The start of a New Growing Season

What lovely weather it’s been today!

Our first opportunity to get out in the garden as a family and get the growing season up and running for 2016!


It was also our first chance to introduce Henry to the garden, thanks to my Mum who spent the day walking him round, entertaining him, and pushing his pushchair at naptime!


Continue reading “The start of a New Growing Season”


Garden Inspiration – West Dean College

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!

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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!

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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!

100 Happy Days of Eating from the Garden

As soon as our vegetable garden was up and running in 2014, I set us the challenge of trying to eat something from the garden for 100 days before the end of the year, and I’m pleased to say we achieved that goal!

I recorded the challenge by posting a photo of what we ate or something relating to it every day (on Christmas Day it had to be a photo of Rich clearing the dishes in his party hat, as I forgot to photograph the brussels sprouts before we ate!)

I’m pretty proud of what we achieved in those 100 days, it taught me a lot about eating with the seasons and planning meals around what we had available rather than relying on the ‘oh so convenient’ supermarket shelves, so here’s an overview of some of the photos I posted!

To see the whole 100 days, as well as all my other Instagram content, follow me at @pickleshlee – hope to see you there!

June 2015 Garden Update

A few people have been asking how our garden looks this year, and to be honest we’re quite a way behind on last year due to work commitments and other things, but here are a few quick snaps from this weekend, unfortunately just after the sun went in!

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12 Tips for Creating a Vegetable Garden

Growing your own fruit, herbs and vegetables is becoming increasingly popular for many reasons; it makes financial sense (once you’re up and running) it guarantees you know where your food is coming from, you know how it’s been grown, there are no food miles, it keeps you fit and it’s a great hobby!

Whether you’re growing in window boxes, a small back garden, or your own allotment space, here are a few tips and hints that we’ve learned along the way to get you up and running!

  1. Decide in Advance What You Want to Grow. It sounds obvious, but don’t take up precious space growing things you’re not likely to eat, or grow things in quantities that you’ll just not need. I’ve done this myself many times; I’ve grown broad beans for several years but declared now I never will again, as I just can’t be bothered with the preparation once they’re picked and I end up giving them away… and last year I sowed a pack of celeriac seeds, which all sprouted, so I filled a raised bed with them. I ended up throwing half of them on to the compost bin – who wants to eat 20+ celeriac in less than a few months?! It’s always tempting to sow a whole packet of seeds but don’t waste them, save them for next year! Write lists of what you eat regularly, and plot where you’ll sow or plant them and which vegetables will grow well alongside each other.

    There is such a thing as too much celeriac…
  2. Practice Successional Sowing. Some vegetables are fast growing and have a long growing season, meaning you can benefit from several croppings throughout the year. Make the most of this by sowing ‘little and often’ meaning you can harvest your produce at intervals, and you’re not stuck with eating carrots every day for 3 weeks then nothing for the rest of the year. Don’t wait until you’re harvesting your first crop of any veg before sowing the next batch, depending on the growing time of the crop, get your next row sown after a few weeks. Vegetables that work well for successional sowing are carrots, lettuce, radish, kohl rabi, spinach, beans, peas, rocket, pak choi, beetroot, chard and fennel.

    Beetroot and carrots can both have a long season with successional sowing
    Beetroot and carrots can both have a long season with successional sowing
  3. If you’re Planting in Raised Beds, Fill Them! When I first started planting in raised beds, I’d religiously follow the planting instructions on packets and in books about spacing between plants and rows, often leaving huge gaps of bare soil which seemed like such a waste. However it was pointed out to me by a very respected gardening expert that those instructions are for allotment gardening and should be disregarded for raised beds, where you can sow and plant much closer together. This makes better use of the space and also keeps weeds down. Obviously make sure you’re not planting too close, stopping the plants from having enough space to grow. Getting the spacing right in raised beds may be a case of trial and error; just bear in mind how large the plants will eventually grow. Another tip for making the best use of space in raised beds is to bear in mind the heights that plants will grow to. This year I’ve planted cabbages and kale together; as the kale grows taller and we eat the lower leaves, the cabbages will fill out the space closer to the ground.

