Please Note: This website is out of date. The Steward Community Woodland sustainable living project ended in 2018 for legal and planning permission reasons. The contents have been left here as a historical archive.

Chris and Owen’s garden

We started the garden this spring (2009), but planned it at the same time as our living structure, after spending our first year here observing the site. It is sited in the clearing created by felling a larch tree to the west of our living structure. Soil excavated during the groundwork for the structure was piled and covered carefully so that it could be used to help fill raised beds.

Our shadier ‘woodland edge’ section is to the north and east of our dwelling, in which we have planted berry bushes and some shade tolerant fruit trees among the existing self-seeded plants which include the edible and medicinal yellow archangel, ground ivy and pink purslane.

To the west of our structure are three terraced south-facing raised beds. The advantages of these are: that we avoid digging over the soil and disturb the roots of the magnificent hazel coppice nearby; we were able to control the type and quality of the soil in the raised beds; they prevent trampling of seedlings; and picking out nettle and buttercup seedlings is much easier. We plan to make more south-facing beds next year.

I am a big fan of perennial plants. You don't have to plant them every year, they are much more forgiving than annuals once they are established, and you get the same amount of food from them. You do have to be more patient when trying to germinate some perennial seeds, and you may not get much of a harvest for the first year while they establish. All the beds except one are planned as space for perennials - and the nice thing is that I'll still be able to grow the annuals I really like amongst them. (Visit our Why Perennials? page to find out more, or visit the amazing Plants for a Future website.)

The bed at the back was prepared with lots of compost from local green waste, gets some shade in the summer, and is mainly for tall and medium-size perennials with edible uses. The plants will include: hollyhock, sea holly, lots of welsh onion and other alliums, campanulas, white lupin (edible seeds), elecampane, asparagus, a goji berry (edible fruit and leaves) , scurvy grass, chicory, alecost, scorzonera, marshmallow, a shrub rose, and horseradish. The shorter-lived plants will include marigold, borage, salsify, lettuces, rocket, and the odd bean and pea plant.

The second bed was made with very little compost, but with some added lime and gravel, underlaid with large rocks for very sharp drainage. This is our sunniest and best spot for the traditional perennial sun-loving herbs: thyme, rosemary, lavender, tarragon, savory, rue, daylilies (edible flowers), salad burnet, oregano and marjoram, sage, southernwood and dianthus. So far nothing has died! We’ll have to wait and see how they like it.

The third bed is for annual vegetables, mainly beans and brassicas. It’s less well drained and full of kitchen compost and topsoil. This year we are also growing potatoes in stacking square frames made of bits and bobs of spare planked larch. We have also built beds alongside the west of the house, which now have some fruiting trees and climbers with salad planted around the bottom.

I've planted some other perennials on the edges of the path - we're trying lovage, watercress, meadowsweet, sweet cicely, and a pea shrub (halesia carolina).

We have planted a selection of apple, hawthorn, plum, and pear cultivars dotted around the edge of our little clearing. Most of them are traditional Devon varieties, but are still on the very limit of the shade they will tolerate, so we’ll see how well they fruit. We are lucky to have some beautiful existing native trees growing round us as well, including a well-established hawthorn, willow trees, and ash and oak trees, some of which were planted in 2001 and other self-seeders which are older or younger. We will continue to selectively manage the competition from sycamore to allow these trees to grow through.  

We have a small tree nursery bed with some seedlings, mainly local oak, ash and hazel. Baby trees like a moist woodland soil mulched with rotting leaves. Next year we’ll find more space for a bigger tree bed up here so that the seedlings can grow on. It’s very exciting watching trees you planted yourself grow – I recommend it!

Author: Chris 2009

Last updated: 2009-04-26

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