Front Garden Project

My favourite part of the front garden has three raised beds made four years ago, from timber treated with organic oils from Osmo, because I have grown so much food there. This part of the garden was a weed-infested rockery when I moved here. A few years ago I removed the rockery plants and mulched it, hoping to grow veg but hit two main problems – the soil is very shallow and on top of builders’ rubble (from an extension in the 1970s, it is quite a bit higher than my neighbours’ gardens for this reason) and the most enthusiastic bindweed I have ever experienced, which appears to have roots deep into the centre of the earth!

Wooden sided raised beds are a good solution here as they increase the soil level by 8 inches. I originally filled them with a mixture of well rotted manure and municipal waste compost and now top them up with an inch or so of well rotted compost every year. The paths are mulched with sawdust, a free waste product from a local carpenter.

spreading the compost in 2015
spreading the compost in 2015

Next to these beds is a smaller one made with wooden offcuts where I planted a beautiful little cherry tree and opposite, another growing space  has different enthusiastic weeds:  enchanter’s nightshade and ground ivy. Here I grow teasels for the goldfinches – they self seed like crazy but the seedlings are very recognisable and easy to remove. For me, is worth growing a few plants for the pleasure of watching the feeding finches all winter.

Our pond is old and was overgrown and leaking 14 years ago when we moved here – it still leaks and can be very low in the summer. This doesn’t deter the frogs who return every spring around Valentine’s to lay their frogspawn. They are back a week earlier this year.

Although I don’t want it to be too pristine, the paved area needs a good weeding, particularly around the pond. I hope to encourage more interesting plants in the cracks. I have struggled with keeping on top of the weeds here due to lack of time mostly as I was working part of almost every weekend for the past 3 years. The weeds seem to grow like triffids in my front garden the moment my back is turned, so it is quite a challenge!

The plans for the front garden include:

  • mulch along the hedge with light excluding plastic mulch for a year, to try to get rid of the enchanter’s nightshade
  • make a wildlife area along the front on the garden, next to the pavement
  • grow more up the walls
  • grow some more pond plants (I have bought seeds for this)
  • grow food in pots to make more use of the paved area
  • weed!!
  • sort out the side of the house to make more effective storage and hopefully grow things too
  • see if I can install a water butt so I don’t have to lug watering cans from the back garden
  • paint the shabby bits down the side of the house

I think there is plenty of scope here to make an even more productive growing space which looks colorful and welcoming.

Homemade fertility – Comfrey

Here in Somerset and across much of England comfrey grows wild, providing an important source of food for bees feeding from the clusters of droopy flowers and other wildlife including moth caterpillars and ladybirds. The large hairy leaves can be spread as a mulch, added to the compost heap (make sure there are no seeds otherwise it will invade everywhere), dried for winter use and made into an excellent plant food. Comfrey is a key element in making more of fertility for the garden at home.

 

Comfrey roots which reach deep into the soil, it is rich in minerals and healing properties – one of it’s traditional names is ‘knit-bone’. I make comfrey oil from the root and shall blog the recipe when I make it soon.


Comfrey is incredibly invasive, it is best to grow Bocking 14 at home. At my allotment I have a battle every year with invading comfrey planted by a previous allotment neighbour, right on the edge of my plot. Every few weeks during the summer and autumn I have to remove it to stop it spreading. There is plenty of useful comfrey along the top of my plot and in the hedgerow there. At home, I have some Bocking 14 and also the dreaded invasive sort, planted when I first moved here and thought it was the less invasive sort. Most of it has gone but some persists.

The plants growing in my garden and allotment receive an annual mulch of an inch or two of well rotted compost, either homemade or manure, which provides them with enough food for the year and they don’t need any addition liquid feeds. I use comfrey in the compost heap and to make a potent feed for plants growing in pots and will be exploring ways of using it more widely as I try to make most of the fertility needed at home in the back garden.

As well as comfrey, nettle and dandelion leaves are good additions to this potion – make sure there are no seeds though!

The usual method of soaking comfrey leaves in a bucket of water for 2 or 3 weeks works well but the resulting liquid is notoriously smelly. You simply put leaves in a bucket, cover with water and put a lid on, wait for 2 weeks, strain and use.

 

Another way using no water makes an intensely powerful brew but without the smell and is very easy.

You will need one or more containers with holes at the bottom – plant pots are good – and a bucket.

Stuff the pots with comfrey leaves (plus nettles etc if you are using them).

Put a brick in the bottom of the bucket for drainage and stability. Add your first pot and squish the leaves down.

Add the other pot/s.

Store somewhere dry and safe. I usually put a lid on top of the uppermost pot.

After several weeks, the leaves will have rotted to produce a dark liquid. Store in a sealed bottle or use immediately. Dilute in a watering can 1 part comfrey liquid to 20 parts water.

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(These photos were take a couple of years ago at Charles Dowding’s garden, Homeacres, for an article I was writing for Permaculture Magazine)