How does your garden grow?

Barely at all, frankly. Our back garden is mostly terracotta tiles with a border of bed, a disused pond and flowers in garish shades of pink and orange as beloved by the previous owner. It’s dominated by an overgrown bay tree that desperately needs to be cut back by half. Although without any input from us, the apple tree had beautiful blossom this year and the pear tree looks good too, so fingers crossed for another good crop this year.

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The histamine plan is… flexible, let’s say. I do think it’s helping but god, it’s hard. And I get bored of it really easily and just want to eat chocolate. Not terribly helpful. But I am coughing less.

Yet again this year I am banging on about wanting to grow vegetables in the garden. Foolhardy? Undoubtedly. There are days I don’t manage to brush my hair due to demands of the small child so weeding and watering a mini-allotment is going to be interesting. But as even things like bagged salad do seem to set me off coughing, there’s never been a better time to try growing some veg here.

I aim to start small, with four 35cm square planters and two hanging baskets. I’d like strawberries and tomatoes in the baskets and cut-and-come-again lettuce and perhaps courgettes in the planters, plus herbs I think. Any suggestions on what varieties to try? I’m kind of tempted to offer one planter up to Meantime Brewery for their True Brew of London which I think is a genius idea of theirs.

They’ve planted hops in royal parks and gardens all over London, including grand institutions like the Natural History Museum and Battersea Power Station, and lots of pubs are participating too. I think the closest growing stations to us are the View Tube at the Olympic Park and Waitrose in Stratford. The hops will be harvested in September and then dried. After that they are mixed with malt, yeast and water and left to mature, to be ready for drinking at the end of the year. Given that hops are perennials, I presume they could make this year after year?

I’ve just realised that May is marching onwards so hopefully we’ll actually get to a garden centre somewhere to get some plants before it’s too late to sow them.  Any advice for a first-time, time-poor veggie grower?

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What’s lurking at the end of the garden

The rear of our long, narrow paved garden is book-ended by a shed, which has a Narnia-like door now boarded up at the back. We realised that this was the short-cut that the house’s previous owner used to reach his plot on the allotments behind the building, which we can see from our upstairs windows.

When we first moved in we were madly keen to put our names down on the waiting list for our own allotment, but sanity intervened and we thought we’d try to sort out the house first. And the bloody pond.

By a lucky coincidence we found out that the vendor intended to leave all the koi in the pond which takes up about a third of the space at the end of the garden. To put it mildly, we were horrified – well it wasn’t like he was leaving his cat (we would have been fine with that) – and so he arranged for a charity to collect them. Everyone said ‘Oh but they’re really valuable!” Yeah, but you can’t eBay live animals. And the cats would have treated it like a buffet. So we were left with a pond, and stupidly in hindsight, no pump. It’s now full of water and is going to need to be emptied after all the recent heavy rain so I’m really relishing the thought of going at that with a bucket. Not.

It’s 360cm x 160cm at its widest so it’s taking up quite a bit of real estate. The one practical thing that we can think of to do with the pond is to make it, or the space it takes up into a raised bed so we can start a veggie garden and see how we go with it. Quite how we’d access the back of the area, I haven’t worked out yet but I’m going to consult with the parents when they’re over, as it’s their forte. A bed will be less demanding than an allotment obviously but will be a good barometer of our skill and commitment. So we lose a pond, and gain a bed. Enough space to have a go, and see how far our enthusiasm runs. 

If you’ve had success with a small urban garden (especially in south-east England), I’d love to hear from you.

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If you’re thinking of getting into gardening, here are some resources I’ve found helpful:

Gardening tips for beginners – we’ll have less space at first but this is inspiring and I like the idea of 

Quirky ideas with containers – our back garden is mostly paved so containers might be fun

Value for Space Rating (VSR) – choosing what to grow in terms of how much space it takes and the cost to buy it, and how home grown quality compares to what you can find in the shops

Penny Golightly – great tips on kitchen gardens, especially from a budgeting perspective.