Last week, we finally turned our attention to the vegetable patch. We inherited the space with its raised beds from the previous owner of the house and D has been itching to improve it ever since we moved in. It is an oddly shaped fenced area, sandwiched between the orchard, the summer house and the houses next door and behind us. We moved the fence slightly a few weeks ago, to give us some extra growing room – for two people who weren’t gardeners until last year, we have definitely got the bug and the space we had just didn’t feel big enough.
It took us a while to work out the best way to develop the area and, in the end, we decided to keep raised beds but make them bigger and deeper, with more defined paths in between. D got busy on the Internet, ordering scaffolding planks for the beds and tonnes of manure and topsoil. We knew that everything would be delivered on to the drive at the front of the house and would need to be barrowed up to the far end of the garden at the back. I teased D with “Oh dear, we only have 1 wheelbarrow – I won’t be able to help” but he was ready for me. “That’s all right, love, I’ve ordered us a new one – it’s on its way”. Oh well, it was worth a try. Purely by coincidence, it arrived on Valentine’s Day and, as I was up in Scotland that week, D sent me a picture of the new barrow to go with my lovely card. The old romantic …
Usually, I can’t wait to get back after my weeks up north. Much as I love Scotland, there’s nowhere quite like home. On that particular week, though, I was almost hoping for snow. I had it all planned. “Sorry, dear, I’m stranded in Aberdeen – I can’t get home. You’ll have to start without me”. Of course, the weather stayed bright and sunny and all too soon, Saturday morning came and we were staring at piles of wood and 4 tonnes of earth, wondering where to start. The cats very sensibly decided to stay in bed and who could blame them?
Our first job was to take the grass up that had grown on the paths. I turned out to be terrible at this, either not lifting the turf at all, or digging huge deep holes. In the end, D did most of it himself, and incredibly hard work it looked too. We also had to clear the old beds away and there was a certain poignancy to harvesting our final leeks from last year, along with the winter salad. Our first season as gardeners was definitely over. More of a surprise was the radish we dug up with the salad (we knew it was spicy salad leaves, but we had no idea we were growing radish leaves!) and a veritable feast of potatoes. Some of those weren’t even in the beds and certainly weren’t ones we planted. It was a real bonus the following week to be eating our own veg in February, and very tasty it was too!
Once that was done and the old beds lifted out, we made a start on our first new one. It took three hours to build, dig and fill, with what felt like endless barrows of manure and topsoil having to be shovelled into the wheelbarrows, moved from front to back and tipped out into the bed, before doing it all again. By lunchtime, though, we had a finished bed and we gazed proudly at what we had achieved.
After a quick break for lunch (and that was a mistake – by the time we got back to work, we had seized up – all part of the joys of mid-life gardening), we set to again to make the second bed. Before we could put that in place, though, we had to move the rhubarb. We had given our rhubarb plants a small corner last year and put three young plants in there, with no concept of the space they required. When it came to digging them up, we were amazed at the roots we found, deep and strong and reluctant to move. Hoping we hadn’t done too much damage digging them up, we replanted them in one of the old beds that we managed to reuse in the orchard and the plants are now thriving in a much larger space, enjoying their well manured new home.
Another three hours, another bed was done and so were we. After a shower and a pub tea, we slumped on the sofa all evening, exhausted, trying not to say what we were both thinking – we had to do it all again the next day.
It’s much harder to dig and build and barrow when you already ache all over and you are nursing blisters from the day before. However, we were committed and set to again with grim determination. The other two beds were slightly smaller than the first, but it didn’t make it any easier. The cats came to supervise on day two, checking out what we had done the day before and sitting on the paths between the beds with just their ears peeping over the top. It’s only a matter of time until they start digging in them, but we can hope that they leave them alone for now.
The cats weren’t the only creatures watching us work. All day, we were visited by the blackbirds who had so enjoyed feasting on our windfall apples. They were overjoyed that we were digging up turf and turning over the soil underneath and kept popping by to snack on the many worms we uncovered. I hope they left us some – we need the worms to help pull our new topsoil down into the old. One particularly brave chap was so excited by his catch, he flew right past the Princess’s nose, as if to say “Look what I’ve got and you can’t have it – or me!” She was so startled at his cheek, she didn’t even take a swipe at him – just looked totally disgusted when he disappeared into the hedge next door to enjoy his lunch.
Eventually, we had finished. I will be bold and say that we have the best looking raised beds in the village and I can’t wait to start filling them with vegetables for this year. The rhubarb is growing almost before our eyes in the orchard and all that remains is to put a weed membrane down on the paths before covering them in gravel.
Unfortunately, the rest of the garden looks like a hurricane has hit. The wheelbarrows have churned up the lawn in our flower garden and turned it into mud and we have a pile of discarded turf, weeds and rotting wood outside the shed. Every time we look at it, we sigh. We have no idea what to do with it, but we will have to decide soon – we have just ordered a new greenhouse and guess where it is going …