The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Gardening on stones

clematisThis is a magical time of year in the garden. Borders bursting with hope and promise. Welcoming old friends who suddenly make an appearance and weave themselves to the bar so to speak. Initially half remembered and then acknowledged with open arms.

There are also the plants that didn’t make it through the winter, often the ones that you keep an eye open for. Their place remains empty for long enough to prompt me to start to asking questions. Why didn’t they return?

Was it the right place, aspect, soil? Sometimes I gently investigate just in case they are being tardy. Generally I find a dead root ball.

Then I remember that they had to be cosseted last year. More often than not the problem is stones. A layer of bricks and tiles that is gradually working its way up through the soil.

Twenty five years ago when the cottage was modernised there were a few outbuildings in the garden. These were flattened, dug into the ground and the garden laid to lawn. Fifteen years ago, John Coe dug our borders well, to a good eighteen inches.

Last week I noticed that a large patch of perennial geraniums were wilting in the midday sun. They perked up with a long drink of water but this is just the beginning of summer and I wasn’t keen to do this everyday for the next six months.

I examined the border closely. There were big areas that did not even have unwelcome visitors such as bindweed or buttercups. Further investigation revealed bricks and slates six inches under the earth.

I decided to overhaul this patch of border. Barely two square meters. I removed all plants and spent three hours digging up bricks, tiles and old iron. Then I raked the soil, fed and watered it and replaced the plants in beds so soft that I was tempted to join them.

It was steady satisfying work. Each forkful of rubble meant a new lease of life for the plants as well as a good work out for me.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kay

    I bet those were lovely old greenhouses too. Great idea scattering annual seeds, I must try that.

    The old lady sounds fascinating. Living in a village I can always find someone to tell me about the people who lived here years ago.

    Hi Kate(uk)

    I remember playing in old garden bomb shelters when I was a child. They were always dark and damp and very utilitarian.

    Quite handy for storing stuff though!

  2. Kate(uk)

    We have the remains of an air raid shelter at the bottom of our garden, a proper big concrete diy job that was, apparently, the wonder of the street during the war.Currently it has a small shed on top…I wanted to grow veg there, but goodness knows what lies beneath the concrete under the shed,apart from the hedgehogs’ home, so I think I shall move the greenhouse over to where the shed is now and see what is under that instead!

  3. Yet another thing we have in common! Although our garden is generally lovely, the owner before the owner before us was a ‘mad old lady’ (the words of the previous owners) who ran an ad hoc market garden. Her glasshouses were torn down when she died and the footings were just dug into the ground. We have patches of garden where nothing much grows except large brickbats and broken slabs of paving about three feet down. We are lazy enough to just chuck annual seeds down every year and let them stay bare in winter. I do wonder what she was like though, I’ll be she was a woman after my own heart, unlike the vandals who came after her.

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