I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is the hollyhocks. Hollyhocks are a quintessential cottage garden plant, but done right, they can be well adapted for most garden settings. These are tall plants, and though their large, ...Read more
My husband and I have been planning our dream home in a BIG way. We know it’s a way off (5 – 7 years) but I’m a meticulous planner (you should’ve seen my wedding schedule) so I want to start preparing now. I mean, we’re not rich, and a careful eye to every detail is a great way to keep costs down – or so I say, anyhow!
Now we’ve got the basic framework for our building sorted, we’ve begun to think about fittings and how we can make our build as environmental as possible. Not only do we want it good for the land around us, but also for our wallets because the more self-sustaining a house is, the less it can cost. In fact, in some cases, you could even MAKE money by selling energy back to the grid. As well as solar panels (which we definitely want) and wind turbines (which we likely won’t get PP for), there’s a plan for a grey-water recovery system too. However, in complete contradiction to being environmentally friendly,I want an open fire. I know – OUTCRY. After all, burning wood, creating smoke and, therefore, pollutants, can’t be good – right? But, oh how I want to be able to curl up in front of a crackling fire in the depth of midwinter when the farm around me is crisp and cold at best, and brown and sludgy at worse. Either way, I just LOVE fires.
Luckily, it seems I may have found a solution; wood-fuelled stoves with back boilers. Whatever way you look at it, humans need warmth. You can have the most insulated house in the world but somewhere, somehow, you need to actually generate some heat to start with. In the summer I hope hot water systems can be fuelled by the sun’s renewable energy, but what about in the winter when those rays aren’t quite as strong? It’s here that wood-fuelled stoves can help. Our particular advantage is that because we’re building a home from scratch, we can make the necessary arrangements to have this work.
Biomass stoves come in two forms; those that burn wood pellets or logs. I definitely prefer the latter because it means we can produce our own wood and then keep a stockpile in a log store such as those sold by Sheds and Things. Alternatively, whilst pellet stoves do tend to be more expensive, they can offer more control and convenience. For example, some pellet stoves can actually be programmed to come on whilst you’re out, ensuring there’s no lag between fire and hot water. However, I far prefer to be able to throw on some home-cut logs.
The remoteness of our future farm means it’s off the gas mains so finding as many ways to power the home on-site is not just preferable, but a need. However, you don’t need to be living in a remote place to implement this yourself; you could just be in suburbia. You’ll need enough room to have the stove and boiler built in, of course. But, as energy bills continue to soar, as well as many of us wanting to try and live in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way, adding a wood-fuelled stove with a back boiler could be a great addition to your solar panel array!
The trees are most definitely beginning to change; autumn’s making her presence known. I love the cooler mornings, though the constant rain of recent days hasn’t exactly been pleasant. As the season changes it’s an important reminder that winter’s not long away. British winters, as we all know, are extraordinarily varied. Last winter there wasn’t even a single frost in London; as a result it’s been a nightmare year for pests and creepy crawlies. The year before that there was snow on the ground for several months. Who the hell knows what we’ll get this year?!
Not knowing how harsh our winters will be means it’s best to cater for the worst; certainly in the case of caring for wildlife. I’m a believer of giving a little helping hand to those who inhabit your garden. BUT it’s better not to help at all than to do so intermittently so make sure you’re prepared!
During autumn, when there’s a plethora of berries out, there doesn’t seem to be much need for feeding birds. However, if you haven’t done so already, you need to start establishing a local ‘restaurant’. In the depths of winter, particularly very cold ones, it’s important for birds to know exactly where they can go to get food so they don’t waste precious energy scavenging for food. This means that if you start providing food now, despite the fact the locals don’t really need it, you can create a centre point for later in the year. Be sure to keep fresh feed up at all times so birds can come to rely on this precious resource when they most need it.
In many cases, if you have fish in your ponds they won’t actually need food during the winter; in fact, it’s just the opposite as they go into a state of torpor. However, I have a tiny sunken tub to act as a waterhole for local creatures, and it contains two fish to keep the mozzy population under control. However, at this time of year the biting flies are on their way out, meaning there’s less organic and natural goodies for my fish to eat. As a result I have to start supplementing them with a few pellets from All Pond Solutions to keep them going. In addition, because the winter’s aren’t always frozen, you may need to give a little bit of food throughout the winter months. Certainly, the lack of frosts last year meant my fish were still interested in taking food around the year.
