Moretonhampstead Garden Design - Detailed Design Notes

These notes were written in April 2004, to record my thinking for the garden design.

The garden is zoned out from the path coming out of the house, and i shall work out in that direction in these notes.

I originally wanted to place the compost bins in the relatively shady corner next to the shed and house, as this would make carrying out compost a very simple job that didn’t involve walking on any wet grass - you could throw the peelings into the heap from the concrete walkway. However the person who spends time in the shed was worried about smells from the heap, so I moved it over to next to the privet hedge. This is a relatively sunny, sheltered spot, but I deemed that the convenience of accessing the heap along the well used (and therefore pleasanter to walk on) caravan path outweighed these considerations. Compost heaps need warmth too! - although not as much as plants, and direct sunlight is wasted on compost really. This placement also means compost doesn’t have to be wheeled uphill when it is ready to be used - and it is close for filling up the early tyre potatoes. This design needs to be easy to encouage the residents to use it, and the compost heap is probably going to be the most regularly visited element throughout the year.

The concrete walkway is fairly narrow, especially on the south side, however there is still room for some pot plants – I suggest frequently used kitchen herbs that like the sun, heat and dryness. There is a possibility of squeezing in a thin cold frame as well, if it seems important later on.

In the bank below the south facing wall I have put more herbs, and put the rocks from the old rockery to use as a stone wall to raise the bottom of the bed from the grass, and hopefully reduce weed ingress from the lawn. Stone walls are also a cultural feature in this area, so it is done with some humour/affinity with the surroundings. Unfortunately the stones do not seem to have been locally sourced! The area next to the steps and the edge adjoining the walkway are the mot easily accessible, so most often used and highest maintenance leaf crops and herbs should go here. Herbs that like a lot of sun and a bit more moisture than the ones in pots will do well here. I suggest that vigorous herbs for drying in bulk go down the far end as they will need less visiting – maybe only a few times a year for harvesting/mulching weeding once established.

There is another herb and salad bed to the west of the steps. Here will thrive leaf crops liking damper soils and tolerating more shade. Tri cornered leek may well thrive in the shadiest corner. The water will overflow from the water butt into this bed, and water also flows south down the walkway when it rains, coming down the steps. These plants are also in a high attention/harvesting zone.

Behind this damp leaf bed I have put one of the tyre potato hamlets. I suggest only main crops are grown here, as it is in shade early in the equinox-day. Once the tyre stacks are built up they will hopefully get the haulms above the walkway level and get a bit more light in the autumn.

The raised bed is to be constructed with split larch logs bought from a sustainable local permaculture woodland project. Larch is a relatively long lasting conifer wood even when untreated – the bark, sapwood and cambium layer are the parts that decay most quickly. The bed will go straight on top of the existing grass, providing a large area of weed free immediate growing space that does not take such a toll on the gardener’s back. The growing medium will be a layer of compost (from a local community composting project) on top of a layer of manure (from a local livestock farmer) on top of a double layer of cardboard (from a local shop!). The cardboard layers should suppress the couch and other grasses long enough for them to die off. The manure will rot to become fine fertiliser, and the compost will provide a healthy mix of bugs, nutrition and humus for the plants to grow in immediately.

The closest segment of the raised bed is given over to more salads, herbs, greens and edible flowers. It is the closest of the main beds, and therefore should suit these high harvest/maintenance crops. The flowers will also add an aesthetic element to the most visible part of the raised bed. I suggest using barked-larch splits for this side of the bed for reasons of beauty, although they may go rotten a bit quicker than the heart-larch on the other sides..

The rest of the raised bed is a standard 4 bed rotation of legumes, squash, roots and brassicas. This rotation prevents the build up of pests and diseases in the soil, and is designed to give the different vegetable families the right quantities of nutrients and soil structure from their places in the cycle. The idiosyncrasies of this particular design are that squash replace the potatoes, and the taller legumes are placed in the shelter of the West hedge, as the added height of the raised bed would make them more vulnerable. It also creates more space for the other components of the bed.

Back below the shed I have placed a water butt to collect the runoff from the roof. It is in a relatively shady location, and the sunny space above it can be used by the trained fruit on the shed wall.

