourage it to grow in a shallow soil or with a north facing aspect! I have done it and been there and I still try and bend the rules. I will have to admit a mistake I made in 2017, that proves my heart won over my head. I had decided to buy some topiary for the terrace, after purchasing three large square wooden containers I ventured out to buy the trees that would go in them. The first was Ilex x cornuta ‘Nellie Stevens’ dark green leaves with a profusion of orange-red fruits that still looks fabulous during winter. The second was a Photinia, frost hardy easy to trim to shape and with the added bonus of the new growth being bright red in spring. In hind sight I should have purchased two Photinia for both balance and guaranteed performance but what I saw and what I bought was a Crytomeria japonica ‘Globosa Nana’ a stunning lollipop shaped conifer, if I had paid attention as I do when buying on behalf of clients I would have noticed that it was heavily staked and would have walked onto the next specimen. It never stood up; it couldn’t so it has been planted deeply with suitable supports until the stem thickens. I have to say it does look rather nice where it has been placed the supports are suitably masked by box balls, but it does prove one thing do try and do your research before you purchase.
Over the years I have realised how essential it is to know what type of soil you have and it’s pH. It is a major part of the design process I adopt when working with clients. Also which way does the garden face? A large part of my garden does not face south as most books tell you it should, and my main vegetable beds compete with two extremely large trees for water, not an ideal situation. I have a smaller kitchen garden that does face reasonably south; this connects with a summerhouse that was created from an old shed, and is where the main lawned area can be found. In this area we take time out to relax, to listen to the cricket on the radio and have afternoon tea, nothing better than freshly made scones with homemade jam from the raspberry bushes. I have not purchased jam for many years; it is a very satisfying feeling. In the food section from ‘Garden to Plate’ you will find the most simple of Raspberry jam recipes, make them with the fruit you grow in the garden or purchase from the farm shop.
I cannot say in words how much the garden means to me, it is the very best delicatessen I could hope to shop the very best blooms I could hope to arrange with. I am certainly not self sufficient by any means I get my monthly shops from the supermarket and buy locally produced organic meat from the farm shop, and fish from the weekly town markets, but the delight and pleasure I get from being able to go outside and pick vegetables for the meal that evening, well it takes some beating. You will often hear people say how that the flavours of home grown vegetables are second to none, you may think they are boasting but I have to say it is true, and the knowledge that no chemicals have gone into their production is a real bonus. Each seed sowing that I make may only produce six to eight meals; however we still are eating garlic and onions and stored potatoes from 2017. Red cabbage once cooked freezes well and goes with game or any other roasted meats. French and runner beans store well in the freezer to be included in pasta dishes, soups or our favourite delicious vegetable lasagne and then the blueberries, which grow in pots outside the kitchen door these, are used in muffins or crème patisserie tarts simple but delicious.
I garden organically, so do not use any sprays or chemicals apart from a garlic mixture that works exceptionally well if I need it, and I companion plant. It has taken many years to get a balance in the garden, my winged and feathered friends are many, and they know they are safe and that there is always food and shelter. Its give and take, but I do admit if they take too much then the covers do come out. One particular year I had overwintering lettuce doing very well until I woke one morning to look out of the kitchen window only to see the mother sparrows feeding their young, I watched them for some time and they didn’t just take random leaves they were choosing only the very best, exactly how it should be but I am afraid the cloches came out and covered two thirds but I left a selection which they continued to feed on, and from that the poem of ‘The Sparrow Hotel’ came to be, I know that sparrows are on supposed to be on the decline but I seem to have the whole population on my door step.
Some years ago I was sat having lunch with a person who really should have known better posed the question “why do you bother when you can go to the supermarket and pay 39p for a bag of carrots, I was so shocked I did not answer, he must of thought me rather stupid, but then I thought about it, and I bother because my life is worth more than 39p the satisfaction I get when placing a meal on the table that has been cooked with ingredients from the garden, the flavour, and being outside and working with nature producing food is one of the best things you can ever do. Gardening is all about achieving, working with the soil creating a world that is relaxing and fulfilling, just weeding an area however small is a job well done, clearing a border for new plants, buying the seed over the winter months the anticipation that things will grow. Nature has this ability to come back each year, the Snowdrop that indicates the season has started, all through the year this tiny flower sleeps soundly in the ground storing its energy for one performance. So that’s why I do it Mr. 39p!
I appreciate it’s a lot harder when you have no garden or space is limited, I lived in London for many years and salad growing was all I managed but there is always a way. The new micro greens work well on the windowsill as do pea shoots and herbs, and from a design aspect, double the pleasure.
‘A garden has a habit of saying well done, even when others do not.’
The Ordinary Gardener 2018