|Companion planting - pitting nature against nature
You will find links to useful articles about companion planting on the Links page, but the most useful example I have found and would not now wish to do without is the use of Tagetes to ward off aphids, particularly in enclosed areas such as the greenhouse and cold frame. (Standard French marigolds are said to have the same effect.) I now routinely plant them at the base of my tomatoes and rarely, if ever, catch sight of a single greenfly or whitefly. So easy to grow, and, true to their bright, sunny colours, worth their weight in gold! Tagetes seeds are available here.
|'Organic' garden design
I've always found it so much more satisfying to wait for the garden to tell me how it wishes to be, rather than forcing my will upon it. All my best garden design ideas have come out of the blue!
You should find that if you just gaze out, in a contemplative frame of mind, upon your garden (an upstairs window is very good for this) it will speak to you. You might 'see' a new bed, or a feature to give depth or added interest to a particular area might reveal itself as the next step in the development of your garden. You might also find ideas coming to you in that receptive, dream-like state just before sleep, so it's a good idea to have a notepad and pen ready at your bedside just in case!
If, for example, you are given a clear image of the shape of a new planting area, all you need then do is to go out with some hose pipe, dry sand, chalk puffer, or other means of marking the boundary, and then back to the window to check until it matches the vision.
|The gardencomber - there's no such thing as rubbish
Well, almost... why do people feel compelled to throw empty bottles and sweet wrappers over the wall from the road? I've even found semi-frozen chicken breast fillets, assorted vegetables, gloves, socks and other clothes in the flower beds!
But there are all sorts of useful bits and pieces to be found in most gardens. In my London garden I discovered dozens of cobblestones buried here and there - enough to make the walking area under a pergola.
Pruned shrubs and trees provide sticks in many shapes and sizes: Buddelia grows long, strong and straight branches that are perfect for building wigwams and even small fences; Indigo gives me shorter, but very smooth sticks which are useful for supporting small plants and to stick into the ground en masse to help protect young plants from cats. I prune my willow tree quite hard back every spring after the catkins have finished. These sticks have many uses, depending upon their size. The larger ones have been woven into a fence to protect my herb bed (again, with the aid of added protection in the form of netting, from the cats!); shorter, more slender lengths can be made into hooped borders. And the wonderful thing about willow is that it readily roots into the ground when conditions are moist, so a living 'fedge' (a cross between a hedge and a fence) can be made very simply and easily!
Stones are also put to use - large flints protect the roots of clematis from the sun and serve to hold down Mypex, fleece and other fly-away material. Smaller stones and broken pots are used for drainage in planters.
And of course, there's always the joy of finding little keepsakes in the soil: fossils (I came a cross a large lump of fossilised oak that now lives indoors); small, exquisitely coloured and/or textured stones; old bottles and jars, coins, buttons and buckles, broken pieces of beautiful china, toy model animals and soldiers - all in all, a garden can be a quite interesting archaeological site!
|Beg, steal or borrow
Ok, I don't recommend the stealing bit. But neighbours often have bits of timber, bricks, paving, glazing, etc., for which they have no use, but which might come in handy for various garden projects, so consider asking around or perhaps even put an ad in a local newsletter if you're looking for something in particular. It would also be worth check out your local Freecycle group.
|To dig or not to dig, that is the question?
The no-dig system of gardening is probably not ideal for all, but the soil in much of East Anglia is light, friable and fertile and it certainly works well to adopt a no-dig policy in the Norfolk Cottage Garden! So, what are the benefits of not digging, apart from avoiding backache?
Our dear planet Earth is perfectly capable of carrying out soil management without our intervention, and has been doing so for a very, very long time! Worms and other insects and organisms make tunnels which drain and aerate the soil, and also gently bind soil particles. In the process they redistribute its layers, so it is recommended to mulch the beds with organic material (this happens naturally in the wild, of course) which will, over time, be incorporated deep down. This process aids moisture retenton and develops good soil structure which can be damaged by digging, resulting in compaction and also upsetting the balance of the ecosystem present in the soil - for instance, there are fungus-like organisms (mycorrhiza) in the soil which create important networks which are broken up by digging. Another advantage of a no-dig policy is that weed seeds that are present deep down are not brought to the surface where they can germinate.
I must confess that I have never followed the process of making a no-dig garden to the letter. But in the areas more or less devoted to ornamental flowers and plants (some herbs and vegetables are grown amongst them), I do not as a rule dig, apart from when in the process of creating new beds, removing deep-rooted perennial weeds and splitting and re-arranging plants, planting bulbs, etc. The vegetable bed is another story. Part of it is kept under Mipex (weed control membrane) into which I plant young vegetable plants. The rest I do dig, simply because it's so much easier to clear the whole area prior to sowing in rows. This is also the only place in the garden that receives anything remotely resembling double digging - and this only in order to incorporate a layer of windfall appples deep down - there is not enough room for them all in the compost bins, so I leave plenty in the flower beds at the end of the garden for the birds and bury the rest!
To help you decide whether to dig or not to dig, you will find links to articles about the no-dig system here.