I have placed two more cold frames below the shed, taking advantage of the sun trap it creates. They are relatively easy to access, next to the path to the caravan. The valuable space below and above them is used by the aforementioned fruit trees, which will be trained up the dark coloured sun-warmed wall. The door needs to be left free to be opened for ventilation, but is not used for access. Maybe shed dwellers will be able to pluck fruit from the trees through the open door, and benefit from a bit of dappled shade. It is perhaps possible to replace the cold frames with tyre potatoes later in the season, although the frames will then need to be stored somewhere else. Maybe the frames can be used as the base section of a tyre stack if built with that in mind. Another possibility is to put tomatoes in the frames, and they should appreciate the sunshine, heat and shelter there through the summer.

There is another water butt on this side of the shed, and fruit trees can again use the space below and above it. If water requirements are met by the other butt, this sunny spot may be better used for something else in the future, maybe more cold frames.

The fennel is doing so well underneath the caravan at the moment that it seems a shame to replace it with anything else. When all the other parts of the design are implemented it may be worth adding a few more sun loving perennial herbs to this spot, depending on how much the fennel is being used by the household for teas, salads etc.

We come across another leaf bed across the path from the caravan. This is zoned as a slightly less high maintenance/harvest bed, and it should be borne in mind that it will be well fed due to its proximity to the compost heap and the main tyre potato hamlet – natural seepage/leaching and human filling and emptying these will inevitably lead to nutrient spillage over the leaf bed.

I have put some comfrey plants around the compost heaps to catch and recycle nutrients that make their way below the ground surface of the compost bins. These can be cut 4 r 5 times a year when established and used as fertiliser, either as crushed leaves or broken down into a liquid feed in a container.

The compost bins are constructed from recycled pallets, and should be fairly long lasting, as they are top quality blue pallets! The two containers allow for one fresh heap to add to, and one aged heap to take from, with the fresh heap being turned when full onto the aged side. The middle slats are all removable for ease of turning, filling and emptying. They are latched with wire onto nails. The fresh heap is easily accessed from the well used caravan path, and the aged heap is a more occasional access that may need to be negotiated with the potato hamlet, or if some sort of seasonal temporal stacking is not possible, room needs to be left for barrow access to this end of the heap.

Moving down the bed next to the hedge we find the tall legumes, excluded from the raised bed to protect them from the strong West winds. There may be problems with pests and diseases due to the use of the same bed each year, and it may be advisable to swap places with the runner beans and peas each year, if possible, although this may not be enough to stop the problems. Its also possible to include a tyre potato hamlet in this mini rotation, and the jerusalem artichokes can also be moved about (although these will grow like very productive weeds amongst each rotation unless totally assiduously cleared each spring). It depends on the level of problems encountered whether a rotation beyond that of pea and bean is required.

Beyond the legumes is the perennial vegetable jerusalem artichoke, its tall stems sheltered by the hedge and providing in turn some shelter for the raised bed when the stems top the hedge in late summer/early autumn. The artichoke has no diseases in Britain, and does not need to be rotated for that reason, although a higher yield is supposed to be possible from moving it each year. As mentioned earlier, it may be necessary for the legumes for it to be rotated.

At the far end of the bed is a perennial leaf bed, providing more leaves for a minimum of fuss. The spot is partially shaded in autumn and spring, so is not ideal for full-sun marginal-season plants. The client is very keen on spinach, so perpetual spinach and the like will be good here. The bed should be weeded and well mulched in spring when the leaves are out.

Behind the perennial leaves are a few fruit bushes which should complement the deep roots of the leaf crops, and will need marginal management – pruning and mulching each winter.

Around the pond it may be possible to grow some damp shady perennial leaves such as tri-cornered leek and wild garlic.

The pond already exists and hopefully will house frogs and other wildlife that will help to keep the slug problem to a minimum. Measures need to be taken to encourage frogs, such as planting some aquatic plants and maintaining ground cover around the pond – it should maintain itself really, and the perennial leaves will add to the frogs’ habitat. If no frogs are already present, it may be worth adding frog spawn to the pond in the Spring. Reports are mixed as to whether there are frogs or not already.

The area behind the pond is overgrown and inaccessible, and is left so as a place for wildlife and a screen for the neighbour’s septic tank. If there are any logs or bits of rotting wood available, these will increase the potential for biodiversity in this area, so woody stems from garden waste can be put here to provide habitat.

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