Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Making a small urban garden into an extra room

In yesterday's post, I explained how I went about making the initial plans for our garden. One of the main decisions we've had to make is how much living space we should sacrifice for growing space. With this in mind, I've been looking around for inspiration online and I have to say, I'm starting to lean towards the idea of making our garden into an extra room. Rather than sacrifice extra precious growing space for an extra foot of empty patio to make the garden look larger, I think I prefer the idea of a cosy living and eating area surrounded by lush foliage. I found the below very inspirational:

via The Guardian

Amazing renovation by Machen Blog
A bit sparse but good general backgrounnd foliage idea from Olpos Architecture
Lovely bright sofas from Living Etc

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

How to plan a small urban garden

When one has less than 33 square metres with which to scratch the gardening itch, every centimetre counts and so it's important to ensure that planning is done carefully in advance.

1. Work out what will affect your gardening
As you can see from the initial sketch below, our terraced Victorian house in London has a small typical garden with a very long side return. We're luckily largely south-facing, but the garden is also so small that our six foot fences mean a lot of shade at the end of the day. Other factors to consider are how wide your doors open, how much space you need to leave for walkways and where you want the brunt of your growing to take place. 

2. Work out who will use the garden, and when
We are expecting a baby at the moment so I wanted to ensure that he'd have an outside space to spend time in. We also like to entertain. Both of these things mean that I'm unable to strew the entire space with pots but that I need room for a table and some comfortable lounger chairs. I'm thinking of compromising with a garden sofa that can be used as a lounger and an extendable table that will double as a potting station. 

3. Prioritise what you want to do with the space
I want to grow as much edible produce as I can, so much so that I intend to replace a large amount of our bought  fruit and vegetables with home-grown produce. But I also want somewhere quiet where we can eat and read and where the baby can nap in the shade.

4. Write everything down and then build a scale model to ensure that everything fits
So here is the final version of my plan. I like to make to-scale drawings on graph paper and then cut out little planters and greenhouses that are to scale to play around with them. It's much cheaper to experiment with layout this way than with real planters and this helps you get a real feel for how the garden will look once it's finished. There are also software packages available for this, but I've always preferred paper. I can't wait to see the real thing!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Taking one fence at a time

Space in London is at a premium and we guard it jealously. When we first bought Garlic Towers, we were shocked to find that our rotting and decrepit (and for some reason, bright blue) fence wasn't actually standing on our boundary but that we'd lost almost a foot (or about 30cm) from the back of our garden due to poor post placement. It doesn't sound like much, but in a tiny garden like ours (all 32 metres squared / 349 feet of it), the difference is huge.

So enter the fencers. I had rather naively assumed that fencing was something one could do in an intense DIY session but having watched the precision that these chaps have down to an art, we decided to outsource this particular job. It's one of those jobs that you watch with a slight feeling of despair as everything around you is smashed down, the mess and rubble mounts up and the garden seems messier than ever. But in a couple of short days, the fences were up and the workmen gone, and this was the result. Next stop, raised beds, to bring back some of the greenery that's been eradicated!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bee careful what you wish for

A while back I asked our neighbour (the King Of Ivy) to please trim the Buddleia in his front garden as it was starting to invade our space and to cut out all of the light to our sitting room. I was slightly aghast to come home yesterday and find that he'd hired someone to come and completely decimate the bush. The lovely Buddleia, rather than just being pruned a bit so that the butterflies that rely on it for sustenance, had been cut right back down to the ground. And I'm paralysed with guilt. So much of our South West London neighbourhood is poured concrete or decked that to have been instrumental in removing another foodstuff for these lovely creatures is really upsetting. So, the moral of the tale? Be careful what you wish for. And given that our back garden is for food for us, and the front food for wildlife, I'm going to get cracking on replacing it with butterfly-friendly plants of my own this weekend. 

Below: Before and after photos showing the Buddleia conspicuous in absentia. (Ignore the floorboards, we had a massive renovation project going on to repair our Victorian floors when the first photo was taken). 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Here we go round the Mulberry bush

Or rather, here we go peering at Mulberry sticks. In a fit of optimism last year, I decided that as we only intend to keep this house for two or three years before the whispered lull of the countryside becomes a full-throated roar, that I could get a jump start on several heirloom plants. One of these was the Mulberry tree (morus nigra). Picture credit.

