The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Coming full circle

 

Photo: A  pond

Photo: A pond

I bought the cottage 18 years ago this month. My aunt Pickles died and left me enough money to spread my wings, leave my husband and unhappy marriage and make a fresh start.

The cottage was the first place ever that I’d found and really loved. Until that point I would buy a house or a flat with a small mortgage so that I could guarantee that any job that I had – from supermarket check out lady to sputnik pilot – I could always pay the mortgage.

Creating the garden was my therapy. At this stage I was working for four days with three days off. A perfect arrangement if you have a job that pays well enough. I wanted to create a fantastic garden. There was one enormous problem – I didn’t have much gardening experience. But I did have time so invested in a swathe of gardening books.

I studied the gardens of Christopher Lloyd, Anna Pavord, Penelope Hobhouse, Russell Page, Sir Roy Strong and Margery Fish. I was enchanted by the semi formal gardens of Roy Strong and Russell Page but my third of an acre was attached to a cottage rather than a country house and a formal garden would look ridiculous teamed with my new home.

I did invest in hedging – box, yew and beech. So the garden became a series of rooms. The idea was supremely practical – if I was short of time I only needed to tend half the plot as the rest would be obscured by hedges if visitors looked out of the windows.

As I knew so little about gardening I made endless mistakes. But I was out in the fresh air and absorbed in my tasks. Gradually I began to tune into the wildlife that visited the garden. The birds, the naughty squirrel, the toads and frogs. And the gardening experience gently salved the nasty marriage. Making and tending a garden is hugely therapeutic even if you can’t distinguish an annual from a perennial.

In a few days time I will have clocked up nine months of being ill and off the road work wise. I think that I’m slowly getting better but staying up too long can set me back for a few days. The trick is to rest regularly throughout the day. An hour in the garden/kitchen followed by a snooze. Repeated throughout the day. And really early nights work their magic too. Yes I do wake at dawn but I feel refreshed and positive. I’m still following The Secret and am finding it very helpful when I begin to slide into a slough.

Meanwhile I’m slowly overhauling and extending our herbaceous borders to make space to grow flowers for cutting. This is good therapy as every day I can see what I have done. As with 18 years ago I’m wrapped around books – learning as much as I can about growing flowers and loving it. We are already selling our flowers and a few vegetables on the gate side stand – teeny earnings as just a few people are buying. Achingly slow progress but I’m moving forward and surely that’s what it’s all about.


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9 Comments

  1. danast

    Slowly does it Fiona, but the progress you are making is brilliant. And what is more you appear to be enjoying life. I love the way you say you awake refreshed and positive. How many people can truly say that?

  2. What a great post, Fiona. Really inspirational and beautifully written (as are all your posts). I am loving the pictures of your garden, it is gorgeous, and definitely motivates me to do something with my patch! I agree with you on how therapeutic gardening can be – when I had an allotment that needed turning over, a couple of hours digging after work soon had me in a much better mood. Take care, and I am glad to hear you are on the mend.

  3. Richard @ Eco Living Advice

    I totally agree with you about the therapeutic benefits of gardening and my girlfriend and I are currently looking at properties with the garden as the most important element. There is something powerful, excited and yet soothing about planting, sowing, growing – and of course harvesting – your own plants that very little else matches up to for me.

  4. Toffeeapple

    Moving forward slowly is the best thing, if you try to rush you either miss things along the way or harm your health. Do as your body tells you Fiona, you already do far more than I. Hugs!

  5. Once again your writing strikes a real chord with me. My first tentative steps on the long slow road to recovery from two mental breakdowns came when I got an allotment. I’d been a keen gardener for years, but getting that allotment was my turning point. It had been neglected for 15 years and had to be worked by hand. I would hack away and painstakingly turn the soil over with a Chillington hoe; often a whole day’s work would only clear a square yard or so. But when I came back the next day, whatever my poor brain was doing, that little patch of cleared soil was still there. And it gradually got bigger, until it was big enough for me to put a couple of tomato plants in, then some beans, so I’d have something to encourage me to keep going. Just as you say, achingly slow progress but I was moving forward. That was almost 5 years ago now, and the magic of cultivating land and growing things from tiny seeds has never left me.

  6. Joanna

    Maybe you could venture out into a mobile van one day, you wouldn’t have to go out all day, everyday and you could always kit it out for a snooze :o)

  7. Bridget

    Good on you Fiona. I’d love to create a flower garden at some point in the future, I haven’t to date as we have yet to build our house and I’m not sure where exactly where it will go. However hedges will be a necessary feature of the garden as we are on a very exposed site (farmland near to the coast).
    Best wishes Bridget

  8. casalba

    Love the idea of having separate rooms in the garden. The little I did know about gardening flew out of the window when I moved to Italy. None of my favourites would grow and those that did needed far too much water to make it practical.

  9. I’m willing you on – I think your roadside venture sound gfreat and I wish you were near me. We are making a big effort to buy from small independents and we have had our eyes opened as a result. Are you going to open your garden at all? xxxx

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