A hard decision to make

Filed in Blog, Videos by on March 24, 2010 20 Comments
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Once upon a dream ...

Once upon a dream ...

Well spring is most certainly in the air, even though we wake up most days to a light frost.

Today I’m going to take you on an imaginary grand tour of the Green’s estate.

we have a 70 foot garden with lots of grass, a couple of patios, two apple trees and 6 beds in it. I think it’s supposed to be a formal rose garden, but alas many of the beautiful blooms have long since deceased due to lack of care, no doubt.

I have to admit, if I was buying a house today, I would never buy something with so much bare land. Although I love it and enjoy the space, it is far too much work.

I’ve been kidding myself for the past 10 years that I’m some master gardener. I have lofty ideals about my beds feeding us for 12 months of the year, making my own herbal remedies, welcoming the butterflies and bees whilst enjoying a full cottage garden of blooms.
I read gardening books, buy magazines, croon over gardening programmes and avidly read forums.

The reality is more like lots of horsetail, bindweed, couch grass, dock and every other weed you can possibly dream up on piles of the neighbour’s cat shit amidst acidic clay.

I have seriously thought about farming the horsetail in the past; I’m sure a herbalist could make good use of it.

We garden organically, but there have been times when I have dreamt of men in white suits with breathing apparatus nuking my beds with toxic chemicals to within an inch of their life. But that’s a bit like my dream of a huge skip on the drive so I can do a grand declutter of my house – it’s never going to happen because the guilt would be too much to bear.

I’ve worked my arse off in that garden for ten whole years and I feel like it’s a case of unrequited love. If anything the horsetail problem is worse now than it ever has been. And the bottom line is, I’m hopelessly tired of it all. It’s no longer a pleasure; it’s a chore, a battle ground and I’m completely defeated.

So what’s a wannabe Alan Titchmarsh to do?

I mentioned last week that we’ve made a big decision. We’re going to grass over three of the beds. This will leave us with “Little Miss Green’s bed” which has her favourite climbing tree plus a few herbs. The other bed is a medicinal and culinary herb bed with all the roses in it. The last one will be the only one I will now grow food in.

The thing that clinched it for me was staying at my friend’s house last summer. She lives in a one bedroomed bungalow in Devon on a postage stamp sized piece of land. But she has turned that tiny plot of land into an amazing space. She combines beauty with food and really makes it work for her.

Because the space is small she can manage it well. And I reckoned she grew more in her few raised beds than I was getting from my entire garden.

So I now have one 10 ft x 10 ft bed to take battle with. I’m going to have a go at square foot gardening and see how I get on. I’ll have a few pots dotted around the place and we have a greenhouse for tomatoes.

I still feel bad; I feel I should have managed to tame this jungle and turn it into a self sufficient plot.
I feel guilty because I could be helping the environment by growing more food.
I feel I could have offered it to someone in the village to take care of (that’s not practical because the only way into the garden is through the house).
I feel I’ve failed because what better education and secure future for LMG than for us to be somewhere near self sufficient?

But I’ve been watching my neighbour, who has a garden to behold, and he is out in the garden EVERY day from dawn ’til dusk on some days. He spends money on his garden, gets carts of manure delivered, spends hours weeding and digging, pays someone to water everything while he is away; so this is clearly his priority in life. He is rewarded with a garden he opens to the public and which feeds him and his wife most of the year.

I figure I need to take the pressure off myself and try and do something smaller, better …

What about you – what grand idea have you had to give up and how did you deal with the feelings; were you relieved or racked with guilt? How did you know which thing to let go of?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (20)

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  1. Our back fence has fallen 50% down and the other 50% is barely hanging on. Who ever build my home/property decided to use horrible toxic nasty railroad ties to keep the neighbors land from coming into our property then build the fence on top of that. So now 40 something years later its our mess to clean up. Well the hubby took all the railroad ties out and now they are located in my garden and all over my yard. I might have to skip gardening this year all together. This makes me super angry and super sad. I love my garden so much. I have a green pinky but wish I could have a green thumb. Honestly I have all intentions when gardening but im lazy. I hate weeding, forget to water sometimes, and will not use chemicals on my garden but will do nothing to prevent bugs/pest from coming in. So you see, everyone has their issues. No worries, we dont judge you. Keep up the good work and kiss that amazing LMG because she is turning out just like mama. 🙂

  2. John Costigane says:

    Reducing the growing area makes sense when time is limited by other demands, like family and website. Grow Your Own is as much about building, and sharing, expertise as about size of crop. Garden lawns are less demanding and have other uses besides.

    I tried emptying plastic packs into containers a few times but found it a pointless exercise since nothing changed. Instead avoiding such purchases has proved to be more effective since the same items remain unsold. When other consumers follow that example, the effect will be greater.

  3. Jane says:

    Simplify and prioritise. We can’t all do everything all of the time.

