My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation (Part 2)

Welcome back to my potter through the changes in our back garden over the past 6 years. In the last post I considered the diverse aims of many modern gardens and their similarity to the older styles of cottage, potager and walled gardens – that of combining utility and beauty in one place. My garden is no different. We wanted a space to provide fruit and vegetables for the family, to have flowers (some for cutting), to provide a place for the kids to play, grow (in all senses of the word), explore and have fun, and to give us somewhere to be outside with friends and family.

Helianthus annus

Stunning sunflowers  – beautiful and edible

Fruit Cage Protection

Previously I looked at the side espalier/herb border and the spring garden. This leads on to the fruit cage, which has now been established for 5 years and which provides us with raspberries (‘Joan J’, ‘Allgold’, ‘Glen Moy’ and ‘Glen Ample’), currants (red ‘Rovada’, white ‘Blanca’ and black ‘Ben Connan’), blueberries (‘Patriot’, ‘Chandler’, ‘Earliblue’, ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’) and rhubarb (‘Timperley Early’ and ‘Early Champagne’) throughout the summer. I had grown fruit in our previous, extremely small garden and remember vividly the morning I pottered outside in my pjs to pick the gooseberries which were perfectly ripe – only to find the bush had been stripped by creatures unknown. I blame hormones for the tears I cried over this mishap (I was pregnant with my first child at the time), but to be honest I think I might still react the same way now.


The fruit cage – worth its weight in raspberries

So I determined to investigate small fruit cages for our new patch to give me a head start in the fight to save the fruit. We decided to buy a walk-in 2m x 3.5m aluminium fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural. It was a bit of an investment, but five years on it is still looking great and we’ve lost no fruit in all that time, so I reckon it’s paid its dues, especially when you consider soft fruit prices and the amounts we’ve picked. It just needs the netting roof removing in early winter and replacing in spring. Occasionally young dunnocks get in under the pegged down netting and need to be chased out again. Never any other birds – always dunnocks, presumably because of their habit of footling around in the undergrowth. But apart from that it’s pretty maintenance-free.

fruit cage

Sweet peas and sunflowers in front of the fruit cage

One of the disadvantages in a small cage is having enough room to move between the plants. The raspberries are planted in two rows so I can get between them to pick – just. But a couple of years ago the gooseberry ‘Invicta’ I’d grown from a cutting had to be donated to a friend because of its antisocial habit of lacerating me every time I squeezed past to get to the rhubarb. Now I’ve got an allotment we’ve been able to plant a new gooseberry, a red ‘Hinnonmaki’, so gooseberry crumble will be on the menu again – a very small one this year – provided I get round to erecting some kind of netting round it!


One of last year’s colourful fruit harvests

Raised Vegetable Bed Bounty

In front of the fruit cage are my two raised vegetable beds which I designed to allow a small path between the beds and the lawn/flower border. They are constructed out of wood, which despite being sturdy and treated, is badly rotting at the base after only 5 years and looks like it will need replacing in the autumn.


Protected growing in spring

Over the past few years we’ve grown a range of different crops in the raised beds, including oca, potatoes, flowers for pollinators and for cutting, salad leaves, courgettes, beans, peas, brassicas, tomatillos, onions and garlic, carrots, beetroot, a strawberry bed – the list goes on… I’ve never had as much room as I’d like, so this year, for the first time with the allotment, I’m just using the garden beds for salad crops and the children’s vegetables, and anything which needs to be in the ground longer term can be installed in the allotment (more on the allotment growing in a later post).


Summer brings the greatest rewards

Flower Border Fun

In front of the spring garden is the only flowerbed (flowers are often unfairly relegated to smaller spaces in my garden unless they are edible as well as beautiful), but I do love growing flowers for their own merits wherever possible. We extended the border into the lawn to create more growing space and to separate the lawn from the back of the garden, creating different areas of interest. Here’s how the flower border has developed over the past six years in six photos…


Established shrub borders, but no space to grow…



Early days in the garden…



Clearance time



The extended border, fruit cage, raised beds, new shed and willow den



Spring tulip glory (Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Purple Prince’ with Myosotis sylvatica underneath)



Summer bounty – I love the frothy effect of the Verbena bonariensis, Festuca glauca flower spikes, Knautia macedonica and Ammi majus

We kept an established Spirea japonica ‘Goldflame’ for the foliage colour, although I remove the pink flowers as they don’t fit in with the more dramatic colours of the border. This shrub also works well with the willow den to add structure to the border in front of the shed. Initially the border had predominantly crimson and white flowers, but over time it has developed to include more purples and blues. We planted Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ for winter colour, Salvia ‘Caradonna’, Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Knautia macedonica, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Hesperis matronalis ‘Alba’, Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’, a selection of different Dianthus, Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ (with flowers which are gorgeous for cutting, but tend to get rather lost in the flowerbed) and ‘Amethyst in Snow’ (one of my favourites at this time of year.)


Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’

Then I add to the seasonal interest by growing annuals in the border, either sown direct (or self-sown) or sown initially in modules and planted out later. Stalwarts include Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’, Ammi majus and Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’. I also plant out my Dahlia ‘Bishop of Canterbury’, ‘Scura’, ‘Happy Single Date’ and ‘Wizard of Oz’ for some extra zing.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Canterbury' 1

My favourite dahlia – ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ – such vibrant flowers and deep purple foliage

On the edge of the border is a low hedge of Lavandula angustifolia ‘Dwarf Blue’ interplanted with Aubretia ‘Red Cascade’. The aubretia begins to flower in April and just as the flowers are fading the lavender reaches its best. In this way, the hedge provides colour from spring right through to later summer.


The aubretia ‘hedge’ bursting into flower last week


Lavandula angustifolia 'Dwarf Blue' hedge

The lavender hedge later in the season

The Working Areas

These are the main elements of the garden. Other important features include the greenhouse, the compost bin and the cold frame. These provide the fuel and growing spaces for the garden – allowing it to work at full capacity.


When we arrived the greenhouse thought it was for storing bikes


We soon taught it otherwise

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Our compost – the most valuable commodity in the garden

Time To Enjoy

At the beginning of the first post I set out to retrace my steps through designing and building this garden. I also intended to look forwards to where I want it to go in the future. Whilst I’m sure there’ll be more plants added and taken away, more harvests of fruit and vegetables and more learning to be done, the main aspiration I have is to make more time to share the garden with those I love. I’ve created a lovely outdoor space with the help of friends and family, and now I’d like to spend more time enjoying it with them.


Friends and family enjoying the garden



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