Given that they take about seven years to go from (current status of) twig rather hopefully shoved in a pot to glorious tree, I thought that we could get the pot phase over and done with. And lo! After months of sitting there looking nothing but sad, bare and twiggy, I'm pleased to report that buds have been spotted. Hopefully it's all go from now on and in a mere handful of years, we'll be gorging ourselves on fragile black fruits!

Actually on second thought, I do hope that I've not mistakenly gotten hold of a morus alba, the expensive mistake infamously made by King James 1. He wanted silk worms but got fruit. I most decidedly want the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit. Silk worms need not apply!

In other, unrelated news, I managed to drill my hand whilst trying to drill holes in ugly plastic containers on the weekend. A reminder, should one be needed, that health and safety equipment is sold for a reason and that perhaps balancing large tubs on chair arms to drill them isn't the best idea. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Using egg boxes as seed propagators

When I was younger my primary school apparently used to ask parents to save their junk boxes (cereals etc) and loo rolls for "junk modelling" sessions. When I was older my mother told me she always liked dropping off whole boxes at the school as it cleared a cupboard, only to have to sigh in resignation when I arrived home from school the next day proudly brandishing a massive tower made up of all said junk glued together in a heap and badly painted and glittered. I've now started saving boxes and loo rolls as an adult, not for junk modelling, but for seed propagation. 

We are members of a veg box schemes and as well as supplying all of our fruit and vegetables, the local farm sends us milk, eggs, yogurt and butter every week too. So although we already have very little packaging to dispose of, we do still have egg cartons and small fruit punnets to deal with. By sowing seeds in them, they'll rot away in soil instead of being thrown out (which, since our local council replaced our bins with thimbles, can only be a good thing).

How to propagate seeds in cardboard boxes / egg cartons / loo rolls

You will need:
Various cardboard containers
Soil / potting compost

1. Poke holes in the bottom of your containers. Stand loo rolls and kitchen rolls on a small tray

2. Fill said containers with soil

3. Rake soil until fine and sow seeds. Rake again to lightly cover seeds. Water lightly and leave where the sun will hit them for a couple of weeks before planting out.

4. Realise that you have far more seeds than saved cardboard receptacles and that it's late on a Sunday and all garden centres are closed. Remember that a neighbour is selling their house and you noticed a whole load of ugly plastic containers left in the street by the bins. Ignore Mr Garlic's sniff of disdain and snaffle whole load of containers and pots (asking permission first of course) and drill holes in the bottom of a bright yellow washing up bowl to make more space for seed sowing. Look forward to birth of impending BabyGarlic so that you could drink a well-deserved G&T outside in the garden for the first time that year.

Et voila, less waste to go to a landfill, and more seeds for planting out. Today was a lovely day, the kind that it's impossible to spend inside. Could it be that the Worst Winter In Living Memory is finally coming to an end? The gorgeous 17 degree weather and bright, cloud-free sky would seem to indicate that this is so. Hello Spring, it's been far too long.

Friday, 7 March 2014

How to have a flower garden and cats

…The trick? Divided areas. The GarlicCats are much loved members of the family and, as such, we're eager for them to share our little outdoor patch behind the house. However, I don't believe that any home is complete without cut flowers and although most of the garden is going to be devoted to edibles, it's important to note ensure that the pollinating insects and butterflies get their flower fix as well as us. Unfortunately many of my favourites (including that old classic the Sweet Pea) are toxic to cats. The solution? To plant on our driveway. Or rather, to put planters on our driveway. So enter the lockable safe (which took hours to construct) perfect for our veg boxes to be left in when we're not home to take delivery, and also a few basic boxes. I just put in a couple of placeholder plants for now (some wild alpine flowers, a couple of hardy daisies, that sort of thing) but this weekend I'll be hard at work sowing climbing sweet peas in a variety of colours and a load of RSPB "Pollinator bee" wildflower seeds to try to get as great a variety as possible. It's such a shame that so many gardens (including ours) have been paved over. We must attempt to put the flowers back wherever we can!

 Putting the safe together

 Lining the planting box on top ready to fill with soil

Ready to be filled with placeholder flowers, bring on the bees!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Getting started

One of the first things that needed to be done when we took over our garden was to fight back against the wilderness that occupied the space we so badly wanted as ours. So a mammoth pruning session ensued (tempered slightly by the discovery of a nest in a neighbour's overhanging bush that we didn't want to disturb). The garden was so overgrown that we actually found entire chairs that we hadn't been able to see inside the mess of ivy and weeds when we started! One imagines that the prince endured a similar challenge when trying to get to sleeping beauty.

