As any of you who have followed me over the years will know, I love our potager. I am absolutely no expert but I’m a willing amateur gardener, happy to take as much advice as anyone can give me and learning all the time. One of my biggest pleasures is providing healthy organic produce for the family. Maybe it is my motherly instincts kicking in, but sitting down to eat the simplest of foods; some salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, maybe some carrots or green beans, perhaps aubergines and courgettes, I’m not fussy. But knowing that I have grown them, harvested them and that they are now sitting on our table feeding our children is one of the best feelings I know. It is such a simple pleasure that it is hard to put into words why this exactly brings me so much satisfaction and happiness, I only know that it does.
When we moved house back in March one of the things that preoccupied my spare moments was where we would build the potager. As the days sped past at an alarming rate, April crept up on us and we were no closer to even starting to put any sort of plans, (even though they were only in my head) into action. Eventually I took out a piece of the children’s school graph paper and drew some sketches, mapping out where the existing fruit trees were and where we could possibly add some beds for vegetables. The problem was I wanted it to be practical but I also wanted it to look pretty and we needed to work around trees and the existing soft fruit.
With just some rough plans I set out one afternoon and gathered the old pieces of planking that were lying outside. I laid these out into long rectangles where I thought the new beds could go. Once satisfied that it might work, Roddy and I got to work with the help of the children when they were home from school and we organised a delivery of several tonnes of topsoil from a local farmer.
The topsoil turned up several days earlier than was originally planned and rather unceremoniously dumped in the top entrance to our garden. One that we never really use and one that is situated along a small little lane. Our topsoil was now blocking access to two other properties. Admittedly no one else ever uses these back secondary entrances either, but we still had to move fast to clear it in case, on the off chance, that someone decided to use this little lane.
We were determined to build these beds with only reclaimed timber that we already had, leftovers from old projects that the previous owners had just stacked beside the stone walls. When we got close to finishing but ran out of wood, a neighbour who had been watching with interest walked over with several more planks, he too had some he didn’t need and was more than happy to let us have them.
In the interim our little greenhouse was a godsend. Already here when we bought the house, a friend called it a delightful garden apart from the ugly greenhouse. Of course they were right, it is not particularly pretty and certainly neither stylish nor elegant but it is practical and it works and gosh I have had so much fun already, in just a couple of months with this little greenhouse. It may be an ugly duckling but I’ve grown very fond of it in a very short space of time!
With the beds taking shape we were able to start filling them with the topsoil. We made sure the layer was at least 20cms deep and put it directly on top of the existing grass. Then we added several bags of good quality compost to each bed to enrich the soil. It will be a long slow process slowly getting this soil to where we want it to be but this is a great beginning.
We also had several currant bushes and raspberry canes, all in much need of some TLC. We bought many bags of organic hemp which we have used as a mulch around the base of these and during this winter we will use a lot more on the vegetable beds to help improve the soil.
I then came up with this crazy idea that I would like an obelisk in the potager. I started out suggesting one and quickly changed that to three! As it is not as large as our previous one I was a little concerned about space. We grow a lot of cucumbers because we eat so many, one a day without any problem but they require a lot of room. However, last year I did a little research about growing these vertically as a friend had done so with great success. I knew they would need a tough support system and thought the obelisks would be ideal. Roddy, my brilliant husband, willingly set to work. I showed him a photo I had found on instagram of what sort of thing I wanted and he began to build them for me. Within a couple of days we had the basic design.
With the obelisks in place it was time to start emptying the greenhouse of all the tiny vegetables I had been watering every day. Some bought from the local garden centre and others sown from seed.
As the days turned into weeks everything started to take off. Is it just me or does anyone else study their garden day and night, looking for any tiny signs of new growth, watching as things start to grow.
I’ve purposefully added herbs; lavender, borage and oregano into the beds. I’ve done a lot of reading about companion planting and have tried to use plants that will grow well together. I’ve also planted nasturtium and marigolds and dotted here and there are cosmos. It’s a mixture of a semi formal orangised potager with a typical English cottage garden, a little bit of the unexpected because I absolutely love mixing flowers with the vegetables. It’s not entirely conventional but at the end of the day, I’m the one who works in this potager and if it makes me smile and makes me happy then honestly, I’m planting my flowers with my vegetables!
I’m now researching old fashioned perennial vegetables with plans to add some of these in the autumn and I’ll keep you up to date with anything interesting I learn on this front.
Now another two weeks down the line, some rain followed by a lot of really warm sunshine and the tomatoes are producing plenty of green fruit
and the cucumbers are so far behaving exactly as I hoped. With a little help they are climbing upwards.
And away from the potager in the courtyard garden our biggest success story has been the basil. We have failed miserably with basil year in year out. The only time we had any success was nearly fifteen years ago when it grew in tubs in a sheltered spot. This year we had a few excess tomatoes and so I thought it would be fun to have a couple of cherry tomato plants growing in the courtyard right next to the kitchen. I planted some tiny basil plants in with them not particularly hopeful that they would survive. But they have thrived, they seem to increase in size overnight, finally we have found a spot that they love! Everything I read tells me basil is the perfect companion for tomatoes. So I’m already dreaming of plates of sliced tomatoes still warm from the sun generously sprinkled with leaves of basil, some olive oil and pepper and yum yum, simple food straight from the garden.