  4. Rather than immediately grassing over the beds, have you considered offering them on Landshare? ( http://landshare.channel4.com/ ) Someone else might be willing to do all the hard work and share the rewards with you.

    Since you’re in a semi-rural location, there might be less demand for spare land than in a city but you never know…

  5. janet says:

    We had a lot of horsetail once, and we got rid of it by feeding it to our rabbits,
    They also like banana skins, we have guinea pigs now and they always fight for them, and oranges, tangerines in small amounts.
    You dont need a wormery when you have rabbits and guinea pigs.

  6. Alea says:

    My husband says that if fictional characters came to life most men would have to their wives with Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly, but the character he would have to worry about me running off with is Mr. McGregor. I do admit to fancying his garden!

    Even though I live on several acres, I use square foot gareneing. I can manage the beds easier: less watering, less weeding, and by putting chicken wire around the outside I keep out the rabbits and cats.

    I also am a big believer in perennial sources of food! I have two apple trees and one pear tree that produce more than enough fruit for our family. If I were going to be living here longer, I would add more fruit trees and perhaps some nut trees. We have everbearing strawberries in our strawberry bed which produce so much in the 6 months that they produce fruit, that I just finshed making 12 pints of strawberries from the leftovers in the freezer. We also have blackberry, gooseberry, blueberry, and raspbery bushes that require very little effort on my hand. My current favorite perrenials are asparagus and rhubarb. I love that they plop up and provide food, before I have even thought about my garden.

    I also like spinach, curly parsley, swiss chard, spinach, and kale which survive and continue to produce during our -15 degree 4+feet of snow winters.

    I can not afford more than a hour of day in the garden. Square foot gardening with perennials allows me to have more produce than my family can eat with minimal effort. Best wishes on a productive garden this year!

  7. Alea says:

    That last paragraph should read square foot gardening plus perennials allows me to have more produce than my family can eat with minimal effort. Best wishes on a productive garden this year! Only the rhubarb is in the square foot garden. The asparagus and berries are along walks in the back yard.

  8. Sandie says:

    The larger lawn area will be great for your daugher and so much easier to care for.

    However, have you thought of planting more fruit and nut trees, in other areas, and mulching the ground beneath?

    Once established, these food bearing trees/bushes would only need to be pruned and their fruits collected once a year.

    I was introduced to Robert Hart’s Forest Garden many years ago. Here is a short YouTube video explaining the principles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7f8NCh3s8c

  9. Naomi S says:

    I feel your pain. I moved into a house with 1/4 acre and it clearly had had a gardener’s touch. Lots of gorgeous blooming things which I promptly neglected or my husband managed to mow over. Last winter did in most of the rest. I only plant things that are edible and I have 3 rather large square foot gardens which nearly did me in. Then I got a bit more experience and I’m back on my game with those, if not the weed situation that is the rest of our property.

    The raised beds got pretty weedy and overwhelming. I finally got a really good metal rake and cleaned them out. I also did 2 important things. I ammended the soil – didn’t realize this was an annual task, and I went ahead and put in markers so it’s easier to find each square. Because I have so many, I have tried my hand at seeds but I am about to gift my seed collection. Another thing that seems too trying; weeks and weeks of work for a sudden fail while seedlings are not that expensive. Well, I say this but I might keep trying a bit more.

    I am just working on fruit and nut trees and blueberry bushes for landscaping. And along the fence in the back, I’ve started thornless blackberries which I hope will cooperate and climb nicely. I am planning to get a native groundcover to establish itself and crowd out the weeds and I am also encouraging mint to grow in some areas that don’t get trampled.

    All in all, it’s not quite exactly what my fantasy was, but I am a mom and run a business so it’s lucky it looks as good as it does. And also, two nice things. My girls actually got into working this week!!!! And I have figured out the seasons a bit better here and know that I’ll work mostly in spring and fall when I can deal with it and in the heat of summer, will let it go and that will have to be good enough.

  10. I would plant as many compact berry bushes, hazelnut bush, hardy almond trees, Mongolian apricot bushes, sand cherries as possible on the land.all would bear fruit very early and live long and beautiful lives.
    Mulching with straw or wood chip in the bare parts would discourage weeds to manageable levels.
    a strawberry tower, a potato tower, which can be made of 3 recycled tires filled with sand and compost, and dismantled after bearing season.
    and a circle plot to add herbal perennials to the visual appeal and culinary or medicinal usefulness.
    perhaps a pergola to grow grapes or hardy Kiwi. for color and sweetness, vitamins and goodness.
    Now the problem is choosing among all the suggestions provided by the readers, good growth to you..

  11. Jane says:

    Swiss chard we found a very rewarding easy to grow vegetable. The fluorescent coloured types are fun. It just keeps on coming as you pick it. Makes a great spinach and ricotta pie + more. I also never have enough parsley – and basil for home made pesto (so much nicer than the stuff in a jar). Instead of growing lots of things maybe something larger – eg courgettes, loofahs. Can you swap vegetables with your neighbours – a bag of spinach for a bag of beans etc?

