Our soil is not the easiest. In fact I have to admit I really did not enjoy the original making stage of our garden. We had to get creative in how we gardened just to keep going. When you watch Monty Don slipping his spade into his soil we could only look on in envy. We have a lot of flint and the soil is so shallow that often it has been only the very tip of the spade in the soil before a flint is hit. This is one reason for us to have chosen working with a perennial forest garden rather than a more annual growing system.
For areas where we do want to grow annuals (or simply improve our soil) we have found the best way for us to create borders is using our own unique style of no dig system. We have been doing it this way for a few years and we know it works. It does not give us an instant bed, but it does give us depth and a weed free bed in about a year for relatively low input effort. It also does not require us to buy in any compost or use up any of the precious compost we make.
So how does it vary from the usual no dig system you might ask? We use large heavy duty paper sacks in which animal feed is bought. We turn them inside out so they are easier on the eye; light brown rather than colourful and printed. Then the majority of our weeds are put in these bags as we do our weeding. Once the sacks are full we lay them close together over the unprepared ground of the new border-to-be.
The weight of the contents of the sack holds it securely in place without allowing any light to the weeds and the sack gives the right mix of carbon and nitrogen for it to turn into compost.
For us gardening on the scale we do, this is a very valuable technique. If you garden a smaller ornamental garden it may not be for you!
Note: Do not add brambles docks or nettle roots to the sack, or any other really invasive perennial weeds.
We grow a lot of flowers for cutting. From early spring onwards we aim to have fresh flowers for all our guests in their accommodation. We like them to be bright and vibrant – a little joyous bouquet to lift the spirits of our guests as they arrive after a long journey.
This year we had only just started to add colourful bouquets to the shepherd’s hut when the government shutdown was announced.
The garden does not stop though. Even with half the world in lockdown, nature continues. Currently our tulips are a riot of colour. They last for only a few weeks and we never pick them all but we love their loud declaration that spring has sprung.
To keep up the succession in our cutting borders we are sowing for the months to come. Carnations, nigella, cornflowers, calendula have all been sown this morning.
It is this sort of methodical action that keeps us moving to a rhythm at this time without the usual people to interact with face to face.
We are so lucky to have the space to move and a long list of jobs that just take time; no resources, just time! Time is usually so precious and currently we have all the time in the world to tackle those long lists of jobs.
Now I’m off to pick some tulips for our own home, to have the joy of those vibrant colours on the dining table for later.
Our Forest Garden is, on the whole, well protected from the ferocity of the winds we can get on our farm. We have a tall hedge to the north that cuts out all the cold northerly winds in winter, and the SW prevailing wind has to get through hedges, trees and a bank before it reaches the Forest Garden.
There is one direction, however, that last winter has shown up to be our weak spot. This is from the south. Our farm slopes due south and gives us a beautiful vista up through a valley in front of us to distant rolling hills. This however, also equates to a funnelling of southerly winds right at us. We had already planted a number of trees to the south – rowan, elder and hazel, but not nearly enough to protect our precious garden from the wind.
Having planted up our forest garden, and seeing everything flourishing, we were very aware there is now a need to plan a suitable wind break to the south…
Seeing as we had the space we decided to tackle the winds from outside the forest garden by moving the ageing boundary fencing and at the same time improve mowing access. This has given us space to add taller, quicker growing, wind tolerant trees positioned to lift the wind over the forest garden without overshadowing or taking nutrients from our edible trees.
Work started this weekend using our trusty old tractor (the OWL) – it has been an invaluable help lifting posts and grown-in fencing and mowing new paths into the now extended forest garden.
This extra space has really changed the feel of the forest garden and improved our access. Over the next week we’ll aim to get all the new trees in position – fingers crossed the weather remains on our side…
Next week we’ll include images showing the improved windbreak and plans showing the new design.
Apricot tree growing well in our temperate forest garden
Last week was damp and warm which brought about in an explosion of growth in our Forest Garden – including our trees. Our mulching is starting to pay dividends holding back the grass around each tree as grass would reduce tree root development.
This week I’m writing about some of the trees and shrubs in our forest garden that are uncommon in a typical British garden. I’ve included photos of our Szechuan pepper, apricot and Chilean Guava (shown above) as well as a newly imported quince all growing well.
Szechuan Pepper – Zanthoxylum
The Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans) is a large deciduous shrub growing to 4 m tall by 6m wide. We’re growing it for its fruit that have a lovely scent and can be used as a black pepper substitute.
There are more and more apricots becoming available to grow in the UK. We’ve chosen a sheltered position with full sun to test out Flavourcot – so far it is romping away!