Anyway, here it is, our tiny patio garden, cleared of the worst of the weeds and ready for the installation of new fences!

Right hand side before and after

Back before and after

 Left side before and after

 Side return before and after

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Food that looks like wildlife: Hedgehog pancakes

I have a special fondness for Shrove Tuesday. Mr Garlic is particularly adept at flipping pancakes and let's face it, there's little better as a treat in this world than crepes. 

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society sent out a twitter challenge to see who could come up with hedgehog-themed pancakes and I couldn't resist taking part. My savoury entry was definitely better than my pudding entry, but they were both fun to make. The savoury hedgehog pancake was, admittedly, the most time-consuming pancake thing I've ever made. The recipes are below:

Goat's cheese and caramelised onion hedgehog pancake with chive spines

Pancake ingredients
250g plain flour
2 eggs
600ml milk

Round of firm, strong goat's cheese
Two red onions
Salted butter
Balsamic vinegar

Handful of firm chives (as our garden still looks like gardengeddon, we had to buy them)
Peppercorns for the eyes and nose

1. Slice the onions. Melt a generous knob of butter (at least 100g) in a frying pan, preferably cast iron. Over the lowest heat possible, add the sliced onions. 
2. Cook onions for 40 minutes on a low heat, checking and stirring every ten minutes. A sticky residue will start to develop at the bottom of the pan. Every time you check on the onions, stir this back into the mixture. Adjust the heat as you go. You want the onions to cook at a steady pace but you must avoid scorching them. Turn the oven on to gas mark 7 / 220 electricity / 200 fan.
3. Whisk, or preferably blend, all of the pancake ingredients together and set aside. 
4. Place the rounds of goat's cheese (one per person) on baking paper covered baking trays and pop into the oven for ten minutes. 
5. Start to make the pancakes, using butter in the frying pan and about a ladle-full of batter each time. 
6. At 50 minutes (back to the onions), use two tablespoons of thick balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan with the onions still in there. Mix everything together, making sure that the onions are coated in the sticky goo from the bottom of the pan. Season to taste and set aside in the pan.
7. Stack the pancakes on a warm plate as you cook them, covering them in foil
8. To make the hedgehogs, place a round of goat's cheese in the upper half of a pancake. Top generously with caramelised onions and fold the pancake half without any filling into a triangular point. You can then fold the top of the pancake over the cheese and onions. Place another plate on top of the hedgehog and quickly flip both plates together. Remove the now top plate and your hedgehog will be the correct way up with the wrapping parts of the pancake hidden underneath. 
9. Make small holes in the end of the nose and where the eyes should go. Use a peppercorn for each eye and a few for the nose.
10. Use toothpicks to make holes in the back of the hedgehog and slide in chives (cut to about 1.5 inches long)
11. Enjoy your pancake hedgehog!

Ice-cream and chocolate sprinkle pudding hedgehog pancake recipe

Decoration ingredients:
1 blueberry per hedgehog for the nose
Chocolate sprinkles
Silver balls / piping icing in a bag or tube for the eyes
Ice cream (flavour of your choice) straight from the freezer so it's really hard

1. Make the pancakes as per the above
2. Spread a pancake on a plate and put three balls of ice cream in a triangle (pointing towards you) in the top half of the pancake. 
3. As par the above, fold the pancake half closest to you into a triangle pointing at you for the nose and then tuck the rest of the pancake up over the ice cream
4. Place another plate on top of the hedgehog and flip both together. The original bottom plate is now on the top and can be removed
5. Use a toothpick to make holes for the eyes and nose
6. Pipe icing in long lines (reminiscent of spines) along the back of the hedgehog and cover in chocolate sprinkles. 
7. Consume with glee

Happy pancake day!

Hello world!

Greetings from a tiny, hitherto unloved patch of patio in South-West London now occupied by Mr Garlic, our two GarlicCats and I.

I'll be writing about the challenges of taking a tiny urban garden behind our Victorian house (and the side return) and growing as much edible produce as is possible. I'll also chuck in a couple of my recipes for home-grown food when I can.

Watch this see what we do with the space below!