Winter gardening

Veg plot with half finished fence

My suspicion that we would be fair-weather gardeners turned out to be true to some extent. The patio pots, so full of joy, scent and colour last summer, reproach me now every time I look through the window, as they sit unloved, with the remnants of summer plants dead within. We did plant some bulbs in some of them and I am hopeful that they may surprise us in the spring with a happy display but, in the meantime, they appear dreary and empty of life. Other plants that should probably have been cut back or cleared at the end of the season also look very sorry for themselves but everything can be seen as a positive when you are a new gardener. It has taught me what can and should be left alone, either because it is a winter plant or because the seedheads at least give some structure and interest, and what becomes a slimy mess, needing to be cleared. We are lucky to have such a green garden throughout the winter, in spite of our lack of care in recent months and I would like to build on that in years to come, varying the shades and colours to provide more interest throughout the year.

Patio pots containing dead plants
Looking sorry for themselves

Things are not totally lost, however. Taking advantage of a dry and sunny weekend, we made a start on our 2017 season in mid-January. After our success last year in the vegetable patch, we have decided to expand it slightly this year, and so D moved part of the fence back to give us a larger plot. We have decided to keep raised beds but move them around and make some of them slightly bigger to maximise the space. We definitely learned last year from growing sprouts and broccoli that plenty of growing room is vital! We are thinking of trying cauliflower this year as well, which we suspect will also need a lot of space. We did try last year but we sowed a little too late even for a late-flowering type – we have 1 that survived and is battling on valiantly through the winter, but we have no idea if we will get anything edible from it.

Grass, dead leaves and fallen apples
This should give us extra growing space very soon

We can’t reorganise the beds just yet, though. We still have a few leeks and sprouts to pull, as well as our lonely cauliflower to nurture, but the biggest surprise for us from last year was our salad. We had several disastrous attempts to grow salad leaves last year. The plants in the greenhouse bolted early; the lettuce that we bought as young plants and put in with the herbs were eaten by slugs and snails, disappearing literally overnight and then the seeds we sowed into plugs failed to germinate. Towards the end of the season, in a “we’ve tried everything else” moment, we sprinkled mixed salad leaf seeds straight into one of the raised beds in the veg patch. The result has been a veritable jungle of salad – more salad than we could ever eat, especially in winter. I feared for it at the start of the year, when we were hit by frosts, but no – it bounced back and is thriving still. It is a triumph and so we can’t quite bring ourselves to dig it up just so that we can re-create the beds for the new season.

Abundantly growing mixed salad leaves
Our spicy salad jungle

We have drawn up some detailed plans for the rest of the working half of the garden too and we can’t wait to get started. We have already moved the compost bins behind the summer house, where they take up less usable space (and it was a relief to discover they weren’t harbouring a rat’s nest I can tell you!) As well as getting a bigger, non-flying greenhouse to replace the rickety shed, we will be moving the rhubarb out of the veg plot and into the orchard, adding some other soft fruit to go with it. Throughout the summer, we spend a fortune on raspberries and strawberries and so it makes sense to try growing some for ourselves. I have a secret hankering for a gooseberry bush – it’s a long story, best left for another day – but D is not a fan, so we will see. Whatever we choose to grow, it will be another challenge for D to create a space we can use but that will be protected from birds and nosy cats.

A new greenhouse of course means a new water butt, and we will need to put a smaller tool store behind the summer house, to replace the old shed. The summer house is a project in itself – it is dull and unloved at the moment, and I have dreams of a pretty, feminine space, of sunny evenings sitting on the veranda enjoying the view and toasting the results of our hard work with a well-deserved glass of wine. Sadly, however, a dreamer I may be, but I am also realistic, and I accept that other things may take priority this year. Who knows? One day, it may be my chosen spot to pen that novel …


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