My family and I live in a typical suburban house with a typical British suburban garden. Located in a small town in northern Buckinghamshire, the house was built as part of a development that extended the original village sometime in the late 60′s or early 70′s.
When we moved into the property in 2006 the back garden was a well looked after square of lawn surrounded by classic flower boarders filled with a rather well thought out mix of large shrubs, grasses and lavender and pink flowering plants. We had purchased the house from a woman who enjoyed and understood this type of gardening.
Despite my very good intentions, by the summer of 2008 the original planting scheme was already beginning to be lost in an overwhelming tangle of overgrowth and general neglect. However hard I tried to look after it, I just couldn’t find it in me the love and passion necessary to instill the time and attention the garden needed to remain that classic but pretty creation I had inherited from my green-fingered predecessor.
So, it came to pass one evening as I sat out in the garden with a friend, that I looked up at the rose arch that lead out onto the lawn and found myself complaining.
“I hate those damn roses! Every time I have to go to the garage I get snagged by the thorns,” I said.
“Why don’t you cut them back?” asked my friend.
“Because I hate them that much I just can’t bring myself to be bothered. They grow so fast they’ll only need cutting again in a few weeks,” I replied. “Perhaps I should just cut them down completely!”
“My mother grows french beans up her trellises,” said my friend.
“What a fantastic idea!” said I. “I love the idea of growing vegetables. I understand vegetables. Not like these damn flowers which I know absolutely nothing about. We can eat vegetables. They have purpose. I can contemplate spending my time planting and tending vegetables because they are useful. Yes. I shall cut down the roses and plant french beans. I shall turn this garden into a vegetable plot!”
I had no idea in that moment quite what this miraculous thought was about to get me into.
A nugget of passion was ignited deep within my soul. It burned slowly as I researched the costs and implications of my idea. It gained ground as I realised the possibilities – discovering ideas like ‘potager’ and ‘heritage seeds’, and concepts such as ‘raised bedding’ and ‘companion planting’.
That initial passion might almost have been extinguished by the arguments that arose out of discussions with my darling husband regarding budgets and time expenditure. But, inevitably (sorry dear husband!), it finally burst forth and during one very cold half-term week in late October 2008, with the help of an enthusiastic younger son and an elderly but fit father, the transformation began….
The raised bedding – note that the frames are simply laid on top of the lawn
All in all I had to build 16 raised beds, 7 of which were double height. Despite the fact that I had purchased pre-cut, pre-countersunk and pre-weathertreated planks it took nearly three weekends of endless labour, two new drill bits and many hours of cussing and swearing to finally complete just the empty frames.
Once the frames were complete I celebrated the fact that they did indeed fit into my garden, just the way I had planned on paper – this was probably the first and last time that any of my garden plans has actually come into fruition so completely. I then calculated their total volume and found myself ordering no less than eight tonnes of top quality top soil!
My youngest son gets a shovel into 8 tonnes of quality top soil
At eight o’clock in the morning, on the Monday during autumn half-term, a truck emptied eight tonnes of delicious, airy top soil onto a large groundsheet I had spread out on my driveway. This soil had to then be shoveled into my brand spanking new wheelbarrow (bought just for this purpose) and wheeled all the way through my garage (tidied out by my eldest son who had previously been using it for drum practice), and into the garden to be carefully deposited into each of the 16 beds. On occasion it was necessary to ease that wheelbarrow up a homemade ramp so it could be tipped into the higher double beds.
For five days my father and youngest son worked by my side in the cold and sometimes wet weather. It was back-breaking work but it felt honest and good and, I have to admit that on occasion we burst into song. My poor neighbours had to submit to multiple renditions of Molly Malone as my son valiantly attempted to teach the words to me and my half deaf father. Good memories for us, if not for my neighbours – to their credit, and with my thanks, they did not complain once.
And so, having spent what my husband considers silly amounts of money (and he may have had a point) and many, many hours of hard work, my new vegetable plot lay ready. Sadly, it was by that time November. Other than plant a row of garlic in the front beds outside the picture windows, there was little I could do but wait and watch as the weeks past, the snow fell and my new soil turned into impenetrable steel. For me, and my lovely new garden, Spring 2009 could not come soon enough…