A walkthrough our first year's efforts at being green fingered
Some bitterly cold (-8 ) weather put paid to our earlier January enthusiasm for garden work. Mild as it was over Christmas and the new year, February brought with it some harsher weather and gave us a chance for some unusual sights - Mediterranean plants and grapevines covered in snow. Sadly the harsh frost also put an end to my artichoke bed.
The arrival of the warmer spring weather made things start to grow and gave us the opportunity to take a break from the house renovation work and get out for some fresh air and to repair the neglected garden. Joan did a huge amount of work over the spring to put borders in place and planted up over 500 annual flower seedlings and tray after tray of perennials.
It was a surprise to see so many of these things growing and I wasn't sure where we'd put them all but once in the ground they've almost all 'vanished'. This, more than anything, has brought home the size of the undertaking we have with such a large garden. It will take us years and years of hard work to get the look right but as it's the first time we've done any serious gardening it still feels like a great challenge.
So, inevitably the issue of the bottom part of the garden was preying on our minds. It was about 1200 sq.m. of weeds, much of which were well over waist height when we viewed the house in late summer 2004, well, fast forward to early summer 2005 and still nothing had changed... we'd salvaged some parts of it and actually used the top part as a dumping ground for a couple of tons of topsoil/weeds that we'd dug out to create borders in the orchard. Nothing for it other than a really big push to get something done. The big push came in the form of a generous offer of an afternoons tractoring from one of our neighbours over drinks one evening. In preparation we set to manually weeding the whole plot by hand and six man-days of effort later... we had created the biggest pile of weeds I've ever seen and still it looked like we'd barely put a dent in it.
So, as promised our heroic neighbour Monsieur Morin tootles along in his tractor and (with a little assistance from me for ballast) in the space of a few hours we had scarified, turned over, de-weeded and scraped off about 5 tons of old root and weeds and then ploughed it all to a depth of 40cm.
I was amazed at the quality of the soil, as deep down as we went we had soft, friable loamy soil. It has clearly been well cultivated and looked after in the past but just a few years of lying fallow and the surface had degenerated into a weedy mess.
It became obvious that, hand-weeding and ploughing the bottom of the garden, without the aid of any mechanisation, was going to be impossible and to sustain that amount of land for a potager (its previous use) needed a bit of thinking on the hoof. The obvious answer was to grass-over about 700 Sq.M of it with lawn seed, for now, and to turn the lawn into a more formal garden at a later date. So, with the fortunately timed arrival of Joan's parents, John and Sue, we set-to on rolling, raking, de-stoning and preparing the ground for laying some grass seed.
I've never laid a lawn before this way... it's always been a fairly simple job to lay turf wherever I've put down a new lawn and the biggest garden we'd ever had before was just 100m.sq. - so getting turf down was only ever a couple of hours work. Inside a couple of weeks the grass managed to survive a very hot spell (over 30 degrees for the first two weeks after we sowed the lawn - typical!).
We're growing stuff, lots of stuff and taking care of what was in the garden originally. This is our first garden with enough space for experimenting, so we are having a go at a lot of different things. Our efforts in the first year just about extend to keeping on top of the weeds, sorting out the framework for what we'll do in years to come and having a crack at growing a few bits of fruit and vegetables.
Having such a large garden does at first seem daunting but thoughts of strenuous digging seem to melt into the background when you are tucking into a freshly picked cherry or mange-tout or eating a plate of fried courgettes in a creamy garlicy sauce. In time each of these projects will get a webpage but for now here's a cultivation diary for what we have managed to grow so far.