Oh, if only I could have a little hodgepig in my garden but, alas, city suburbia doesn’t really suit these creatures. About a decade ago a resulting little hedgehog came to my London garden a couple of times, but it quickly vanished and was never seen again.
Hedgehogs hibernate so you don’t actually have to worry about feeding them through the winter. However, at this time of year you can find that some young hoglets haven’t put on enough weight to survive the winter IF it is harsh. If you find a very malnourished and underweight animal, it’s best to contact a shelter who will be able to take it in and care for it. In the meantime, if you have a local population of these prickly beasts, it’s a good idea to pop some catfood and water out for them to help them add a little weight before their winter sleep.
At my very heart, I’m a farmer. It’s in my heritage; both my grandfather and great grandfather worked the land (it skipped my Dad; he decided to become a CofE vicar instead)! Towards the end of the 90s, when I was about to head off to university, my granddad fell ill and passed away. Unfortunately, the state of the buildings was such that they needed a lot of money spent to restore them – cash we didn’t have. It meant everything aside from 33 acres of farmland and a deteriorating old Dutch barn was sold. Had I been a few years older, and the buildings in a much better state, I still think I might’ve lifted the torch of our family heritage back then. I can’t complain and the new owner did a beautiful refurbishment job on the buildings and now lets them out as holiday cottages.
I’ve long had a dream to return to that farmland, apply for Planning Permission to take out that Dutch barn, replace it with a new home and manage the land. Since getting married, this desire’s deepened even more. My husband’s extremely keen on a self build, we have the land and the drive, so it seems that little is in our way. PP, though not easy to get, should be possible in this case seeing as the barn as a concrete footing and we want to build a means to farm the land again. We want to extend the wood, chop and manage the hedgerows, put up Premier Polytunnels for our flock of sheep, rescue a flock of battery hens. In addition, we want our house to have solar panels, green roof, grey water recovery system, reed bed sewage system and as many cost and environmentally saving things as possible. Unfortunately, whilst our dreams may run rife, money does not flow so freely. Thus, we’re currently looking to move away from the city life of London to a smaller periphery town. Buy a new house. Do it up. Make some money. Save like crazy. Fund future self-build and smallholding enterprise. That’s the plan, at least.
Being on the cusp of a new move has given me a lot of time to think, not just about getting my hands on a brand new garden, but also what level of smallholding we, as city or suburbia dwellers, can achieve. Postage stamp gardens don’t really lend themselves towards self sufficiency, but it can be done.
Chicken-keeping is the obvious answer for many people wanting to indulge in a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Over the past few years, there’s certainly been a resurge of chicken-keeping popularity in the UK, and I know, on my street alone, I’m not alone in having a few hens. Hens fit into most gardens, and whilst there are the expensive coop brands like Omlet, you can find decent sized houses for less than £150. These will suit at least a couple of hens that’ll give fresh eggs and produce some wonderful manure.
Growing Your Own
Obviously, stepping towards farming, self-sufficiency or a smallholding, whatever you want to call it, involves growing your own. But, alas, once again gardens can be small, allotments hard to get your hands on and you might not have the space to lay out a vegetable plot. Luckily, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and you can always grow something, whatever plot (or even balcony) you’ve got. Utilise height by growing beans and peas up fences or along railings, and use growbags or old dustbins for tomatoes and potatoes. Even growing some herbs on your windowsill is better than constantly buying those stupid supermarket ‘live‘ plants that wilt and die within days (weeks if you’re lucky). If you have a pot, you can grow something. And, sometimes, starting out small is all you’ll need to stir the inner farmer.
Making Your Own
As much as growing your own and keeping hens helps the self sufficiency lifestyle, all in all it comes down to making your own. You need to be able to use the things you’re producing. You might be able to barter some bags of fruit for a haircut from your friendly barber, but I’m not sure you’ll be able to walk into a Hi-Fi store at Tottenham Court Road and convince them to swap you a stereo for some homegrown potatoes. Therefore, by making and using every bit of produce you create, you can save money for other things. Eggs (again, here’s why chickens are so useful) can be used for a ridiculous amount of things; breakfast, omelettes, cakes and baking, egg-fried rice – the list goes on. The shells can be crushed and put into the compost heap too. Preserves are your friend too; jams, jellies, pickles and chutneys can be made in vast quantities. Make a year’s supply in an intensive week and you’re set for the months ahead. Plus, homemade goodies make GREAT gifts too.
