Winding down in the garden
When Peter and I decided to leave Brixton and move further out of London, one of the prime reasons was so that we could have a garden. We’re both pretty keen on growing our own – when we first started dating we had a ‘tomato grow-off’, competing to see who could grow the most (he won, my flat’s balcony was north facing). Having a south facing garden was on our list of ‘must haves’ for the new house. So when we walked into this house for the first time, and saw that they already had a little plot in the back, we were really excited.
We grew a few bits last year, but then we found out we had a RAT under the decking (AAAAH), so it wasn’t really a pleasant place to spend time. We had the decking pulled up, and got rid of that, but then we had some building work done, and the rubble took over the garden. It was a complete and utter mess.
Last year, my mum gave us a late housewarming gift of a professional garden planner, who helped us visualise what we could do with the space. But then Theo came along, and it was winter, and I genuinely thought we’d never have the time or energy to make it happen. Thankfully, things got a bit brighter as the year progressed. Peter and his dad spent a couple of weekends doing some very hard labour, getting beds ready for me to plant in. I’ve written a bit more about our garden makeover here, if you want to know more about that.
Now, at the end of the summer, I’m so, so happy with how much the garden produced this year. So what did we grow? What worked? What was a complete and utter failure? This is a long post, but I wanted to record everything for my own posterity, so bear with me…
Well, on the plus side, everything grew. Although not everything survived (some foxes dug up most of our courgette plants, meaning only one survived until the end of the summer; the broad beans died suddenly after I took the internet’s advice to cut the top few inches off to cull the black fly (although I did get one harvest out of it), almost everything worked to some degree. So, I’m considering that a massive success.
Our big problem in the garden this year was ants. We had a little bit of black fly on the broad beans, and a bit of carrot fly. I think I would have been able to deal with this, but those bloody ants! I mean, I have obviously heard of ant farms, but I didn’t realise that they literally act as farmers for pests! They were spreading them all over and helping them breed and a small problem soon became very big. So, between now and next year, I need to learn how to deal with this.
I got all of my plants and seeds from either Suttons Seeds or Homebase. Homebase is pretty close to my house, so for basics like leeks and beetroot, that’s been great, but Suttons have loads of interesting varieties, and their plants seem to be very good quality. The plugs come in flat boxes that fit through your letter box! Ha! The first time I got one I was well impressed. The only trouble with getting plugs online is that there are generally too many than I can use – next year, I think I need to do a plant share with someone – anyone interested in buddying up and taking half of my plugs?
Here’s a complete breakdown of what went in, how it went, plus our plans for the future. I’ve colour coded them – green for things that were successful, red for things that failed, and orange for things I must try harder at.
- Leeks: Plug plants. Easy to grow. Still in the ground and will probably be going strong for another month or so.
- Flower sprouts (a mix between brussel sprouts and kale): Grown from seed. These got huge, but totally gobbled up by caterpillars. I am never growing brassicas again.
- Broad beans: Grown from seed. We had one harvest (which I turned into this), but died after a black fly infestation. I found this spray, which completely got rid of the black fly, but unfortunately by the time I got it, it was too late. Definitely trying this again next year.
- Tomatoes (yes I know it’s officially a fruit but…). We have had so many tomatoes from our various plants. The most successful have been the two cherry plants, so I think next year, I’ll stick to these varieties as they go red sooner.
- Squash. These WERE successful, in that we harvested three massive squashes, but I won’t grow them again as a) they take up huge amounts of space for not that much return and b) they are SO invasive! I kept having to chop them back as they tried to take over the whole garden. If you have a lot of space, I’d definitely recommend as these are super easy.
- Courgettes. As I mentioned above, only one of our plants survived the foxes. But that one plant was SO productive. We had fresh courgettes every couple of days for almost the entire summer. I will DEFINITELY be planting this again next year.
- Lettuce. I got a free pack of seeds from Homebase, and they were brilliant. Gave us fresh lettuce every couple of days for months.
- Carrots. We spotted that the bastard ants were farming carrot fly on the tops of these, but luckily they’d grown big enough for us to harvest them. I pulled them up, cut the tops off, chopped them up into cubes, parboiled them, and then froze them. We’ve had fresh carrot cubes in the freezer throughout the summer, so although this could have been a fail, actually, it worked out pretty well.
- Beetroot. So so good. I love growing beetroot. I made this amazing risotto with some fresh stuff we picked, and also made a pickle, which we’re still adding to sandwiches. Super easy to grow.
- Raspberries. We had around 6 delicious raspberries, but…. I don’t know what’s wrong with this plant, but the leaves are all brown, there are holes in the leaves, and it generally looks a bit manky. Apparently there might be something eating its roots. I’m going to cut it right back, then maybe dig it up and inspect the roots, and either replant it or toss it out. It’s not in a great space in the garden, but it hasn’t really got anywhere else to go…
- Strawberries. So good! I’m hoping these plants survive the winter. For about three or four weeks, I popped outside every day and harvested two or three strawberries. Such a lovely feeling – the epitome of summer.
All of the herbs have been a great success, apart from the lavender, which is still alive, but doesn’t look too hot. We’ll see if it settles over the winter and regrows in the spring next year. Again, it’s just been brilliant having these in the garden. Whenever we’re cooking and need a herb, we can just pop out and grab some. I can’t even calculate how much money we have saved on buying bunches from the supermarket.
- Thyme (English, Orange and Lemon)
- Mint (English and Chocolate)
- Bay leaves
All of the flowers have been successful. I’d like to try a few different ones next year, but I’ll definitely be growing tulips, daffodils and nasturtiums again, and I think the geraniums, lobelias and violas may survive the winter. The dahlias are fun, but they take up a lot of room and aren’t that special. I think I was imagining they would look the way they do in my father-in-law’s incredibly well designed garden, but they don’t really fit in my messy, underweeded, and overwhelmingly productive space! It’s in the same spot as the raspberries, which gets the least sun in the garden, so I need to put a bit of thought into what will go there next year.
- Trailing lobelia
And that’s everything! More green than red or orange, thankfully. It’s been a very good year.
This autumn, I’m going to try shallots and have also ordered up a pot of asparagus, and will be planting some tulip and grape hyacinth bulbs. There’s really nothing like growing your own fruit and vegetables. It’s hard work, and needs looking after, but ultimately it’s so rewarding, tastes delicious, and can look very beautiful, too.
So, that’s my round up. Have you been growing anything this summer? What worked? What wasn’t so successful? Any tips for dealing with bastard farming ants?