Before we start planning for next year, I thought I’d explain a little about the position of Symbolic Towers: the size of the garden, and the space we have to work with. So, I’ve drawn a little roughly-to-scale diagram. Stupidly, I forgot to put a north arrow on it: north is in the bottom-right corner.
We are, according to aerial photos, roughly square, and facing south-west. Most of the garden is covered in decking; along the back, there is a raised bed formed by a wall, which is neither straight nor vertical. The bottom of the raised bed, incidentally, is largely sealed with cement, and the soil inside it is the usual urban garden mix of grit, broken crockery, broken glass, and lumps of coal.
Behind the raised bed is a wooden trellis, which starts off tight up to the back wall of the garden at one end, but is about 6 inches away from it at the other. This leaves an ominous gap which is largely used by invading cats. Our best plan for this gap is to fill it with rocks and logs, for the benefit of beetles and other wildlife. The back wall of the garden is fairly low, and is used by the said invading cats as an easy route through the neighbourhood.
The wall on the right-hand side of the garden – the north-west side, if you’re keeping track – is a similar height, about 4 feet, and is a good spot for pots and boxes where the shed isn’t in the way; although the shed itself, being a small one, is no higher than the wall. The neighbours on that side have put up a high wooden fence on concrete posts, a good few inches back from the line of the boundary; we’ve tied a willow lattice onto the back of their fenceposts, in the hope of improving the appearance a bit. On the opposite side, the fence is on our side of the boundary, and is a standard 6-foot wooden panel fence; we’ve stained it, and the shed, green.
What with the south-western aspect, and the high fences all around, there’s a variety of conditions. The wall of the house gets plenty of sun and heat; but the back left corner of the bed is almost always in shade, a thin skin of algae usually growing across the soil surface. The back right corner of the bed is brighter, but is always under threat from the overgrown mass that is the garden of the neighbours on that side: tendrils of bindweed and reaching branches of bramble always probing into our garden from that direction. Our prime growing sites are: the area on the left in front of the bed, which gets a lot more light than a couple of feet further back; and the area in front of the kitchen window, next to the back doors. We’re tempted to use up some of that space, though, for a water butt; most of the house’s water catchment drains into a downpipe by the kitchen door, and it would be criminal not to even try to consider saving some.
When we moved into Symbolic Towers, back in the summer of 2010, we were both novice gardeners. We were moving from a flat with a tiny little spit of decking in front of the living room, generally overtaken by brambles, so one of the things on the house-buying shopping list was: a garden that wouldn’t overwhelm us. Something that would give us some outside space we could use, but nothing that would need too much work to look after. We found: a little square of garden, almost all decked over, with a strip of bedding and a newly-erected trellis along the back.
For the first 10 months after moving in, we did practically nothing to the garden, other than try to dig up the bindweed which quickly started poking itself up through the back bed. When spring came around, though, we decided it was time we started gardening. Time we started to make something of it.
Neither of us had ever designed a garden before, but we came up with a few basic principles.
- Our garden should be primarily an edible one; if we’re going to put all that work it, we wanted to get something to eat at the end of it.
- Above that, though, it should be organic and wildlife-friendly, up to the point that said wildlife start trying to eat the produce.
- “Wildlife” also does not extend to the cats from down the street who see the back bed and think “litter tray!”
- Pulling all that decking up would be far too much work. So our garden will be a container-based garden. Which does mean, for one thing, that if we decide we’ve planted things in the wrong places, we can move them all around later.
- We’d already discovered that the bed was full of bindweed rhizomes; digging those up, we discovered it was also full of broken glass and leylandii roots. So, for the first year, container gardening would be the thing, whilst we also dug up the bed completely, got rid of all the glass, bindweed, and lumps of coal, and put the soil back again.
That was back in April, nearly 5 months ago, and our embryo container garden has come a long way: potatoes, beans and various herbs all harvested, flowers bloomed and died, and our plans for next year’s season already starting to be formulated. I decided to start writing a blog about it for, well, several reasons. The main blog has been a bit moribund lately, and I thought having a well-defined topic might spur me into writing more. Moreover, I thought this blog could become something of a garden diary, helping us remember when we’d planted what, how long different plants had taken to develop, and compare things year-to-year. And, if nothing else, it can be a place for us to keep and discuss plans and ideas for future growth. It’s an extension of the original blog, and hopefully the name isn’t too confusing; our little patch of containers is very unlike a forest garden.
I’ll post again soon, with more introduction: a bit more about the situation and conditions we have to play with. For now, though, here’s a picture which, compared with the one above, shows how far we’ve managed to get in less than half a year.