Our little paradise

One of the things that I like to do is spend time outdoors and when I can’t go any further away from home then I go in my back garden.  We have a very small back garden even by English standards maybe 50 feet long and 20 feet wide but we manage to squeeze a lot into it.

When we moved in the previous owners had left us with nothing and many of the surrounding gardens a little bland due to their small size.  As we live in a terrace house we are unfortunate that our back garden faces north, never a good idea when in the U.K.  We get little light due to the houses and fences and even less sunshine.  In short it is a gardening hell.

This isn’t a good time to take photos of the garden.  The roses are dying back, the flowers have disappeared and all that is left is a hundred variations of green.  As you can see below we have some bamboo, a willow, a cherry blossom and various other bushes down the right side to hide the other houses.  We did similar on the other side to the left with climbing roses, lilac and jasmine.

Back Garden

On a damp September morning.

As well as the lawn and the usual bushes and shrubs that we have planted to try and make our urban yard into a country cottage garden.   We have a selection of fruit trees, apple, pear, plum, cherry and fig which on a good year will overflow us with food until our freezer is full, our pantry’s full of chutneys and preserves.

We also have a variety of soft fruit bushes such as raspberry, blackberry, whiteberry, loganberry and similar plants.  It is always a pleasure to wonder down the garden and have a bite to eat when you get there.

Unfortunately our wettest summer for 100 years means many fruit trees didn’t produce well as either the flowers were washed off or the bees didn’t get out and do much pollinating.

We have a large brick shed in one corner of the garden so we have disguised that by growing two grape vines over it.  The shed is the one part of the garden that is south facing and although the vines are young, they cover the shed well.  We use their leaves to wrap up mince and other foods to make Mediterranean style wraps and we spend much of the summer watching the grapes grow bigger and bigger.  There are countless bunches and we hope over the next month they will ripen and it won’t be like last October where we prayed for sunshine in the daytime and no frost in the evenings.

We’ll pick the grapes about a month after the other fruit and put them in 10 litre buckets, squash them with our hands and then let them ferment under the stairs… our house often smells fruity and slightly alcoholic from August until October with chutney making being a full time job in itself.

Grapes

Another 6 weeks and it will be time to pick these beauties

My pride and joy is my vegetable patch which is a tiny 7 feet square and it is only this big as I dug up some of the lawn last year.  What it lacks in size, the good old English rain helps it make up with produce.

I start every year with a plan but due to the size of the plot and the conditions I can’t grow anything in the space they should are recommended to be grown and the plan kind of goes out of the window by May.    The small size also makes crop rotation all but impossible but I do my best.

May time veg

Proof that I do actually lay out my little patch but when you work all week and it rains so often at weekends it can all get a bit out of control. By summer it is a case of building support frames and muddling through.

Rhubarb

As Henry Ford might have said, you can have any dessert you like so long as it is Rhubarb. Rhubarb Crumble, Rhubarb and Custard, Rhubarb and ice-cream…

In the corner we have 2 varieties of rhubarb which can each give us about 7 harvests of rhubarb a year and each harvest will be of around 4 or 5 stalks about a foot (30cm) long.  Each year we grow a variety of crops but this summer we have grown peas which have been and gone, runner beans which are giving us food consistently over the last few weeks.

We have potatoes too which we planted 5 years ago and are never quite able to find each one under the soil so every year they hidden potatoes germinate and 6 months later, voilà, free potatoes.

Potato

Potato plants ready to dig up. There are plenty of carrots down there too.

Spring onions are popular and easy crop to grow here and their cousins the Leeks which I plant back before Easter and won’t be ready to eat until around Christmas time.   Parsnips are also doing well year after year and they too get harvested after the frosts, the later the better as the ice makes them sweet though hard to pull up.

We have carrots too but our soil is very stony.  My home town in Hertfordshire is at the southern extent of the last ice-age ice-sheet so when the ice melted we got all the stones and pebbles from the rest of Britain… most of it in my garden it seems. Due to this our carrots grow best in flower pot containers as the stony soil can make carrots grow in all directions but straight down but they grow a treat in a large pot with compost in it.

We grow plenty of lettuce and the good thing about this plant is that it grows incredibly quickly.  As we haven’t got much space in the ground we have planted lettuce in 3 large pots and harvest them weekly in rotation.  This way we always have fresh lettuce throughout the spring, summer and autumn.

We also have a few chilli peppers growing too and the first of them are turning red.  What is most impressive, peppers or grapes in England?

Lettuce be self-sufficient!

The Lettuce in the middle has just been picked, the ones on the left were picked a week ago and the ones on the right are screaming to be picked in the coming week.

Finally this year we have a large crop of Sprouts.  I don’t really like sprouts myself but I thought ‘why not’ plus they put goodness back into the soil for next year too.  Last weekend our crop got attacked by white cabbage butterflies which laid eggs which grew into caterpillars which ate most of the sprouts.  However the sprouts seem like they are still just about growing.

Not only is it a healthy hobby but it the food often tastes so much nicer than from the supermarkets or even farmers markets.  We don’t use anything artificial and not all crops make back much money based on the time spent maintaining them but every year you get one or two crops that have a bumper harvest and make things worthwhile.  Perhaps for 6 months of the year we have access to some sort of fresh garden produce and maybe for 2 or 3 weeks of the year we could live off our patch entirely.

Not everything grows well, partly due to our location and partly due to lack of time, space and resources.  Sweet corn didn’t do that well and surprisingly I have never got beetroot’s or turnips/swedes to do well. Whilst Swiss Chard and spinach went crazy and we got sick of eating it months before it stopped producing.

One day we would like some chickens and maybe a goat or two but that will have to wait until the next house with a much larger garden.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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2 Responses to Our little paradise

  1. That is quite the garden, Stephen. I applaud you for all the hard work and planning that is involved. It looks great!

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