I’m not about to give up on my dream of a proper smallholding in deepest, darkest rural Suffolk, but I have to come to terms that its still many years away. However, I’m not going to let that stop me. And you shouldn’t either. It’s surprising how many foods can be made, or substituted for homegrown goodies. And, once you’ve starting growing and saving, it’s hard to stop!
Sometimes, the weather’s so foul that getting out in the garden isn’t really possible. I don’t mind the deep winter; crackling ice, deep frosts, the opportunity to work up some heat amidst the snowy garden by clearing and cutting back. However, constant rain is not very conducive to work. Though grey outside there’s some colour in the bleakness – the kettle pot I planted up a few weeks ago has really come into its own and looks wonderful. I also popped some pansies, violas and lavender into an old Hi-Fi speaker and they too have done really well. Need a windowbox? Well, there you go; an old speaker and you’re sorted.
However, with so much wet weather, I haven’t been able to do much in the garden other than a bit of snipping here and there. Luckily, I was sent a copy of the Royal Horticultural Society’s new ‘Companion to Scented Plants’ by Stephen Lacey. Published by Frances Lincoln (@Frances_Lincoln), it’s been filling me with the delights of new planting possibilities. Perfume’s often an element that many people forget about when they’re selecting plants. I know that I find I’m so enthused by a nursery’s plants, I often forget there’s that scented opportunity here. The Companion to Scented Plants is a great reminder of the vast array of plants you can have. I remember, several years ago until I lost them during the hard winter, I had a winter jasmine and small, pink dianthus outside my backdoor. The even scent from them was incredible. Another year I grew nicotiana and, again, the sweet evening smell was gorgeous.
Organised into easily digestible chapters, Stephen Lacey’s book is separated into sections such as “Planting with Trees and Shrubs”, “Alpine, Trough and Water Gardens”, and “Herb Gardens”. It means that whatever space you’re thinking of, you can delve quickly amongst the pages and discover if there are any delightful species to give you more than just form and colour. Also, for any book lover like me, it’s a beautiful, large and hardback tome as well; a perfect addition to your gardening shelves and something I’ll probably leaf through in a quiet moment when I’m not even looking for new planting inspiration.
Retailing at £25, I’ve been allowed to offer you a little discount if you buy directly. To order RHS Companion to Scented Plants at the discounted price of £20.00 including p&p (UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas), telephone 01903 828503 or email email@example.com and quote the offer code APG238. Alternatively, head to Amazon for pre-ordering (it comes out on October 16th)!
It’s the weekend! Hooray! What’s everyone got planned? The garden’s starting to look a little autumnal (aka, messy) so I need to do some cutting back whilst I have the gumption to actually get outside and work. In the meantime, if you’d prefer to do some online and horticultural retail therapy, here’s a few things I found this week.
If you’re like me, you tap ‘Chicken Coop‘ into Google and wham, you’re faced with losing a few hundred pounds. With a move on the horizon, I need to get my hands on a new coop and reclaim the aviary for my finches. Side note – don’t ever try and put hens, even bantams, on the floor of an aviary; they’ll cause chaos). Luckily, you don’t have spend out on the big brands and their similarly inflated prices because there are some pretty decent offerings elsewhere. Chicken Coops and Houses, for example, still have a summer sale on and the ensemble to the left is only £99 (with an additional £14.99 P&P). That’s for five to six birds too, so you might even want to try the coop for three to four birds which is £10 less.
A few weeks ago I wrote about foraging in the hedges for rosehips and haws to make my own jelly. Now, Trees by Post have got a great offer on Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn). A single plant costs just £7.95, though it’s worth noting these are only between 30cm and 50cm tall; so they’re complete babies. The more you buy, the more you save too, which is certainly a bonus if you want to make a hedgerow instead of having a single tree. You’re not about to set the world on fire with next year’s homemade hedgerow jelly as you’ll have to wait a few years, but why not get a head start?!
