Our Blank Slate
This year, I've been invited to share our gardening journey with you via monthly blog posts. You may remember our previous garden in Katikati, which we developed into an urban permaculture garden. We filled every part of the garden with edible plantings, dug up the front lawn, indulged my obsession with tomatoes, and had a wonderful time with the chickens.
Then, sadly, we had to say goodbye to our lovely garden as we decided to move away. That lead into a year of gardening deprivation, living in the cold on Department of Conservation land, which meant that our gardening efforts last year were limited to growing microgreens and harvesting mushrooms from our mushroom logs! It didn't seem so bad to be garden-less through the winter months, but once Spring started (in late December!), I started to feel garden-deprived and my semi-green fingers began to get itchy.
But now we have a new blank slate, and we have agreed to share our progress with you every month. (Just a little daunting, but also motivating … we won't want to let a month go past without achieving something in the garden!)
We have been settled in our new house for a few weeks now. We live in a small, central North Island town. For the last ten years, this house has been a bach, so the garden has come to us as a delightfully blank slate. After the kerfuffle of moving in, it was time to take stock of what was in the garden:
A Garden Stocktake - What is already here?
We have lots of lawn. We might not have to dig it all up to fit in a vegetable garden. This will make the kids happy – their first question was “You're not going to dig the whole lawn up again are you?”
We have plenty of river stones and weed mat. All round the house. Very low maintenance and totally fine for a bach, but it has to go. It's screaming out to be filled with cottage garden flowers. I'm a bit nervous about pulling up the weed mat, as I did some fossicking around and found a lot of oxalis bulbs lurking around the edges......
We have some random shrubs on the front lawn, in front of the house, and along the back fence. Sorry, but their days are numbered. There's a feijoa hedge to go in, and I have hydrangea intentions.
We have one lovely big apricot tree on the back lawn. I was really pleased to see this when we first moved in. Hubby's first comment was “It's dead”. Sadly, he's right. It is completely dead following storm damage a few years ago. It will have to come down at some point, but in the meantime, my first gardening job was to climb up the tree to drape it in fairy lights.
We have a lovely long fence lines which are crying out to be used for growing something exciting....we espaliers apples at our old house and there will almost certainly need to be some espalier action here.
We have an olive tree! Actually, it's not technically ours, as it's on the verge outside our house. It is a funny shape, which the neighbour informs me is because the children from the local school used to vault over it on their way home from school. The tree is too big for them to do that now, and it is covered with olives. I am keeping my beady eyes on them and am hoping that no-one else in the local neighbourhood is particularly interested in bottling olives. I'm hoping to be able to report back progress with the olive project in a future blog post.
But our lovely next door neighbour was the one to ask the most important question:
What is the soil like?
That question is definitely a sign that the person asking is a real gardener. (She has the roses to prove it.) And the soil here really needs some TLC. We are on a base of pumice, so it is free-draining. But after years of being a compacted lawn, we are going to have to build the soil from scratch. We need to create a good compost system and get started. In the meantime, I am going to have to rely upon pots and potting mix. And then I have to remember to water them!
What resources can we access?
Seeds. We are very grateful to Barb and Gerard, who continue to be very generous with seeds from their wonderful Kings Seeds range....thanks so much!
Manure. It's always worth counting the neighbourhood resources in your garden stocktaking. Happily, we live in a town where it is quite common to see people riding past on a horse. So it is pretty easy to access free manure for the compost pile …. sometimes it is conveniently deposited right outside the gate, but even if we have to push a wheelbarrow to the field around the corner, it's a fantastic resource to have close at hand.
Climate. The climate here is warm in summer but cold in winter. We are fairly sheltered from wind.
Other keen gardeners. There are lots of lovely gardens in the area, a permaculture farm just down the road, and an active gardening club.
What have we done so far?
The first thing I did in the garden was to put fairy lights in the tree and make some garden bunting. This might not technically be gardening, but it was a lot of fun. After that, it was time to really get started.
The children have complained about not having a herb garden (the pizzas have definitely dropped in quality when we didn't have access to large quantities of fresh herbs), so the next thing I did was plant up some herbs into pots.
After that, it was time to sow some seeds for winter crops. I'm trying to have faith that by the time these seedlings are big enough to need planting out, we will have somewhere to put them.
In the meantime, I have sown brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower, pak choi and my favourite cavolo nero.
I have also sown some lettuces (Buttercrunch, Merveille des Quatre Saisons and Drunken Woman Fringed Head remain my favourites). When they are ready to be planted out, they can go into the old beehive I brought home from the local tip – it will make a cute container until we have built our garden beds. I've also sown leeks, spring onions and beetroot.
And the thing I'm most excited about? I have English Lavender seedlings popping up – I've never grown these before! I am so excited to see them and there is plenty of time to grow these little seedlings on to a decent size – my intention is for these to be planted around the house when they are big enough.....
We need a plan. As hubby is a qualified landscape designer, I know there needs to be a good plan in place before we start digging. We want our plants to be in the right place, in good soil, with the best chance of thriving, and we want the garden to be attractive, functional and productive. We want a good composting system, a seed raising area, and I am looking forward to growing lots of beautiful flowers as well as edible crops. We are keen on having chickens again.
Wish us luck – we will literally keep you posted on our progress.