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On a Chalk Hillside March 2022

One thing leads to another – Heading towards Planning the redesign of the mis-named “Vegetable Garden”

How did you fare with the three named storms in one week in Feb? Dudley just gave us a power cut for 5.5 hrs; Franklin caused us some travel stresses; but Eunice – oh dear.  Eunice caused us to lose a roof tile; our TV aerial; part of the fence; and a big branch from one of our Plum trees.  
Here is the branch split away, beside a completely different tree, but fortunately not on top of the deer fence the other side of the hedge:-

We GAINED next door’s trampoline which sailed over the fence onto all the pots of plants on my patio – many of which had been relocated there to protect them from the 70mph+ wind we experienced. 

 When the weather eventually calmed down enough for us to heave it off (we are much stronger than I thought!!) I was extremely relieved to see how few plants and pots had been damaged – one plus of growing hardy perennials, losing top growth at this time of year is not so much of a problem.  The worst casualties - a couple of honeysuckles (they will grow back from the roots I am sure) and a pot of Rosa ‘Lavender Lassie’ cuttings that upended.  They may or may not survive….. 
Lets start with an early March star plant from one of the hospital beds in the “Vegetable Garden” – Bergenia cordifolia 'Purpurea' (Elephant's Ears), with Buxus sempervirens (Box) AND Lonicera nitida (which according to the RHS is now called Wilson’s Honeysuckle, L. ligustrina var.yunnanensis) planted up the slope behind it to give it shade:-

Last month I told you about accomplishing steps 1 and 2 of the plan outlined in January, (Moving the net tunnel after relocating all the compost bins), all caused by needing to replace the plastic on our polytunnel.  This month is about moving towards step 3 - the redesign of the entire vegetable garden, something we were mulling over during the growing season of 2018, after relocating the compost bins and net tunnel as I described last month.
Why is this part of the garden mis-named?  Although I call it the Vegetable garden, almost right from the start it included at least one hospital bed full of decorative plants that needed to be housed til a space had been made for them in the “pretty” garden.  When we first cut four beds 12 feet x 20 feet (3.65m x 6.1m) at the bottom of what was then next door’s garden one of these was quickly given over to decorative plants needing heeling in, and more and more “veg” beds were cut.   “Hospital” beds have lots and lots of plants “bed blocking” almost indefinitely, as there was never space for all of them elsewhere…..  Perhaps seeing the height of the “shrubbery” in the top left corner of the following photo from 25 May 2018 will give you an idea of the density and maturity of the plants in there:-

What you can see there is two Buddleja davidii (one, Black Knight, one a light mauve), a Burnett Double White Rose; Escallonia Rubra var. macrantha, a Quince tree sapling (Cydonia oblonga – cultivar unknown as it was a cutting from my sister’s tree in her garden), and on the very edge lower growing hardy geraniums coming, cornflowers, euphorbias, pot marjoram.  This is just the narrower end of the bed….. On the same day, the quince fruit forming:-

And the Centaurea montana (Cornflower) and Euphorbia palustris flowering:-

So by the time we are talking about in 2018, as well as the four beds used for vegetable rotation, and the bed with the winter greens tunnel on, we had a very large Jerusalem artichoke bed, and a far too small soft fruit bed with golden raspberries and blackberries.  (Away from this vegetable garden area the rest of the autumn fruiting raspberries in a fruit cage in the orchard, and the original polytunnel between the orchard and the silver birches.)
But threaded throughout the vegetable area are hospital beds.  We had the original hospital bed shown above; what had originally been a herb bed which soon became an overflow hospital bed when more plants had to be relocated in a hurry when there was a new soak away put in for rainwater at the back of the house; and the “new” hospital bed.  I cannot tell you how big this was, apart from it was 20 feet wide.  Initially it was required when the clapped out sunroom on the back of the house was turned into a proper brick built extension in 2014 to accommodate the plants from the flower bed by the back window (including a lot of box bushes that were forming a knot garden under our sunroom window – here also from May 18 is a longshot of a damselfly on some of the rehomed box cuttings (Buxus sempervirens):-

Each time a bit of garden was developed elsewhere and plants needed a home, that hospital bed was deepened as a bit more chalk hillside was dug up and the new orphan plants went in cheek by jowl.   At no stage was any hospital bed or soft fruit bed’s soil enriched or redug, apart from weeding, unlike the vegetable beds.
So the redesign was to create a productive garden area for all our soft fruit and vegetables that would house the polytunnel, and two net tunnels – one for soft fruit and one for the winter greens  - and to rehome all the ornamental plants currently in hospital beds in the veg plot.  
As you know from last month’s blog, we moved the winter veg tunnel and turned it up the hill, so that it was on the right of the garden as you looked down the hill.  If we were to have a soft fruit tunnel (the frame of the current polytunnel, relocated and recovered), to house all the raspberries and currants from the old fruit cage and the soft fruit bed, we could site it in a line up from the winter veg net tunnel, with a suitable amount of space between the two doors to allow a wheelbarrow to swing in and out.  We could then use all the space the other side of the line of net tunnels to be a vegetable garden.  So easy to write, so hard to actually achieve!  
Here is some planting from June of the ex-herb bed Hospital bed (June 22 (Burrow farm on):-  HP planting in the hospital bed)s:-

In late June the Euphorbia palustris is still flowering, the Green Alkanet – Pentaglottis sempervirens - is in full flower, and you may be able to see the foliage of the Golden Oregano – Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ -  an original inhabitant of  the “herb” hospital bed!)
In another article later in the year I shall show you what the vegetable plot design became.   However, whilst the intention was all fine and dandy, none of this was dealing with the elephant in the room - the vast amount of non-veg or soft fruit plants that were filling a significant amount of this space.  All of these would have to be moved to make space for the vegetable beds and soft fruit spaces we required.  Where were they to go?    Next month, he has a brainwave!
As this is a March piece, I shall show you two of my quintessential spring flowers that are stars in March – the violet (Viola riviniana), and the primrose (Primula vulgaris) – their freshness brings joy to my heart:-

Another cheerful bloom, often flowering from early February onwards is Ficaria verna, the Lesser Celendine or Pilewort - those of you with good or fertile soil might not love this plant, but a stray bit of one came from my Stepmother's garden with some other plant one time, and gradually gradually it has established itself against the base of the wall in the Mediterranean courtyard.  In our poor, dry soil it copes, rather than overwhelming:-

To end, a photo from 20 March showing some of my Cyclamen coum pictured in deep frost on new years day in my Janaury piece still flowering away beautifully:-

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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