Blogs >> College Gardens update - Feb 2014 by Jane Gleeson

College Gardens update - Feb 2014 by Jane Gleeson

Jane Gleeson

Its been wet!

But change is in the air. It seems the jet stream is shifting and with it the gardens can breathe a little easier.

It is both wondrous and inspiring what plants can cope with Periodic flooding and gale force winds – yet whilst other physical structures give way around them the plants for the greater part remain intact. The font garden has flooded several times this winter but if past seasons are a guide the drought tolerant euphorbias, the libertia; the geraniums and the stipa will all survive. I am less hopeful about the anemone tubers and irises but wait to see.

Now it feels less about sheer survival and the garden is putting its energy back into welcoming the approaching spring sunshine and longer days. The display of crocus and snowdrops under the venerable horse chestnut is joyous. There thought to be over 90 species of crocus, with our garden cultivars coming for the most part from five of these; C. vernus, C. chrysanthus, C. flavus, C. sieberi and C. tommasinianus

The new hot box is under way and exciting to observe. It has survived a storm it its less than ideal exposed location of the top field and its compost layer is valiantly hovering around 22?C allowing seedlings an early start. We have sown Peas (closely planted for shoots) Beetroot, Carrots, leeks, onions lettuce, kale and celeriac as well as parsley and coriander and are looking forward to seeing what works well.

Hot boxes are an ingenious and simple sustainable way of getting salads and other crops out of season; all of which feels wonderfully virtuous! The Romans are believed to be the inventors of this system and, as small scale sustainable methods are on the increase, they are regaining popularity. The Parisian gardeners in early 1900s sent thousands of crates of lettuces, carrots, asparagus and turnips to London from Paris between Christmas and March using this technique. And growers in more northern areas of the UK have been practising this for decades.

It is not always easy to feel virtuous as a gardener….this week’s relatively dry weather has allowed us to continue digging over the new cultivation area in the top field. This was sheet mulched to good effect last year with cardboard, newspaper and leaf mould, which served to kill off the underlying grass pasture and allowed us to plant and grow potatoes and over 200kg of squash. The soil is in a much better state as a result. We are now doing a one off dig to set up a series of subsequent no dig raised circular beds. I confess I used to greatly enjoy digging but with greater knowledge of its adverse effects on the soil ecosystem such feelings are ill afforded me now. I can of course see the benefit of moving valuable top soil off what will be paths to create the raised beds; themselves allowing good drainage. We plan to develop a sustainable vegetable area of both annual and perennial crops here along the lines of Emilia Hazelip’s synergistic agriculture.

I was gratified to see an article in the current edition of Resurgence by Elliott Coleman on the false divide between academic knowledge and the pains and pleasures of hands on growing. I can only echo this thoughts on the intellectual stimulation and challenge of horticulture; especially organic and sustainable horticulture. In the process of growing you are both disrupting (inevitable) and attempting to work with (desirable) the natural ecosystems around you – to not imagine this can be complex is to fail to comprehend how natural systems work.
Finally, this week chief pond ponderer at the college, Jon Rae, spotted our first frog in the new wildlife pond; followed by frog spawn, which is also in the pond in the cottage garden. Resident ecologist, and lifelong frog spawn rescuer, Stefan assures me that there is plenty of Spirogyra for the tadpoles to feed on.

Such reawakening and renewal are a balm to any winter weary soul – do come and take a look yourself.

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