We are also trying a British bred variety of the Chilean Guava. James Wong’s comment on this lovely evergreen shrub is – ‘They even come with sweetly scented, powder pink lily-of-the-valley type flowers; they’re such a wonderful addition to any garden and one definitely not to be missed!’ Can’t wait to try the lovely berry sized red fruit!
Another tree fruit I’m really looking forward to sampling is the Quince Isfahan. It has not been long in this country, but I’ve been told it has some of the best fruit to eat straight from the tree. The tree itself has beautiful large ornamental buds and I look forward to them turning into quinces later in the year.
This winter has been a busy time in our forest garden. Many new trees have been planted and now all that hard work is starting to show some rewards.
This is a short post showing just a few images of what is happening to some of the plants in our forest garden this May 2014.
Our new Service-berries (amalanchier) are already looking stunning in their first season.
We planted a hedge of them just on the edge of our forest garden to create an additional windbreak protection from south westerlies (something we get a lot of).
Their spring foliage has opened this spring in a gorgeous salmon pink at the same time as their pretty white flowers – promising berries this June. The leaves will turn green as we go into summer and then we look forward to further colour in the autumn.
They are a welcome site everytime I go past them on the track and a real tempter into the forest garden itself.
These rowans are a further wind barrier (believe me we do have wind here!) and you may notice the tree closest to the camera is bent in a classic wind worn shape whilst the following trees are more upright. Our home is just to the left of this picture and protects the higher trees, whilst funnelling the wind at the lower ones.
These trees are in their 4th year and are standing up to the wind well. They also produce a lot of berries that the birds really appreciate.
This frame is within our forest garden. the bars have a huggel bed at their feet and a series of fruit trees and fruiting climbers are scrambling up each of the bars with herbs at their feet.
It will take a couple of years to really get established, however it is already showing great promise and will become a lovely sheltered space for visitors to come and enjoy some food during their stay. We aim to build a clay oven here! Perhaps pizza with one of our artichokes?
I know a number of people who’ve created a Forest Garden say the first tree on their list was the Mulberry. Well, there must be something in the type of people who grow Forest Gardens and Mulberry trees; because it has been a tree I’ve wished to grow for years.
Mulberry is a tree with so many great points. Initially I fell in love with the tree for its lovely, almost loganberry like fruit, its beautiful shape and lovely large leaves. It is the sort of tree that looks fantastic as a centre piece to a garden – allowed to grow old and gnarled.
But this is just the start of what makes this tree so special. If you raise chickens this is a great tree to have over shadowing their run. Not only does its broad shape create good shade, but chickens adore and do well on their fruit and these fruit can drop over a long period.
It is not just the fruit that is popular with animals. The leaves are also very high in protein (in some varieties more than 20% protein) and ideal to feed to animals. As we have both rabbits and sheep on the farm, we have plenty of use for a crop like this!
We have chosen a black mulberry for our forest garden for its flavour. There are also white and red mulberry varieties. White mulberry trees (Morus Alba) are the host plant for silkworms and King James I had a Mulberry Garden planted at Buckingham Palace to cultivate silk worms. Unfortunately it is thought that black mulberries were planted and the venture failed.
The white mulberry is also a good buffer tree to plant next to a black walnut. It tolerates juglone – a growth inhibitor produced by the walnut roots to protect its territory.
Our tree is now planted and we look forward to our first harvest (though it may take a few years). The picking season is through August and September (or more like the shaking season!) The best way to gather the fruit is by shaking branches over a sheet spread on the ground and be warned the fruit can stain.
You may already be growing this shrub in your garden. It is useful as a hedging shrub particularly in coastal areas where it can cope with salt-laden air. Though wind is an issue in our location this is not the key reason for selecting it.
The whole Elaeagnus family are nitrogen fixers. This means they have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. Nitrogen is a key nutrient and nitrogen fixers can increase the growth of neighbouring plants.
This large evergreen shrub has dark green leaves with lime-green splashed centres. The small (almost invisible) creamy-white flowers pump out a jasmine like perfume from October till almost January and followed by small orange juicy berries. Even the small shrubs I’ve just planted have had an amazing scent this winter.
In our forest we have a number of these scattered through the forest for their nitrogen fixing. The berries are also worth harvesting. They are reasonable sized with a nice slightly acidic flavour once fully ripened, rich in vitamins A, C and E. The time to look out for these fruits is between April and May.
We’ve planted ours small so that they will establish themselves more quickly – so we’ll need to wait a while before we can harvest any meaningful crop. This is one shrub that has all the makings of a valuable member of our forest!