This summer has not been great for gardeners, although it’s fabulous if you are a hungry slug. Our tomatoes, full of Heritage promise and grown lovingly on a windowsill, have drowned out in the garden and my basil has been munched.
My enthusiasm for grow my own has taken a dent this year, but I feel reinspired after an hour spent in a local award-winning garden, owned by Peter Bloomfield and Janette Bradley, who are taking part in the St Albans Transition Open Food Gardens. I wrote about Transition St Albans last year and was very impressed by the food garden growing in front of The Courtyard Cafe. Transition are keen to show how you can reduce your carbon footprint, and growing your own food is very much part of this.
At just 20 ft square, Peter and Janette’s garden shows just what can be achieved in a city centre. I looked through before, during and after photos and saw how this pretty and productive garden has been transformed. A small pond was made using recycled bricks from a pigsty and lined with carpet. A bench was made with reclaimed stone, and planters were made with old fencing. It is now full of variety, with tomatoes and sweet peas climbing together up pyramid supports, wild strawberries spreading across the path, and pots crammed with fruits. You can visit the The Sustainable Garden category in the St Albans District in Bloom winner on 22nd September (3 Althorp Road, 2-4).
While moaning about my tomatoes Peter explained how I could build my own cold-frame using recycled wood and glass. Transition member Romayne Hutchison also explained how one of their members uses old bubble wrap for extra insulation. I could use the cold-frame to bring on my tomatoes and protect them from poor weather, and then use it to grow salad leaves until Christmas. I learned that coffee grounds and broken egg shell scattered around plants will deter slugs, and we have plenty of both of those, so will give it a go.
Containers, raised beds and pots don’t need to be expensive. In Fleetville we have the fantastic St Albans Wood Recycling centre, where you can buy large planters made from reclaimed fencing, planks etc. If you ask nicely, they may even make something to your specification.
This is exactly the sort of information you pick up talking to enthusiastic, experienced gardeners. I would really recommend visiting one of the Open Food Gardens Transition St Albans host each year, to ask questions and see what grows well locally. The other garden still to open this year is on 12th August (104 Marshalwick Lane).
I was very interested in the Minarette apple and plum trees Peter was growing. They take up very little space, and yet he told me that just three trees produced 180 apples last year. A pear tree was growing happily against the wall of the house. Plants climbed up every wall and fence, making the most of the vertical space, showing that you don’t need an expensive greenhouse or vast garden or allotment to grow your own. Romayne said that one of the Transition gardens has cucumbers and courgettes growing vertically. I liked how Peter’s garden had flowers, vegetables and fruit all together. The leaf shapes and flowers looked beautiful and it showed that you don’t need a dedicated veg patch, if space is limited. Of course, in a small garden you can’t be self-sustainable, but you will know exactly where your food has come from.
1. Dig a patch for your children and let them plant herbs, fruit and veg. Blueberries and raspberries are quite easy and can grow happily in a pot.
2. Plenty of rhubarb and gooseberries but no salad? Swap any extra produce with your neighbours.
3. Grow lots of flowers to attract bees and help pollination.
4. Collect water in a butt just in case we get another hosepipe ban…
5. Swap plants and seedlings with other gardeners to broaden your range and save money.
If you are interested in meeting other like-minded gardeners, go along to the annual Green Harvest and Drinks on 2nd October in the evening at The Farmers Boy. There will be a tour of the brewery, apple pressing and lots of produce available to buy. You can also pick up advice and share tips.
Gardens to visit
Sunday 12th August 2-5 104 Marshalswick Lane, AL1
Saturday 22nd September 2-4 3 Althorp Road, AL1
Parking is very restricted and in the spirit of things, its probably better to walk or cycle to the gardens!. Suggestion donation or £2 per garden visit for over 16s. No dogs except guide dogs. Wheelchair access restricted in all gardens. For more information visit http://www.transitionstalbans.org