The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Herbaceous borders and bartering

Photo: Herbacious border June 2009

Photo: Herbacious border June 2009

“There’s a third of an acre of flowers. And not a vegetable in sight.”  John Coe was amazed fifteen years ago. I wasn’t. Back then I couldn’t imagine wanting to grow vegetables. They seemed so boring. Now the kitchen garden is the most exciting bit of the garden. To me.

Back then, I was creating my garden for lovers. I forgot that these lovers might enjoy eating super fresh vegetables and fruit. John’s own garden was the reverse of mine. A small flower garden for his wife and an immense vegetable patch for them both.

In the olden days smaller houses in the country generally sat in a vast plot. Most families raised vegetables, chickens and pigs in the back and flowers in the front garden. Amongst these flowers were tobacco plants.

Back then everyone was allowed to raise some tobacco which would be cured at local smoke houses. There was a capped yet generous allowance for each person.

So people on lower incomes had the opportunity to grow their own and raise a little meat. John Coe sold his eggs to people at work and bartered for things that he needed.

Over the past three years, I’ve started bartering big time myself.  I’m happy to return at a weekend and work for a fat roll of chicken wire, seasoned wood to construct raised flower beds, or a brace of pheasant. I pay a decent ‘swap’ for these things – a bit under the market value but never fleece the recipients. Generally everyone is delighted.  I always barter for things that I need and would have to buy. I love working for hoarders over the age of sixty. They generally have stuff that they have forgotten that I have spotted and value. Bills are adjusted with happy smiling faces all round.

Although we have an expanding kitchen garden we wouldn’t dream of digging up our herbaceous borders just yet. This is the view from our back door – open from dawn to dusk so that we can dive in all day and enjoy the magic.

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  1. Bartering is alive & well in our little village,dad does work in folks gardens & for 2 of the farmers & we get paid in pig & lamb :o)
    I make gravy for my old neighbour & she gives me glories for my borders :o) armfulls of produce,eggs,get swopped up & down the lane,jams & flowers too.Its a gentle pursuit :o)
    GTM x x

  2. casalba

    Bartering, even “delayed bartering” works very well.

    But I couldn’t help smiling about your tobacco story. When I was in my early twenties and smoking roll ups, I spotted some tobacco plants at the garden centre.

    Can that be? I asked myself, thinking how much money I could save. I bought a couple of plants and put a few leaves in the oven on a very low heat. When they seemed dry enough, I rolled some up in rizla papers.

    Of course, they were the perfumed kind, but I had no idea at the time – they were called ‘tobacco plants’, after all.

  3. Sarah Smith

    With the poor economy, I’m finding myself with considerably less work than usual. I, like many others have had to re-think what I do. For now, I am working one day a week removing weeds from a friend’s vineyard in exchange for fruit as well as an education in growing all sorts of fruiting plants. This is turning out to be a great way to feed my preserving habit while not spending money on fruit at the market. If I had been busy at work, I never would have offered to work for fruit and would have missed out on this great opportunity!

  4. Jackie, how wonderful! Wish our farrier was as accommodating!

  5. jackie

    What a lovely border!
    We barter like mad. My husband seems to keep track, but I can get thoroughly confused. We have someone keeping a few chickens on our rented field, who in return keeps an eye on the sheep.
    We trade mutton for pork, and lamb for beef. We’ve traded topping for sheep and harrowing for .. well .. a harrow! (that was a specially complicated one!)
    Even our farrier trims ponies feet for a steady supply of mutton!
    You can’t beat it. Even our esteemed ‘honourable members’ would have been less vulnerable had they traded a nice fat lamb for the moat cleaning!!!

  6. Joanna

    Bartering with the expectation of getting something back later is apparently building “Social Capital” according to my course in Development Management and an important part of society. Just thought you might like to know that :o)

    I miss my flower garden, we only have an allotment now which is just outside of our block of flats here in rural Latvia. I do have herbs and I am building up my stock but that is about it. I did buy some Nigella seeds yesterday but I can justify those going in the garden as the seeds are edible.

  7. I’ve just found your site and I’m enjoying reading through it immensely.
    Although our garden is not producing much at the moment (winter here downunder) I still have some things to barter – lemons, bonnet chillies, everlasting basil. I love bartering. Often it is delayed bartering, in that I may give away stuff knowing that sometime down the track it will be repaid. I think it very necessary for wellbeing to have a good balance of ornamental flower beds as well as productive beds – though the correct ratios are different for everyone 😉
    Thank you so much for sharing your days.

  8. What a lovely photo. What is the name of the white rose please? It looks like the Rector.

  9. Michelle in NZ

    I’ve just had a lovely wander through some of your garden posts. How wonderful to walk out the back door intto such beauty.

    Well done. Your hard yet happy work has definately paid off. Thank you for sharing your beautiful garden with us,

    Michelle and Zebbycat, xxx & purrs

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