Small forest garden in pots

One of the plans for my back garden is to make the concrete areas more productive and beautiful. This one is quite near to the back of my house, where a shed was removed after storms a few years ago – a concrete base that had become something of a glory hole for stray pots, bricks and other things that could be useful so I didn’t want to throw them away, but hadn’t quite got round to storing them properly.

The concrete base is rather ugly with a low breeze block around it. This photo was taken on 30th January. The strange plastic covered blob is the outside water tap, wrapped up in case of cold weather.

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On 17th May Charles and I cleared the area of weeds and debris, making a neat pile of all of the ‘useful’ stones, bricks and slabs. I already had two pot grown apple trees, two red elders and a fig. A friend gave me a peach and two nectarines, too.

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This is the space in July. Everything here is grown in pots or reusable grow bags (these were free gifts with other purchases for the garden.) It is a beautiful polyculture, a multi-level mix of edible annual and perennial plants, with some non edible flowers for colour and wildlife. I placed the pots around the edges so that I have access down the middle towards the back fence.

 

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This is a productive and versatile use of a sterile, neglected space. The flexibility of potted plants means that after observing how I interact with this area, what grows well, what is not successful, etc I can reconsider this area in the autumn and redesign it for the winter and next year. So far, I have realised that having the washing line here does not work well (the laundry is knocking some of the fruit off, it takes twice as long to hang things out as I’m negotiating pots) and that I’d love to have a place to sit in here – two considerations for future designs for this space.

I am also going to use more plant trays to conserve water when watering. This is easily solved as I have a store of different sized plant saucers ready to use. Watering is an issue with pot grown plants. A water butt here would be idea, but I am not sure how I could fill it using rain water. A possible solution might be to run guttering along the fence – another idea to ponder!

The compost used is a mixture of homemade, store bought organic multipurpose compost, seaweed meal, rock dust and chicken manure pellets. They are fed using a homemade comfrey and nettle feed.

I have been thinking about ways of making the area around the pots less of a concrete monoculture. My first thought of spreading some of my stone collection was rejected as I thought it would make walking in there unstable. I may do this around the pots where I don’t walk, but need to take into account that I don’t want to create habitats for slugs and snails. A solution may be to have low growing plants in pockets created by stones or in plant trays.

There is an article in the next issue of Permaculture Magazine about growing a forest garden in pots, so I’m looking forward to reading that and getting some new ideas. My article about using the summer harvest is in this issue too.

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Pots are placed on the ground, on the low wall and stone piles – small ones are on top of the compost of bigger pots, too. In the background you can see a grapevine trying to join in.

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Different flowers bloom in the compost around some of the trees.

At the back a boysenberry its starting to climb the fence. A tomatillo and a tomato share a pot with a tree which is labelled ‘nectarine’ but I think the fruit looks more like a peach! Really I should have removed the fruits when I potted on the tree, to allow it to put energy into the roots but they looked so pretty and fuzzy that I couldn’t bring myself to.

The growing space next to this is joining in too – here is a caper spurge which has self sown itself next to a blackcurrant and the growing Pumpkin Nut is spreading itself across some of the pots. I keep redirecting it so that the space isn’t take over by large squash leaves!

Caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris ) is of course poisonous. I have a great fondness for euphorbias and grow several, but you might not want to grow toxic plants close to edibles if you have young children (or dogs) in the garden (my children are 17, 19 and 22.) The morning glories too have seeds which are toxic if eaten in quantity, so I didn’t grow them with edibles when my children were small.

This is a great area for wildlife. As well as benefitting birds, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects, my population of toads and frogs can enjoy the nooks and crannies here. The dish of marbles is for bees to drink from, I got the idea from a Pinterest post.

I’m happy that the sweet pepper and tomatoes (Garden Pearl) are fruiting outside, they were an experiment. I have two Garden Pearl tomato plants outside, both have been very productive and no signs of blight. I’m growing three different tomatoes in the large, reusable grow bag along with chamomile.

The small white flowers are on a tea tree plant!

More views of the forest garden. Ideally, I would like this to be productive as much of the year as possible but perhaps not this year as I need to change it around and implement new ideas. I may just add some easy to move over wintering herbs in small pots.

Rice and Zen

For the first time in 10 years I went on a holiday during the summer. Here is a short blog post with some photos from the trip. It was lovely to go away but oh my goodness, I came back to a lot of things to do – weeding, side shooting, picking, dead heading… (read about this here.) It was worth it though!

My daughter and I were visiting my dad who has lived near Chiang Mai for 3 years. It felt very strange leaving my garden and allotment during such a peak growing time. Fortunately one of my sons was in charge of watering pots, the greenhouse and polytunnel so I knew everything should still be alive when I got back (it was!) and Charles kindly weeded the allotment and raised beds in my front garden.

We flew to Bangkok where we caught another plane a couple of hours later to Chaing Mai.

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The view of rice fields as we flew into Bangkok

Dad lives in a village near to Doi Saket in Northern Thailand. It is very peaceful here, a lovely place to relax. We were especially excited about the swimming pool which was completed shortly before we arrived. It used a mineral filtration system, no smelly chemicals. It is a complete contrast with life at home. I’d brought some writing work with me – it was amazing working here on the veranda looking at these views and going for a swim whenever I felt too hot. I have visited Thailand in January and October, when it is hot but nothing like I experienced this time!

Here dad has created Of Rice and Zen, a boutique resort with two individual villas for rent – one has been there for a few years and a newer one  built using timber and tiles from an old rice barn. All of the scaffolding is made from bamboo.

 

The tiles are 100 years old. I thought they look beautiful.

The gardens here are gorgeous, there are so many possibilities growing in the tropics. The edible plants in dad’s garden include coconuts, mangosteens, mangoes and pandanus, a grass-like vanilla flavoured herb used in cooking both sweet and savory dishes. I’ve tried to grow it in the UK several times but without much success. Between the garden and the rice field, the khlong is used to channel water and irrigate the pond and rice field. Here one can forage for wild plants including edible morning glory and bitter gourds. The villagers also collect frogs and fish.

July is the start of the rainy season in Thailand. It was very hot and humid (especially for a person used to English summers) with incredible thunderstorms. One morning the khlong had overflowed, flooding part of the garden. It looked very dramatic, but soon drained away.

Organic growing is becoming increasingly popular in Thailand. This wall painting is in a large shopping centre:
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One of the many markets inspired by sustainability, healthy eating and organic growing.

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I enjoyed exploring the many stalls.

Here I bought some Thai organic potions to experiment with – an Egg Hormone for fruit (think I will try some on the aubergines) and Soybean Hormone. ‘Hormone’ is an unusual term for plant feeds, I wonder if it is one of those words that translated unusually from Thai to English.

I love tropical fruits and Thai cooking and came back full of ideas of how I can adapt home grown vegetables and fruit to create meals influenced by the colours and flavours of Thai cuisine.