  12. LJayne says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting my garden sorted for a while but had 2 more babies. They kinda don’t go together! So I’m going to try this year by just growing some of the stuff we like to eat in the space that fits the amount I want to grow and see how this compares with the space I have and then possibly act like yourself in the time to come. Our lives are so busy but I’m determined to try. What we’ve grown in the past has been fabulous.

  13. Angie says:

    The right decision at the right time I’m sure and not irreversable. In the meantime how about chickens…productive, fertilize ground and keep weeds at bay….or so I have been told…..

  14. sandy says:

    for years I worked in the garden after work and at weekend, the only thanks I got was I dont like brussells, I dont like cabbage, I dont like etc tec, now I have a very small patch, but, we grow a great variety of produce, no green grass, just beds in terraces, with chicken’s at the top. why beat yourself up, just enjoy what you have, with no guilt

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: Thank you! You cheered me up, although I’m really sad to hear about your garden this year 🙁

    @John Costigane: Thanks John; I hope to prove to myself that I can grow just as much in a small space as I could when struggling to keep up with everything – we’ll see 🙂

    @Jane: Simplify and prioritise – I feel a new life mantra coming on! We regularly swap with neighbours, it’s a lovely thing to do …

    @Louisa @ RecycleThis: Hi Louisa, we considered that but you have to walk through our house to get to the garden – there is no other way through. This would make it too limiting for people if they wanted to pop in for half an hour …

    @janet: Mmmm, really about the horsetail? We would need several hundred rabbits as we have six 10×10 foot beds full of it!

    @Alea: Sounds like your garden is really productive with the square foot method – inspiring stuff; thanks!

    @Sandie: Thanks for that Sandie. We thought about it, but are stuck with finances at the moment. We can always put them in later – by digging holes in the grass once it is established 🙂

    @Naomi S: It sounds like you have gained so much experience Naomi and I love how you are dedicated even though things are not straight forward for you. I’m envisioning a garden full of produce for you this year 🙂

    @nadine Sellers: 😀 well the grass seed is already down – as I mentioned our finances are stretched at the moment, so putting in trees is not an option. We have used thick black plastic and mulch along with wood chip and the weeds simply grew through the plastic – tenacious things 😉

    @LJayne: Your plan sounds great, Lesley. Good luck with it all – let us know what you grow 🙂

    @Angie: Oh goodness me No to chickens! We have clay soil and I rather like grass, not mud. All our neighbours have chickens, so we’re not short of eggs and I don’t have to do any of the care. If I was going to keep birds it would be ducks – MUCH cuter in my opinion!

    @sandy: Thanks Sandy; it sounds like you have your garden just the way you like it now – what a shame for you about all the complaints in the past!

  16. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: It’s easier said than done!! You need time out every so often to be able to step back and get an overview.

  17. magdalena says:

    Horsetail is only good for scrubbing pots and mending broken bones! (or feeding rabbits.) My dear Mrs. Green, please get your soil tested to see what’s wrong – its ph is out of balance. I used to have all the fertilizer I needed – sheep and chickens. Sheep manure doesn’t even have to be rotted when it’s put down, the wool takes up the sulfur. There are lots of spreading herbs that will give you remedies and salads, once you get the soil amended. And if it is grassed over, lots more room to play with Little Miss Green!

  18. Jen CleanBin says:

    I was sad to hear about your grassing over since it is a dream of mine to have a full size lot of my own that I can cultivate the heck out of – maybe it’s more of a pipe dream. However, it’s probably better to have one managed garden area than many unmanaged beds, so I hope you find a good balance between veggie gardening and luxurious grass – gardening is supposed to be relaxing, not stressful!

    I second Alea on the square foot gardening method – super easy and very little weeding! Right now, three little square foot garden beds do us fine. Keep an eye out on swap pages for free bushes – I saw a wack of free blueberry bushes last year adn wish I had jumped on them.

  19. Sarah says:

    I’m with you!

    I’ve had several years of health issues combined with some really rubbish growing weather and those have meant that my garden has got progressively more and more neglected and less and less productive.

    This year I aim to remedy that – but taking it steady as the health issues are only just being sorted, I hope – it’s early days yet and I’m in recovery mode as I type. But my plan is to ignore certain spaces and let the grass take over while I work steadily on one bed at a time, using just 2 lots of half an hour in any given day because my stamina won’t cope with more at the moment.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Jen CleanBin: Thanks Jen – you’re right; when it became more stressful than pleasurable, it was time for some big changes and decision making! I’m going to read up more on square foot gardening.

    @Sarah: Great to see you are prioritising your health, Sarah and I hope you feel better soon. You’ll probably be amazed what you can achieve in 2 half hour bursts if you stay focused. Take good care …

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