It has been 20 years since I created my garden at home. In that time the native hedgerow I planted with hawthorn and hazel has reached 4 metres high and whilst it has given me considerable privacy and a wealth of wildlife, I have over the past couple of years, seen a decline in light levels in various parts of the garden, particularly on my vegetable plot.
So my winter project is to increase light levels and find a new location for vegetable growing. First the light levels: hazel has a dense canopy but responds well to coppicing so I have cut it to the ground. The thicker stems have gone to my neighbour for firewood and I will use the straighter narrower stems to support sweet peas and beans. The hawthorn canopy is more open but I’ll open it up more by removing a few selective branches. There are also some field maple and fruit trees and these I have pruned by a technique called raising the crown. Here the lower branches are cut off leaving more headroom under the tree and allowing light to enter the garden under the trees. This will improve light levels but not sufficiently for vegetable growing so I have moved my rhubarb, gooseberries and black currants into the old vegetable patch.
This year I’m going to grow vegetables in the ornamental area of my garden. The intention is that the vegetables will grow alongside and amongst the ornamentals. There are benefits to be had here; pests find it harder to find the vegetables, some vegetable varieties now are decorative as well as tasty and it allows me more freedom having areas of ground that can be alternated between vegetables, annuals and bulbs. A complex but more robust form of crop rotation.
So how am I going to achieve the additional space within the ornamentals? I’m taking out the hardy geraniums, they are good plants for shade but produce too much leaf in more open areas. Phlox does well and I have repeat clumps around the garden so I will reduce them to one clump per variety. The same will happen with other repeats. I have removed the Mahonia which whilst it gave good yellow flower colour in the depth of winter, suckers all too easily. Taking it out has created around three square metres of usable space sufficient for a wigwam of climbing French beans. Strawberries which love full sun will replace some summer annuals in pots on the patio. Small cherry tomatoes will replace lobelia. Ornamentation will be maintained by using vegetables such as purple-flowered broad beans. Rainbow Swiss chard will occupy another newly freed up area. There’ll till be annuals, I just won’t repeat them so many times. My Brussels sprouts will create a feature in the middle of the border and maybe a flowering cauliflower at the front? All this will take several months to do and I’ll let you know how it goes.
Mike I’Anson January 2017