I live with a chronic illness, so to keep myself relatively fit but without having to endure the stress of heavy exercise, I enjoy working in our garden. In 2015, I made quite a bit of progress. We live in a nice little country cottage and we have a small cottage garden and so it is vital to make best use of the space.
When we started out, the garden was really rather bare. I decided that I wanted the garden to be something that would serve our needs, give our dogs space to run around, be a place that we could grow vegetables/fruit and also attract wildlife in. It really is important to know what you want from your garden, before you start work on it. As you can see from the picture, below, the wildlife was keen to come into the garden, but there was nothing in the garden to entice any wildlife in.
We also wanted a patio, as we like to entertain a great deal. We are outdoor people and so as soon as the cold starts to reduce away, we are outside for most of the year, until winter hits. With a small garden, the patio would have to be small, but we managed to create a space that would comfortably serve up to ten people.
Over the last few years, I have also planted a few trees; Japanese Shirota, for its beautiful white blossom (great for the bees) as well as Cherry and Apple; offering fruit for us and for the wildlife. I purchased these at the wonderful Darsham Nurseries, on the edge of the little village of Darsham here in the east of Suffolk. I highly recommend Darsham Nurseries for the quality of their plants, the hospitality and care of the staff and I also recommend the beautiful shop and café that are also within the Nurseries complex. In fact, the café has become nationally renowned.
Along the garden perimeter, I have established a ‘wildlife hedge’; using simply the traditional hedgerow planting that you find along most country lanes and verges. This offers a wonderful, lush habitat for small mammals, birds and insects. It includes Hazel, Beech, Hawthorn and Blackthorn with a few more decorative plants such as Forsythia, Holly and Pyracantha.
Our dogs love the garden, but a lot of work is needed to even out the lawn and to deal with the bare patches. The lawn is part of the adjacent meadow, so it’s not a traditional grass lawn that you find in most modern gardens. We let the grass grow enough that the small meadow flowers come through, for the bees and other insects, before we trim the grass.
Then I created a small vegetable patch. It was just really to test the quality of the soil and to see how I would fare, given that gardening can be difficult and painful for me.
This experiment saw the growth of Runner Beans, Welsh Onions, Peppers, Courgettes and Squash and I have to say that the produce was repeatedly plentiful, from such a small patch of about 2 metres by 2 metres. In 2016, I intend to at least double the size of the vegetable patch and grow a wider selection of veg.
Along the edge of the cottage, there is an old pathway and this makes its way along the border gardens that surround the cottage. Each year, we plant herbs and a variety of plants. We were lucky enough to dig up some lovely old Victorian path edging tiles that now run the entire length of the path.
In one border, we have planted a small Fern garden. Bluebells naturally grow here already and, as they are a protected species of plant, we have not removed them; anyway, why would we? Bluebells are beautiful and very much part of the woodland scene, where you would also find Ferns. The Ferns are in a slightly shaded corner of the garden, at the corner of the cottage and so do very well in that spot.
I also plant a number of Strawberry plants among the beds, as these spread widely and offer wonderful ground cover; I feel they are the best way to keep weeds away. Not only that, but the Strawberries themselves are perfect with ice-cream on a warm day. In London, my Strawberries would always be ready in time for Wimbledon. I love watching Tennis and what better than your own home grown Strawberries and a drop of Sparkling Wine? Sadly, the season seems later in Suffolk and so my Strawberries are usually ready to eat a little after Wimbledon has ended, so I just have to make do with the Sparkling Wine!
There is still a vast amount to do, but I’m looking forward to the onset of Spring and to the growing season, to see what we can grow but also I’m excited about the ongoing development of the garden. I would recommend gardening as great therapy for the mind and body; a particularly good way to stay in good physical health if you have a chronic illness, as I do.
Update: In June 2017, my chronic illness was diagnosed as Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. My garden continues to be a great source of therapy for me.