Wildflower Meadows have become a hot topic over the past few years for many reasons; the 2012 Olympics landscaping, the need to feed bees and as a way to create a beautiful yet easy outdoor oasis. At Plant Me Now they’ve just launched their array of wildflower meadow seed collections and, best of all, P&P is totally FREE. The picture (left) is a perennial mix, containing plants such as poppies, achilleas and marigolds. There are also seed mixes to attract butterflies and bees and, get this, REPEL aphids; I want that one, NOW! There are a variety of prices to suit most needs and if you decide on a perennial mix, you’ll have a meadow that will flower year after year with very little work involved.
Dobies of Devon have just launched a new Climbing French Bean set. The mix costs £3.19 for approximately 45 seeds and will provide a wonderful show of purple, green and yellow bean pods when ripe. One of the things I love about beans is that you don’t need a vege garden to grow them in; just a fence and some soil will do. This collection is said to be stringless whilst exuding taste and, what with being pretty as well, pretty much tick every box.
So, I think we can pretty much surmise from the blowing leaves and big black cloud hanging outside the window that summer’s said goodbye. She wasn’t lingering either; one day it was summer, the next she’d disappeared. But I like the change in seasons, the hint at what’s to come and excitement of where the coming months will lead.
As all gardeners know, creating a beautiful oasis is often more to do with foreward planning than actually enjoying a space for what it is right now. Of course, it’s vital to actually get out and enjoy your garden, to take a seat and watch the world go by; after all, if we didn’t do this, would we want to garden at all? But, for the most part, the actually gardening aspect is about growing things for the season ahead, clearing the mess to make way for other plants and always having a slight eye on what’s ahead, whether it’s the coming weekend, the next month or even the following year.
With this in the back of my mind, I’m already planning for next year. I’ve popped in some California poppy and sweet pea seeds, I’ve turned the compost heap and a couple of winter pots are already planted up with violas and pansies so they can get a head start before the frosts begin (though, saying that London did not have ONE frost last year!) But, as many of you know, there’s more to it than that for me as, within the next year, I’ll moving. So, after over a decade here, I’ll be cutting, splitting, potting and shifting my beloved plants to a brand new space. As long as I find a house in the next 3/4 months, the time of year couldn’t be more perfect for moving plants. I’m clinging onto that fact. Though when I’ve got hundreds of plants in pots awaiting to their new home, I may wish I’d left everything behind! It’s not only your plants to think about either, because hard landscaping and, indeed, garden furniture, also needs thinking about at this time of year.
So, start planning ahead by:
- Planting hardy annuals. Most annuals need to be planted out in spring, but there are some that can be started now. As long as they’re protected from frosts, they’ll get a head start on next year’s seedlings, giving you early flowers. I’ve got California poppies, sweet peas and hollyhocks germinating on pots outside. As the first frosts arrive, they’ll be moved to a cool and protected greenhouse until Spring 2015.
- Planting your bulbs. It’s October, so the best season for planting bulbs is already over. However, the soil’s still relatively warm so you can still pop them in, but do so sooner rather than later. With the wetter winters we’ve been having lately, it’s a good idea to add a little well draining material to your holes to ensure brand new bulbs don’t rot.
- Organising your borders. Soon, dormancy will come to most plants, with deciduous shrubs losing their leaves and herbaceous perennials dying away. Before this happens, make a note of where everything is so you can lift, split and replant when the weather’s cooled and plants have gone to sleep.
- Treating yourself to something new. I know you’ll think I’m mad, but with summer now ended, there’s always some good bargains to be had for garden accessories and furniture. There’s also nothing quite like having something shiny and new to help wish away those winter months. If you’re looking for some beautiful outdoor rattan furniture, Garden Store Direct has some very reasonable sets. A treat now will make next summer even more enjoyable.
- Turning your compost heap. Every garden should have a compost heap – really. Think how much waste you would’t have to throw out if you could put it on your compost and make BRAND NEW GORGEOUS SOIL! Now is one of the best times to turn you heap. A lot of people believe it’s an ideal job for winter, but this isn’t so if you want to protect wildlife. LOTS of creatures crawl into compost heaps to hibernate and protect themselves from the frosts. Turning it now not only allows you to mine that black gold to spread across borders and allow the cold weather to break it down, but means you won’t have to worry about accidentally killing a hibernating frog or two.