Saturday, 31 May 2014

Cat-proofing an urban garden

Cat-proof garden fence
...or, as we're fondly calling it, "Prison yard chic". That's right folks. I know that the indoor cat vs outdoor cat debate has picked up over the last few years. Personally I think that to deny cats access to the outdoor world isn't too kind, but the reason I have hypocritically done it myself is because we live in a very densely populated area of South West London where there are never less than two posters for missing cats at a time in our road. However, thankfully, we've managed to find a way to let the cats into the garden without worrying they'll escape to get hit by a car or stolen by someone. We've cat-proofed the garden!

Cat-proofing running along the top of the fence

The cat-proof fence is basically a high-tensile mesh that's attached at an angle to the top of our six foot wooden fences. Because of it, the cats can now wander the garden all day, where they sunbathe, pounce on bugs and try to eat seedlings. The cats are thrilled with their new play area, although they were a bit agoraphobic at first. Hopefully this will continue to act as a decent halfway house until we move to the countryside where it's safer for them to be out.

Tom checking out the newly planted beds
Their first foray into their newly safe garden was really enjoyable and they loved being outside (if a little confused by things like airplanes). They don't seem to mind that the place is still a tip. I can honestly say that cat-proofing has changed all of our lives. Highly recommended!
Dahlia sunbathing

Friday, 30 May 2014

Planting up raised beds

...or "How to decide what to grow". The plan for the garden always included lots of pots on shelves and in a greenhouse but when it came to the raised beds themselves, I wanted to take advantage of their size to grow more substantial plants that would also cover the fences in time. My idea is to create a wall of green that the dining table and outdoor sofa both nestle in front of. I want the garden to feel like a haven, like a private green retreat in the middle of town as opposed to the sparse and rather dead space it feels like now. 
Measuring spaces between seedling bushes

So when I was choosing what to plant, I decided to go for soft fruit in the raised beds. In my quest to grow as much edible stuff as possible in my tiny urban garden, I wanted to ensure that I made the most of my crops by growing expensive foods rather than things like onions that I can buy relatively cheaply. I'm lucky that most of the garden is south-facing so growing sweet berries shouldn't be too hard. When you only have 32m² (that's 349 for my American friends), every inch counts. 

So I decided upon the following:
- One fan-trained plum tree (Marjorie's seedling)
- Six raspberry canes (Tadmor and Chemanius so that I'll have berries through the end of Summer and autumn)
- Two Japanese wineberry bushes
- Three blackthorn bushes for the north facing fence (both for the security they offer and also the delicious sloes they produce)
- One climbing Kiwi (in this case, Jenny)
- One Tayberry (Buckingham)
- Two thornless blackberry bushes (Loch ness and Oregon)
Planting the young bushes and erecting the support for the plum tree
As you can see, when they arrived I measured out the distances between them carefully. They look a puny at the moment but once they're established in about two years time, I hope that they'll have spread enough to cover the fences completely with delicious fruit and we should be harvesting kilos of fruit. Which is good, because my addiction to soft fruits costs us a fortune every year. 
The raised beds, more or less planted up

Thursday, 29 May 2014

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 review (Saturday)

The thing about the Chelsea Flower Show is that it's just about small enough to be seen in one day IF you get there early and hotfoot it about. It was my first time this year and I was somewhat daunted by the size of the map when we got there. We arrived last Saturday early at 9am and, because it was raining, we ducked straight into the grand pavilion. Mr Garlic immediately assumed the slightly wary look of someone unable to leave a tent full of (hurrah!) beautiful plants and flowers for sale with a spendthrift wife too pregnant to be the one saddled with carrying them out. We spent several hours admiring the displays, and falling in love with various peonies (one of which we reserved to take home). With my natural inclination to look for edible displays, I was extremely impressed by the award-winning South West in Bloom allotment which boasted incredibly neatly displayed cabbages the size of large dogs and a new black tomato "Indigo rose" using Sutton Seeds which I decided to spend the remainder of my pocket money upon.

Once the rain tailed off for a bit, we toured the main gardens. My favourite show garden had to be the Telegraph's entry,  simply because every inch of my garden is so packed and the laid back Italian elegance of the entry really made me want to stretch out on their lawn with a G&T. However, I do think that Alan Titchmarsh made a good point about people wanting their gardens to be too manicured and that there is little interest left in lots of plants. There were an awful lot of show gardens planting clumps of wildflowers, which nicely balanced that trend.
My favourite non-garden display however, was the "Trees of tranquillity" by Quist. These waterfall trees would look beautiful in amongst real trees on an island in a large pond. One of the best things about Chelsea has to be the wide variety of unusual displays and sculpture available next to the show gardens themselves. 
The infamous annual Chelsea sell-off which starts at 4pm had me a little nervous. At eight months pregnant, I'm nowhere near as agile as I'd like to be. However, in keeping with the general civility of the attendants, most people appeared to have done like us and to have reserved their plants earlier in the day. There was a slightly hungry air as people rushed to and fro from some stalls that hadn't allowed advance purchasing, but by and large, as long as you'd positioned yourself by the stall you liked most by 3.50pm, had your cash in hand and were ready to wait to be served, the queueing instinct of the British still appeared strong and most people we saw leaving were staggering under the weight of multiple bags. So don't despair, it's possible to bring Chelsea home! I'm in love with my Peony, which is a completely incongruous decision given the edible focus of my garden. But everyone needs a bit of luxury now and then. And I'll report back on the black tomato!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Building raised beds in an urban garden

Apologies for the radio silence folks but a lot has happened since you last heard from me. It suddenly occurred to us that as Garlic Towers is soon to be graced by the pitter-patter of tiny feet (that is, by the arrival of a baby rather than another cat), that we should probably finish some of the renovation projects we'd been putting off. So we had the roof repaired and the house exterior finished and other boring things like that done which has meant something of a whirlwind of activity. However, it's over now, and I'm pleased to report that one of the more enjoyable things we had done was the construction of wooden raised beds in the garden.
We looked into the idea of using old sleepers to build the raised beds, but the potential presence of creosote and oil made us a bit uneasy. The cheap and low beds on the market would have been functional for planting but as we have such a tiny space, we wanted some that would allow us to have guests use them as extra seating when we have a party. So in the end we went for some 45cm high wooden beds that lined the back of our tiny urban garden in a U-shape. We think they turned out quite well and 3500 litres of soil later (and wasn't that a fun thing for the builders to have to carry through the house from the pallet at the front!), they were ready to be planted up!