Sunday, 16 January 2011

Starting a new garden, slowly

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I have started a few gardens in my time. My first was a borage patch in a plastic pot on my windowsill. Then I started a chili pepper garden in our old studio flat. When we finally upgraded to a house with a patio, I expanded to a few tomato plants, some salad leaves, herbs and a potato plant. As you can tell, I am quite the expert gardener. Quite.

Delusions of green-fingered prowess aside, I am all too aware that I am a novice. I have managed to keep plants alive and I have even harvested a few edible morsels from my modest container gardens over the years. But container gardening a small space has frustrations of its own, the supreme one being that the scope for experimentation and skill development is quite low. Having now acquired a 75m square allotment plot, I am well aware that I will have to cast aside my vision of having an intensively productive, beautiful and ecological plot within the space of a year.

One golden rule I have come across time and time again in permaculture books is 'to observe' - which sounds quite dull when you are shut up inside, longing for a time when you can take action. Now much of what we had planned for the plot has actually been abandoned as we spend time on it. We have a blank canvas in effect; but our plot has limitations, dictated by the soil and climate and by the rules of our tenancy agreement. Instead of our planned quick fixes, a longer term approach to planning our plot is now taking shape.

In recent weeks, with food price inflation and threatened fuel blockades on the horizon, the desire to produce calories as efficiently and cheaply as possible has subsumed other considerations. After quiet reflection, I realise that a small plot is not going to be much defence against these issues; and a plot born of a love of organic tasty ingredients rather than a fear of hunger has once again begun to take shape.

As well as being organic and productive, we would like to experiment with lower-yield but unusual varieties. We would like the plot to be an educational space for our son where he can explore greenery and creepy crawlies and learn to garden. We would like to be as self sufficient in water, compost, nutrients and plants as possible. A sociable space with room for a few fold up chairs and a picnic rug would also be welcome at the end of a hard day.  All of this needs far more forethought than knocking together a few raised beds and planting high yield crops with abandon.

It it also means that we can relax a little. There is no rush and there is no need to get everything right the first time (although not breaking the spade in the first week would have made for a more productive start). We can experiment and make mistakes and when we have observed how the sun moves across the sky and the wildlife and the elements ruin our best efforts over the next year, we will be in a position to make some more permanent decisions.