We have lived in Sussex for nearly two years now and planning our garden is still an ongoing project. There have been ideas that have been considered and discarded as we have got to know our garden better. For instance, the large shrub we were going to remove as it was in the way of the vegetable plot has been kept after we saw how many birds and insects used it for homes and food. There are a few other things we have had to work around and take into consideration including large trees, retaining our magnificent views and the needs of all family members (animals included).
When we moved to the country, I wanted to grow vegetables and fruit, I wanted chickens and I wanted space for the children to play. The place we bought had a huge garden by London standards but is fairly modest in terms of these ambitions – its certainly no smallholding. I measured the plot and it came in at approximately a fifth of an acre which included the driveway, house footprint and outbuilding. Therefore, careful planning was needed to achieve all our aims. The garden is in three main sections including a lawn at the front with cherry tree which is flat and large enough for a modest kick about so is used by the children as football/cricket pitch. A section with a smaller lawn (used to graze the guinea pigs) a decking area which is used for container vegetables and seating (there is a fabulous view). Lastly is the back section which is my favourite. This is hidden behind a copper beech hedge and comprises the vegetable patch, fruit trees, trampoline and chicken area.
My main planning has been concentrated on the back area. I have been extending the vegetable patch which at the moment is about 8 x 12 feet and I am extending it to 12 x 16 feet. It consists of gooseberry bushes, raspberry canes, rhubarb and an artichoke plant. Last year I planted beetroot, courgettes, peas and beans and with the extension there should be room for more. I also grow salads, spinach, radishes, herbs and rocket in containers on the decking. I set up a trough with strawberry plants last year, but they weren’t hugely successful and only one has survived so I am planning on trying them in the vegetable patch instead.
One of the problems of planning is fitting everything I want to do in quite a small space. When we moved, we promised the children a trampoline (OK it was a bribe for leaving their friends) which has ended up slap bang in the middle of the ‘orchard’. Anywhere else and it would have ruined the lovely views or been on a rather hazardous slope. The orchard already had a mature and productive plum tree and I have now planted two pear trees and two apple trees. I also have a container fig tree and another apple tree on the edge of our football pitch. I could have fitted in more if we didn’t get the trampoline but the children use it pretty much most days so I have planted the new trees around it and when they outgrow it, I can plant some more trees in its place. Do I want a big ugly trampoline in my orchard? Not really. But part of moving to the country was to get the kids outside more. This does a good job of encouraging them so earns its keep. This area also had a large wooden climbing frame and swing which was left by the previous owners whose own children were late teens. Its pretty derelict now so this is going to go and will provide more space for the chickens.
Although the garden isn’t huge, it does have lots of nooks and crannies, one of which we are thinking of siting a beehive on. My eldest is really interested in bees and we are planning on going on a course and hopefully producing our own honey.
When we bought our house, it had what was listed as a ‘sunroom’. This was basically a large porch which the previous owners had used mainly for coats, shoes. However, it was single glazed and gets very hot in the sun, so it has been turned into a greenhouse and I am currently growing tomatoes, cucumbers, flowers, butternut squash and chillies among other seeds which I am starting off here before moving outside.
I do look enviously at the space other people have sometimes and those with smallholdings but we make the most of our small plot and everyone gets to enjoy it in the way they want. If this season’s growing does well, I may branch out into an allotment to extend my growing area – watch this space!