I join Heather the Gardener as she is planting out peas in soil rich with manure from the organic estate farm. She tells me she is working the garden with as little spraying as possible and will be using netting rather than insecticide to protect her crops. Heather (and Jasmine her dog) started at Pythouse in September and since then she has done a huge amount of work clearing weeds, moving rubble and rubbish and preparing the ground. One of the constant hazards when weeding are fragment of glass from the greenhouses that once stood at the top of this 18th century kitchen garden.
The ancient greenhouses are gone, but Heather has many plans for adding to the structure of the garden as well as the planting. A new shed is coming soon and she hopes one day to be able to renovate the wall at the bottom of the garden. She explains she would like to grow varieties of buddleia and ceanothus against the wall to attract butterflies; part of encouraging conservation in the area. But all of this will take time. As someone who started with just a wheelbarrow and a spade as her only equipment, she realises these things get added to gradually.
Heather's main work is within the walls of the kitchen garden where she is introducing a no dig system. This will help maintain good soil structure, and by keeping paths between the rows of planting she will be able to keep on top of the weeding. When this year's crop is over another load of manure will be delivered from the estate farm to build up the beds. Heather already has an order in for another 30 tons! Beyond the garden wall are the orchard and beehives which Heather hopes to incorporate into the garden soon - although the gate will have to be kept firmly shut in the evening to keep the local badgers out.
In previous years there has been rather a glut of some particular crops; last autumn they couldn't give marrows away and the parsnip and beetroot plagues certainly tested the ingenuity of the chef. Heather plans a larger number of crops, each with 2 or 3 varieties to bring more texture and colour to the menus and to the shelves of the kitchen garden shop.
Her current planting list reads like racing form, with wonderful names such as Oarsman, Bunyards Exhibition, January King, Freckles, Red Brunswick, Golden Bear and Solent Wight. So far, the garlic is in, as are the leaks, chard, spinach, cabbages, mustard, broad beans (my favourite) celeriac, onions and lettuces. And Heather is also chitting her potatoes. This is where I have to make a confession. I am a very poor gardener, so poor that I did not know that letting your seed potatoes sprout before planting is called chitting. So I might as well be honest now, I am going to write about gardening in this blog (bit difficult not to!) but it will be as a complete beginner. A beginner who is really keen to garden vicariously and learn all she can over the year.
One thing I do know a little about are flowers and I am delighted to hear that Heather has plans for growing perennials which can be picked for the shop and will be a fabulous source of flowers for people planning celebrations and parties in the garden. So far the sweet peas are in, but there will be many more varieties to come. I wonder if she will be planting any heather?