I recently had a fantastic conversation with Amanda Godber. What Amanda does not know about gardening is not worth knowing. She is involved in many gardening projects in Stroud, Gloucestershire. www.downtoearthstroud.co.uk.
We had a chat about how someone new to gardening might get started.
Firstly, there is the issue of where to do it. Do you have space at home? In Stroud, you can join in on a plot of raised beds (16×4 ft) 5×1.3m. They are available in some community projects. They are also available on prescription from your GP. Most areas in the country run social prescribing, be that gardening, walking, dance, painting. Pretty well whatever you need.
Or you might be ambitious and want to take on an allotment from the start. An allotment is a big commitment, and these plots are of the order of 6x 36 metres (20×120 ft). You might get a half plot or even a quarter plot. But they are cheap at around £20 per year rent. There might be a waiting list. Most sites are organic, and you can apply to rent an allotment through your local council.
In our area, there is a local seed bank where you can learn how to save seeds, and our County Council has volunteers who will advise on compost making. Some organic food projects might take your produce.
So now you have decided that you might try growing something. What best to grow? A tip. Nothing in a seed catalogue looks like the sort of thing you are going to get out of your own garden! Most crops are a mix of good and very average. What you grow will depend on your soil type and soil quality. The easy way to find out what grows locally is to look at what is growing in your local allotments. Please keep it simple and get in some plants that are reliable locally.
Amanda reckons that in our limestone area, we get good results from Chard, Perpetual Spinach, mangetout peas, potatoes, onions, leeks and garlic. Amanda says that chard is virtually perennial. It will go to seed in the second year, but self-seed itself all over so you have a constant supply, so it doesn’t have to be cleared up every year. Kale will last two years if you keep harvesting it. Anything allowed to seed will regrow the next year. Many things will self-seed naturally but are not well organised in rows. Try to save some seed before it drops to the ground and resow the next year. This will give you more control. There is no need to buy all your seed every year. Why not see what reseeds in your patch. Ask the locals; they will tell you. You might share plants with them—lettuce, squashes, courgettes, and pumpkins. For herbs, basil oregano winter savoury, celery leaf herb. Many will grow on year after year -they will either last more than a year or self-seed readily. Plus, all the berries, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries. Japanese wineberries are also excellent and easy to grow. Currant bushes are good too. If you like Rhubarb, a root will keep you going in the spring when berries are not available fresh.
One or two of these might look a bit carby for keto. Potatoes are mentioned as they are a good way of clearing ground in the first year. Plus, you do have the option of giving your organic veg to neighbours, family and friends. Children love digging up potatoes. You might even show them how to cook chips for a treat. And you might have a gardening convert to boot.
Don’t be worried about leaving crops in the soil over winter. Some people call that neglect. For various reasons, I neglected my garden for five years. And guess what, everything thrived! I am sure my garden is not the only one that thrives without a gardener. We can often overcomplicate it. OK, I had to do some emergency chain-sawing of hedges and trimming of the berry bushes once a year to keep order, but that was about it.
All sorts of wildlife will come into your garden if they are allowed. Go into the local countryside and look at what vegetation is growing there. That is what your garden looked like before the builders moved in, built a house and fenced in some land to make a garden space. Once upon a time, the land that your home was built on would have been teeming with flora and fauna. In my own ‘light touch’ garden I have spotted slow worms, frogs and toads, they are good at eating less welcome wildlife that eats the plants I am trying to grow.
Garden the areas you can, but garden lightly. If the wild plants are not harming your crops, why not let them be and share the space? But importantly choose your own style. And most importantly, enjoy.