Today I had the pleasure of working with pupils at a local school, Carrfield Primary Academy, as part of their ‘Eco Day’!
I worked with four different year groups, first explaining to them how we turned our overgrown garden from this:
We love asparagus and eat quite a lot of it, but let’s be honest – the season is very short and asparagus is best served fresh from the garden, so when we buy it from the supermarket we know it’s not at its best, and it’s probably been flown in from some far-flung location!
So when we designed our vegetable garden it made sense to dedicate one of the raised beds to asparagus, so we could cut it and eat it within minutes, enjoying this delicacy at its finest!
As part of the filming we did for the programme Big Dreams, Small Spaces, we were taken on an ‘Inspirational Visit’ to a place that specialised in a particular aspect of gardening that we were interested in.
When Monty saw that Richard had a passion for growing chillies, he immediately recommended that we go to West Dean College near Chichester, which is about 5 hours away from where we live!
However, once we made the journey we realised what a perfect location it was for us to visit!
The gardens surrounding the college are just out of this world, with our interest being drawn particularly to the Walled Kitchen Gardens. Not only was this a fascinating place to see vegetables, herbs and fruit grown on a spectacular scale and tour round the rows and rows of Victorian glasshouses, West Dean also specialise in growing over 250 different varieties of chilli plants, and hold an annual Chilli Fiesta!
During our visit we were well looked after by Gardens Supervisor, Sarah Wain, who very kindly shared her knowledge and expertise with us not just about planting and growing chillies but also on lots of other aspects of gardening, such as how they grow their impressive collection of fruit trees.
As is always the case with filming, we were constrained by time and could only see a small portion of the West Dean gardens, so we vowed to visit again, and the Chilli Fiesta seemed like the perfect time to do that, when the Kitchen Gardens were also in full growth!
If you’re a keen vegetable gardener we can highly recommend a trip to West Dean no matter where you’re based in the UK, the South Downs is a beautiful part of the South of England and there are plenty more places to visit during your stay!
We can also recommend a lovely B&B which is about 30 minutes away from West Dean called ‘Old Dairy Farm‘ at Emsworth – really good quality accommodation run by lovely people!
I’ve been creating various posts over the last few weeks detailing how we have renovated our garden from an overgrown wilderness into a productive vegetable plot!
On our original plans, the paths were very rigid and straight, but this just didn’t fit with how we wanted the garden to feel.
We wanted the area to feel like it had evolved and grown over time, and we’re not ones for formality, so out went the sharp angles and instead we mapped out a series of ‘flowing’ walkways, initially using loads of branches that had been pruned from our trees!
We knew we wanted to recycle some of kind of material from the house or garden to construct the paths, and our first plan was to reuse the surplus of red bricks that were once a chimney breast and porchway in our kitchen before we started the internal renovation, using them either as an edging or in a herringbone pattern for the base of the path, but after some research and several failed attempts, we decided this wasn’t our best plan!
We looked at various path edging options on the internet and in local garden centres, but none of these would fit with the look we were after, until we hit upon the idea of making our own log-roll edging from the hundreds of branches we had been storing for firewood since we cleared back the original overgrowth of the garden!
With this plan in place, everything came together pretty quickly! My Dad was enlisted (again) to cut the branches into usable stakes and Richard set about hammering them into place!
We dug down about 10cm so that the log-roll edging was purely ornamental and not having to hold the path together, and Richard lined the base with groundcover fabric to prevent weeds and also stop the top covering from mixing with the mud on rainy days, using the stakes to secure the fabric in place.
We’d considered various options for filling the path, and settled on a plum slate chipping, as it’s robust but also looks in-keeping and gave us a contrasting colour between the turf, the patio area and the bark chippings we’d laid between the raised beds.
We’re really pleased with the result, despite our back garden primarily being practical and productive, it gives the whole area definition and a bit of style! A friend of mine, on seeing a photo on Facebook, commented that he thought we’d got a stream running through the garden – and that’s how it feels, flowing and natural!
Once we’d planned our vegetable garden, the biggest challenge was plotting and building our raised beds.
We rotivated the land that we’d earmarked for the veg beds, as it was covered with old turf and years of weeds, roots and ivy.
We’d decided on a very informal, unstructured design to aim for a ‘cottage garden’ look, hopefully with the suggestion that the garden had evolved over time!
That said, we needed to get all the beds built in one go, so we spent some time mapping them out in the allocated space by using pallets, canes and string (and the old shed door) so we could get a feel for how the finished result would look and also how practical it would be. We made sure we could push a wheelbarrow between the beds and that none of them were too big to reach into the middle for planting and weeding.
We wanted the beds to be sturdy and rustic looking, we’d made raised beds from cheaper ‘diy store’ timber before but that was never going to have longevity. Fortunately our next door neighbour had built some similar and directed us to a local timber yard that sold relatively inexpensive sleepers, and even cut them all to size for us before we collected them, which was a huge bonus! We made the beds 2 sleepers high as we wanted to ensure that we’d got a good depth for root vegetables to grow.
Richard, my mum’s husband Neil and our new friend Sam from Selwyn Trees spent several days putting the frames of the raised beds together then fixing them into place in the garden using stakes and six inch nails!
The next challenge was to fill the beds with suitable topsoil. Fortunately, when we dug out an area to create the driveway, we were left with several huge piles of soil which was in excellent condition, as it had been left uncultivated for at least 20 years.
It was laborious work to move all the soil and we also had to sift it though a makeshift ‘riddler’ to rid it of roots, weeds and even shards of glass that had accumulated over time, but it was worth the effort and left us with perfect growing conditions! The soil did end up being a bit light once it had been sifted, meaning water tended to puddle on top of the soil, but it was essential that we cleared the debris before it was safe to use.