Ashfield: The New ‘Urban Farm’ 17/4/2011

A major event occurred last year, which was to cause a lot of upheaval with my gardening blog. I moved house and so could not think of any special reason to continue to write. I have spent the last six months or so ‘getting on’ with those never ending chores that take precedence over the garden when one moves into a new place. However, here we are now; and the ‘Urban Farm’ is now in place and ready to ‘rock and roll!’

Halfway there!

What do I mean when I refer to my garden as an ‘Urban Farm?’ Well, those of you who know me or regularly read this blog will know of my interest in growing vegetables and fruit. I was brought up in the farming area called Tarleton, in West Lancashire. I am now a city dweller, living in the heart of Liverpool. I do not especially care for supermarket produce, preferring to by locally or wherever possible, to grow my own food. Personally, I find ‘farming’ very therapeutic, I like to know what is in my food and I have found that now I have gotten used to the taste of fresh, home grown food there is no going back.

Bluebells, mint and rubbish!

My new garden has to act as a multi-functional space: social area, storage space, clothes line/washing area, workshop and any remaining space is to be given over to feeding Joss (my fiance), and our six dependents; that’s three kids each, by the way! Scooby also has the run of the area. Above all, my space has to look nice too.

The ramshackle greenhouse

On moving out of my last place, so many people have said, “… What are you going to do without your lovely garden?” The very nature of an ‘Urban Farm’ is that it must be renewed almost completely, each Spring. Of course, I had made a considerable investment into the last garden, but I had decided to start from fresh in the new one. I didn’t bring anything! I wanted to create something entirely different. We are likely to stay in this place for some time so I am expecting things to be fairly permanent.

Preparation for container gardening

So, what have I got? A small front yard, with a one metre high wall and fence; a larger back yard, completely walled by a two meter perimeter wall. Both areas are almost entirely paved with concrete flags. There is rubbish everywhere so the first job is to go back and forwards to the dump and clear the space. I see little point in struggling around rubbish – the first requirement for me is always to clear the space entirely, before commencing anything. I have a ramshackle greenhouse which is on it’s ‘last legs’, but will do for this year – I managed without a greenhouse in the last garden. I have one overgrown flower bed in the back garden, filled with bluebells and garden mint; two of the nightmares for many gardeners, especially when they have been allowed to run wild for years.

The bed dug and sieved, but banked too high!

With everything cleared, I now had a blank canvas. I rather like the paving. It is neat and tidy and makes the space manageable from the off. Despite having only one flower bed there is so much scope here. The high walls to the rear mean I can continue, as previously, with vertical gardening up those walls. Container gardening will be essential: both hanging baskets and containers on the ground also.

Affixing hanging baskets

The next step was to clear that floor bed. I soon had it weeded and I had saved the two well established, but unkempt fuscia bushes for later. Mint and bluebells have a habit of taking over everything, as they had done here. Clearing them is annoying, but easy enough. The big problem is stopping them coming back. I sieved the soil to two foot below the paving level and only put back the soil back to paving level. It had been banked quite high against the wall before. The excess sieved soil would give me plenty of rich container filler for later. I couldn’t bear the long washing lines, stretching from all corners of the yard; each time I moved I was in danger of garrotting myself! I replaced them with a rotary line that had won an award on ‘Dragon’s Den’. This not only saved space but is portable and entirely removable when necessary.

Bin bags make a cheap and effective alternative as liners

Now the big issue; what crops. For this year, I have decided to keep the urban farm simple and manageable. Beans for the walls, French only this time. I will plant strawberries around the edges of the bed and one in each of twelve hanging baskets. Herbs in eight large plant pots and a sage bush in the bed and a rosemary bush in the bed also. Cordon tomatoes in pots of at least 12 inches depth, in the greenhouse and ‘tumbling’ varieties in the hanging baskets. Squashes/pumpkins, in pots to grow up the other walls and a couple of grape vines. About three courgette plants in the bed. Salad leaves in containers and chillies/peppers in the house. I have eight large plant pots with potatoes also. Flowers to look nice in the bed, hanging baskets and the container/pots: the correct varieties of flowers will also attract insects to pollenate the crops and work in complementary planting to encourage crops and deter harmful insects.

Sage, strawberries and sweetpeas. French beans have been planted by the wall

I had a modest amount of technical preparation work to set things up. Affixing brackets for the baskets and some trellising for the beans and sweetpeas was essential. I had inherited a pile of broken roof tiles; I broke these down further and used them as drainage in the pots and baskets. I had also inherited a rack of shelving in the greenhouse which was ideal for placing my trays of sown seeds. Apart from that all I had left to do was plant.

Marigolds in bloom

I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardener’s Question time last Sunday and was amused to hear the discussion on decorative garden ornaments. Apparently, garden centres up and down the country are struggling to cope with demand for, “… Bonking S & M garden gnomes.” Well, I never…

About brendanball

Professional Trumpeter: Soloist, Orchestra Player, Chamber Music, Contemporary Music & Education.
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