    Cabbage and kale planted close together in a raised bed
    Cabbage and kale planted close together in a raised bed
  4. If you’re Planting in Containers, Consider the Watering.  Despite having several raised beds, last year I also planted some veg in containers, to make the most of other spaces around the garden. I was growing a lot of courgettes as I use them for a few different preserving recipes, as well as eating them regularly and feeding overgrown ones to the chickens, so I planted some up in barrels and some in a raised bed. Although I gave them all the same amount of care, the ones in the raised beds flourished far better than the potted ones, to the extent that I actually ended up moving the potted plants into another raised bed when my pea crop had finished, where they started to grow much more healthily. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with planting vegetable plants into pots, we’ve lived in a couple of properties where that was our only option and we got on fine, but you do need to give them more attention in terms of food and water.

    Courgettes doing well in a pot but need more watering
    Courgettes doing well in a pot but need more watering
  5. Space Saving – Grow Up, Not Out! If you’re short on space and need to plant in small beds or even just pots, there are plenty of ways to maximise on planting. For a year we lived in a rental property with no opportunity to cultivate the land around the house, so we grew tomatoes, chillies, potatoes and courgettes in containers instead! We grew a cherry tomato in a hanging basket and reaped a fantastic crop all through the summer! (If you do this, watch out for birds helping themselves to your ripe fruit though!) If space is of a premium, get creative! Squash can grow upwards so grow up a trellis rather than along the ground. I’ve always wanted to try out the ‘3 sisters’ method of growing sweetcorn, pumpkins and beans together, the idea being that the beans grow up the sweetcorn stems and the pumpkins provide the ground cover around the base of the other crops. Research the ‘square foot gardening’ concept which is a fantastic space saving idea. Check out more ideas here.

    Cherry tomatoes just starting to flower in a hanging basket
    Cherry tomatoes just starting to flower in a hanging basket
  6. Get to Know What Certain Plants Need. Don’t just read the back of seed packets and expect to know everything that that particular plant is going to need. Tomatoes (cordon varieties) need pinching out, strawberries should be laid over a bed of straw once they start to fruit, asparagus needs loads of drainage and shouldn’t be harvested in the first year – the list goes on! Invest in a couple of good gardening books by respected authors and do your homework! Get swatting up in January when the nights are long and it’s too cold to be doing anything outside! I can recommend Alan Titchmarsh, Carol Klein & Monty Don‘s books, these are my 3 bibles!

    I get my books and planners out in January to learn about what I'm going to grow
    I get my books and planners out in January to learn about what I’m going to grow
  7. Map Out Raised Beds Before Building. However you go about it, making raised beds isn’t cheap, especially if you’re going to use materials that will withstand the conditions and not rot within a couple of years. Don’t waste money by buying the materials and also the soil to fill the beds before you’re doubly sure of the space you have and that your plan will work on a practical level. Can you bend down between the beds? Can you reach into the middle? Can you get a wheelbarrow around the garden? We mapped ours out using pallets and canes with string tied around them before we invested in the wooden sleepers to build them.

    We mocked up the raised beds before building the real ones
    We mocked up the raised beds before building the real ones
  8. Try Unusual Vegetables and Varieties. What’s the point in growing the same fruit and vegetables that you can buy cheaply in the supermarket? There are thousands of varieties of vegetables out there that will brighten up your garden and your mealtimes! Carrots come in a whole spectrum of colours; beans, sprouts, mangetout are all available in purple as well as the standard green; you can easily buy cauliflower varieties that are green, yellow, purple and orange; tomatoes vary in shape, size, colour, texture and pattern. Also, try some veg that’s not easily available in the supermarket, last year I grew kohl rabi – neither of us had tasted it before and now it’s one of our favourites! This year we’re growing ‘Glass Gem’ sweetcorn. Obviously if you’re sampling something for the first time just grow a small amount, or you’re back to Point 1!

