The Kitchen Garden

Almost from the moment we arrived here our priority was to grow food, so any patch of ground we managed to uncover was fair game.  During the building works we grew a few veg at the very top of our land, under an oak tree.  Completely unsuitable for a vegetable garden but it was better than nothing for our first year.

Snow covered brassicas in the Cottage Garden

Snow covered brassicas in the Cottage Garden

By 1996 the veg had migrated down into the newly created beds in what is now the Cottage Garden, while we marked out their permanent home with bamboo canes in our field.  In the summer of 1996 my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary and the rest of my family descended on us for the weekend.  Ian scythed a large square of long grass in the field to facilitate a game of frisbee and we announced that, by the following year, this would be our new kitchen garden.  I don’t think anyone really believed us at the time but by the following spring the first crops were in the ground.

In the middle of a field

In the middle of a field

The Kitchen Garden was our landmark garden and required a huge leap of faith to start planting in the middle of a windy field surrounded by rabbits and weeds.  To us it was just one part of an overall design which would eventually take shape across the whole plot.  To everyone else it was a vegetable plot in the middle of a field – and how stupid was that?

Having marked out the beds, we needed to provide protection from the wind and the rabbits.  We had a yearning for a walled kitchen garden in the tradition of the old Victorian country estates, to provide protection but also warmth and different micro-climates to grow a variety of trained fruits.  Walls, though, would have been horrendously expensive to build and a major headache to maintain and were never, therefore, a realistic option.

The Kitchen Garden  hedge

The Kitchen Garden hedge

We opted instead for hedges, which are far from maintenance free, but are unlikely to collapse and crush you and are far better for wildlife.  And once they are grown, they make a very effective windbreak.

We chose hornbeam for the hedges because it grows well on our heavy soil and makes a good formal hedge.  a lot of people mistake it for beech (as did we in our naiveté when we first arrived) but beech needs much freer drainage than we have here and hornbeam, I think, has a more interesting leaf – particularly the new growth which, in the Spring, has a beautiful bronze tinge.

New hornbeam leaves

New hornbeam leaves

So at the end of March 1997 it was off to the English Woodlands sale and back with 225 hornbeam plants.  Once all the plants were in the ground we sat back to admire our work.  It was then that it occurred to us that our old house in Eastbourne including front and back gardens, plus the other 3 houses and gardens in the terrace would all have fitted within our new Kitchen Garden – a realisation which brought home the enormity of what we had started.

Kitchen Garden circa 1998 - the first design

Kitchen Garden circa 1998 – the first design

How it all began..

"..a 5-and-something acre weedy field.."

“..a 5-and-something acre weedy field..”

When we first arrived at Merryweather’s Farm in 1994 it was more or less a blank slate. A 5-and-something acre weedy field, a handful of fruit trees poking their heads up through the nettles near the house, a half-acre wood we didn’t realise we had until we moved in and piles and piles of scrap metal.

..piles of scrap metal

..piles of scrap metal

Twenty years later and what we have is nothing short of miraculous. With no money, very little experience and virtually no help the two of us have transformed our plot into  gardens and woodland which support us, our family and a huge diversity of wildlife. And it looks good too.

The gardens at Merryweathers - no longer a barren field

The gardens at Merryweathers – no longer a barren field

Through this blog we will share with you the the story of the garden’s evolution, the things we have learnt along the way and the day-to-day highs and lows of life over the wiggly hedge. Thank you for joining us on the journey.