Loosing My Garden Virginity

Last year this time I was a garden virgin.  In fact, I would have declared easily that I had a brown thumb. My mother has the most amazing green thumb, so I have always felt extremely disappointed that I didn’t inherit an iota of her talent ~ I managed to kill (mostly through kindness, I hasten to add) every plant she ever gave me, even the ones she said were impossible to kill.  However, that never meant I was willing to give up.

When we moved here to France it was winter. The place we take care of has a lovely garden, complete with gardener to take care of it (thank goodness). However, it also had a barely used, somewhat neglected, large, terraced vegetable garden.

I have always wanted a vegetable garden. They appeal to me more than general grounds, lawns or floral gardens. It’s not that I don’t like flowers, I do, but more, I like food and the idea of creating a bounty one could eat is right up my strasse.

Having been granted leeway to tackle the project, it was time to start taking after my mother. As a newby I couldn’t recognise much in the way of what was in the garden, except some broccoli, and had no idea what had been planted in the past.  I therefore determined that it was best to start from scratch. From scratch, I would know what was going in, what things looked like (so I could potentially recognise weeds), and any mistakes made would be mine.

I started by buying a book. A great book. ‘The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible’ by Edward C. Smith.  It breaks down the veg into seperate pages, 1 veg per, has lots of lovely pictures and clear instructions. It became very well thumbed as the seasons progressed.

Then Pumpjack found the online Veg Garden Planner for me. A wonderful tool that helps you plan your garden out (rather like playing with Colorforms, if you remember those), but online so easily managed. You set up the layout, choose the veg you are going to plant, can even specify the specific details about it, and then drag on to your plan where you are going to plant it. The planner then can be looked at both as a map and as a growing schedule, with the schedule telling you when to do things, e.g. sow, plant, harvest. Both can be printed as well. It even helps with crop rotation, highlighting what not to plant where the next year. I love it!

So thus armed with some tools of knowledge, I began. I removed everything that wasn’t obvious or labelled, and then built raised beds. This was Pumpjack’s idea as it would save our knees and backs whilst giving more growing depth for the plants. I recycled old wood planks for most of the raised beds, but also used pruned branches to make a wattling raised bed (another Pumpjack idea and by far our favourite version).  There was an old compost pile (more on this in another post) we used to fill the beds as much as possible, along with some store bought earth to make up the difference.

As the garden is south facing with terraces, we wanted to utilise the walls as well, to maximise the growing spaces. We recycled pallets (given for free from our local hardware/bricolage) into Strawberry planters, as well as re-used plastic milk containers into hanging herb and lettuce pots.

The choice of what to grow was daunting, and I wanted to try everything. A small part of me was curious to determine what would grow, and how easily, but the other more greedy side of me wanted to have all this produce at our fingertips. Through February and March I planted seeds in recycled yogurt pots and tin cans (with drainage holes poked in the bottoms). These were to be found everywhere in our cottage, covering most surfaces.

It wasn’t long before little seedlings were making their way into this world, some quicker than others. As they grew I transplanted to larger pots and finally, come end of March and into April they were planted outdoors. Some took, some did not. Those that failed I bought replacements.  One sage friend recommended that there were just certain plants it was easier, and potentially cheaper, to buy in rather than grow from seed. Leeks for example.

She also gave me two other pieces of great advice. First, stagger the plantings so we would have crops come into fruition over time thus giving us veg for a longer period of time. Second, if you plant most of it will grow.

Everything was done by trial, and some error, but most of it joyously worked. By using my own common sense I think I managed to get away with quite a lot. Listening to gardening programmes I was in awe of how in depth people get into their gardens. Me, I like the idea of keeping it simple. Plant it and see if it grows. If it does, eat it.

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