    Kohl Rabi and purple carrots!
    Kohl Rabi and purple carrots!
  9. Herbs – Grow loads! Most herbs, in my experience, are pretty easy to grow! (with the exception of coriander…) Herbs don’t need to take up much space, they can be added to almost any meal, they’re easy to preserve and they smell glorious! Be aware though (going back to Point 6) that not all herbs need the same growing environments, the idea of one herb bed for all varieties isn’t realistic, as I found last year when I had to dig up and replant a lot of mine. Monty Don’s Complete Gardener book has an excellent section about this.
    Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano all growing together

  10. Defend your Fruit! Don’t grow fruit unless you’re prepared to defend it against birds, insects, chickens (if you have them) and a host of other sweet-toothed predators! Birds particularly have a habit of swooping in at the very moment that your redcurrants are turning rosy red and your plums reach the perfect ripeness. Mice will favour your strawberries and can sneak through the smallest gaps to have a feast! It can be an ongoing battle but if it’s worth the effort of growing them, it’s definitely worth protecting them! My husband has actually spent all this weekend erecting nets around our fruit garden, which perhaps doesn’t make that area of the garden the prettiest, but it’s essential for our crops!

    Fruit cages in progress
    Fruit cages in progress
  11. Prepare to Preserve. Despite following Points 1 & 2, everyone ends up with a glut of fruit or veg at some point during the growing season! You can’t control rate growth rate or timing of things like rhubarb, tomatoes, apples and chillies, and unless you’re planning on giving most of your harvest away, with the best will in the world you’ll probably not be able to eat it all fresh, so find ways of preserving your harvests! The River Cottage Handbook has loads of great recipes. When I have time I make jams, chutneys, stocks and soups as well as drying and freezing herbs, but we also have a freezer in the garage that is dedicated to housing gluts from the garden. I even peel and chop up pumpkins and pop them in portion sized bags so they’re easy to grab and use as we need them.

    Passata made from a glut of tomatoes and ready for the freezer
    Passata made from a glut of tomatoes and ready for the freezer
  12. Enjoy It! I mentioned all the benefits of gardening at the start of this article, but the biggest one for us is the pleasure it brings. If you take on too much, or don’t have enough time in your week to tend to your crops, the fun will soon go! Plan your planting carefully to make sure it’s managable for you, and also have a back up friend/neighbour/family member who can check in on your plot and keep it watered when you’re away from home. You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste for the sake of a week’s holiday! Our hectic lifestyle sometimes means that we don’t have much time to spend in the garden at weekends, but we find there’s nothing more enjoyable than coming home from work on a summer’s evening and pottering around the raised beds, catching up on little jobs while unwinding from the day’s events!

    The garden is our happy place!
    The garden is our happy place!

I hope some of these tips might be useful to you; none of it is ‘professional advice’ we are amateur gardeners who just do it for the pleasure it brings us, and all these points are things that we’ve simply learnt by trial and error over our few years and growing fruit and vegetables. We’d also love to hear any tips that you have to share – we’re always keen to improve our gardening knowledge!

To see more of our garden photos, follow me on Instagram: @pickleshlee

Constructing Raised Beds

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!

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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.

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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.

IMG_5220Richard, 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!

IMG_5197 IMG_5180 IMG_5179 IMG_5212 IMG_5227 IMG_5234The 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.

Digger action

052-2It 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.

IMG_5269 IMG_5270 IMG_5852 039-2We ended up with 11 raised beds in total, most of them can be seen in this shot taken from the scaffolding round the house!


Garden Update


It’s been way too long since I updated this blog – we’ve just been so busy over the last year renovating the derelict house and garden that we bought in August 2013!

As some of you may already know, we were also filmed for a BBC programme in the whilst we were transforming the back of our property from an overgrown wilderness into a productive garden!

The programme ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces‘ was presented by Monty Don (legend) who visited us on several occasions to help and advise us as well as getting stuck in with the hard work! It aired in October 2014 but it’s repeated from time to time on BBC2!



We had such an amazing time recording the show and it also pushed us to achieve a lot more in the garden than we would have done without the pressure of tv cameras following our progress!

Here are some individual posts of the various projects that we’ve undertaken in the garden, both on camera and off, and eventually I’ll start to update on what we’re doing in the garden this year!

Clearing the Wilderness

Designing and Planning

Building the Greenhouse

Constructing the Raised Beds

River Paths through the Garden

For now, here’s a few shots of before, during and after the back garden transformation! Click on each image to see them full size and scroll through!