Saturday, February 03, 2007

“The best laid plans of mice, men and inexperienced permaculturists…”. After the electrifying excitement of the last blog entry, it’s back to the plan for the gite garden. The design questionnaire asks what we want to keep and what we want to get rid off. A dark green laurel hedge—as wide as my span between outstretched fingertips—running the length and across the bottom of the garden is top of the list to go. The cherry laurel—to give it its full name—is an excellent hedging plant, very tolerant of shade and happy in heavy clay soil, both “problems” of its situation in this garden. However, it’s also “a greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants”. (Thanks to Ken Fern’s excellent Plants For A Future website for the details. Structurally, it’s large and dark green and overwhelms this small garden, so it has to go. The same goes for a huge cypress tree, which also has a negative impact on the daylight that reaches our own home. There are many other smaller shrubs but, as these don’t fit in with what we want from this garden, they are on their way out as well. In fact, we can relocate these shrubs (not the laurel, that’s for the chipper) to other parts of our land. This is a bit of a “scorched earth” approach but, because it’s such a small garden, we feel that shouldn’t be a problem.

We’re keeping the water butt I installed last year, the gravel circle directly in front of the balcony and several lavenders for their beautiful scent. These plants have gone “leggy” and so we’re going to try a tip I saw on a gardening TV programme which suggested burying the plants up to the foliage and, after roots have grown on the newly submerged woody stems, they can be cut off and replanted, thus obtaining several new and well proportioned lavender plants from an old an overgrown one. We’re also keeping some wooden fencing panels, which we'll repair, then protect and colour with a water-based wood preservative.

We’ll be planting a nut tree, a fruit tree and a soft-fruit bush. Herbs will go in, for their scent and for the gite guests to use for cooking. We’ll sow some perennial salad vegetables—a very permaculture thing as they provide food yet without the intensive inputs required for annual salad plants in the height of summer. Courgettes and tomatoes will feature as, despite the fact that they’ll need daily watering when it’s hot and dry, they are easy to grow and prolific producers.

If you remember, I’d said that we’d missed out some of the features of the site survey in our rush to get started. One of the missing bits of information was a soil survey. We should have dug a few holes around the plot to determine the type of soil and subsoil—structure and pH—the depth of topsoil and drainage. We didn’t, and so it was a great surprise to put a spade in the earth—whilst starting to dig out those laurels by their roots—and hear the clang and feel the jolt of spade against concrete. An exploration of the rest of the garden has revealed a concrete slab covering the lower half of the garden. Back to the drawing board …!