It’s been pretty quiet in the garden over the last couple of weeks, mainly just just keeping on top of the growth with all the rain followed by sun, followed by rain, followed by sun…. The veg patch is a mass of things to eat – radishes, peas, purple broccoli and rhubarb, and the red currants, blackcurrants. gooseberries and strawberries (including some lovely wild ones) are all ripening fast.
A week or so ago we added some rigging and a balcony to the ‘pirate ship’ using one of the crates we bought off eBay for £10:
I’ve been intending to add a green roof too, so now seems a good time to start. A lot has been written about the benefits of green roofs, and we need more of them. They are a great way of replacing some of the green spaces we lose each day through building, deforestation and pollution, to name a few causes. There are lots of websites showing you how to do simple ones, have a go! Start on your bird table if you like, or go straight to the shed. http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/basics/techniques/gardenstructure_greenroof1.shtml
Green walls are an option too – maybe not as grand as this one at the Rubens Hotel, London: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/picture/2013/aug/21/london-largest-living-wall-big-picture but you can buy pockets to go on walls at home: http://www.woollypocket.co.uk
I should say at this point that I’m making a green roof on a garden structure, which is a lot different to building a green roof on your house! Get an expert in if you’re considering doing one on your house, you don’t want it collapsing. Green roofs can get very heavy, especially when it rains, and a structural engineer will advise you on specific loads for a house. Even for a garden roof there are things to consider:
- Is the structure strong enough to support it?
- Will you need to reinforce it?
- Will the plants get too much/too little water?
- Is the soil likely to slip off when it’s wet?
- What sort of plants do you want/have access to?
- How can you stop the wood rotting or roots penetrating?
This is our roof as it stands:
As you can see, it bows a bit at the front, so I’m going to reinforce it with some metal angle bars. I’ll use arris rail to create a ‘cradle’ (with drainage at the back), then put a liner down for insulation/protection against the existing asphalt, with a pond liner on top. The growing medium will be leca mixed with compost, keeping it light and suitable for sedum, which I’ll plant on top. Sedum are pretty robust, come in lots of different colours, flower at different times, and we have lots in the garden already that I can split, keeping the cost down. Here’s the plan, you can download it if you like:
We’re just waiting for the materials to come, so I’ll post again when it’s being built…
In the last post I described some of the things you can do with plants materials. Here I talk about how we’ve used the ‘hard’ stuff, by which mean rocks, rubble and timber that you often find hiding away in a new plot.
You’ll probably come across rocks somewhere in the garden. If you can’t think of what to do with them, try these:
- Small flat rocks can be used as paths through flowerbeds or across lawns. Our boys love to follow the paths amongst the flowers, and use the ones in the lawn to jump between
- Use large rocks as edging for a pond, especially if you have smaller kids as it makes a nice barrier
- Rocks can also be used to edge beds
- Use them in the same way as the logs to let the kids explore. They’ll pick them up looking for bugs and stack them in other parts of the garden
If they’re ‘rubble’ and not nice looking rocks, consider using them as hardcore beneath paths and patios.
Smaller stones and gravel
There’s no need to lug bags of gravel to the tip unless you really want to.
- Use them for drainage in large pots, raised beds or planting holes
- If you have lots they can be used for paths
- Make bug houses with them by filling containers and placing them towards the backs of beds
- Use them along with the rubble as hardcore beneath paths and patios
Bricks are really useful to have around the garden, even if you just store them an use them when you need them (ours are stacked in the alley by the house and are used by all kinds of insects). Other ideas include:
- Use them to stand pots on, useful when you’re trying to get a display of pots at different heights
- Put them under slabs to create steps if you need them – our back door steps are just slabs and bricks
- Break them up to use as hardcore
Failing that, ask around. People often want them.
Old slabs are pretty common in run down gardens. While they’re often broken and may not be the type you’d like to make a patio with, they can still be used.
- Make steps, propped up with bricks
- Use them around ‘out of sight’ areas like composters or bins where you still want a solid floor but are not fussy about the look
- Use them as hardcore under patios
If you’re lucky enough to find a load of old slate, keep hold of it. Like bricks it can be really useful to have around.
- Make slate stacks for bugs to live in
- Use small pieces for levelling out pot, especially good if you’ve used stone, bricks and slabs to make things
- Use around ponds
- Make a drawing areas by attaching them to a log or fence
Depending on the quality and type of timber you find, lots of things can be done. There are whole pages dedicated to pallet recycling.
- Use it in construction – fences, summerhouses, sheds and stores
- Use it for edging or steps
- Make raised beds
- Burn unusable pieces and used the potash as fertiliser, or if they’re untreated cut them up and use them in logpiles or insect hotels
Drainpipes, sinks and buckets
Depending on what these are made of, we’ve used ours in the following ways:
- Sinks, buckets and upturned drainpipes as planters
- Drainpipes filled with chopped up canes as bee houses
- Metal drainpipes as percussion for the boys to hit
- Drainpipes linked together for water play
- Receptacles for making fertiliser
There are lots more ideas on line for things you can use in the garden. Check out this great blog https://playlearninglife.wordpress.com
Recently we’ve been adding old metal around the pond, hoping to attract newts and slow worms who like the heat. It’s been mixed in with branches and slate to soften the look a bit. Fingers crossed.
Recycling the Garden – part one, the soft stuff
As far as possible we try and re-use everything the garden gives us, the philosophy being ‘if it came out of the garden it should go back into the garden’. This isn’t always realistic, but it is a good rule to try and abide by, both in environmental and financial terms. In hindsight we would have saved time and money if we’d have done this from the start. In the next two posts I’ll describe some of the things we’ve recycled, starting with all the things plants have given us, then talking about all the ‘hard’ materials like bricks and timber.
Add to the compost, mixed with paper, card and garden waste. Don’t use cooked food unless you have a hotbin (see below) same with meat and bones. We’ve started a couple of wormeries too in old containers with holes, kept dark with something underneath to collect the water (worm tea, great fertiliser)
Bread n stuff
Feed the birds! Avoid uncooked oats and rice as these can swell up in the birds’ stomachs. Birds seem to like cooked potato though. Move the bird feeders to avoid rats (we have had them, just cut off the food source for a bit and they’ll go to the next easy source). Keep bits tables clean with vinegar.
Annual weeds and small clippings
First things first, set up a compost heap. Chances are you’ll be clearing up a lot of weeds and clippings, so you may as well start making compost straight away. You can buy these online, make one or some councils will give you one for free. Ideally you want three – one for fresh, one for turning into and one for using. We have two and it works fine. Site it on soil, in the sun if you can, though you may want to sit in the sunny bit, it depends on the orientation of the garden. Putting it in the sun just makes it compost faster, and having it on soil gives the worms an easier route in. Ours are in the shade though and they do alright. If you’re worried about rats you can put chicken wire under the heaps.
When you have your annual weeds (weeds which reproduce just from seed, like chickweed, groundsel, speedwell, bittercress and fat hen)and clippings, just put them in and let nature change it into rich compost. You can add peelings, teabags, coffee grounds, cardboard, old receipts and lots of other plant based materials. Don’t add cooked food or meat and bones though, unless you have a composter specifically designed for these http://www.hotbincomposting.com/. Some councils will collect these in your green bins – check local recycling.
“Weeds are what Mother Nature lays down to protect her precious skin”
(Greg Judy, Missouri rancher)
Perennial weeds come back year after year on the same root, and include brambles, nettles, buttercups, dock, bindweed and ground elder. They need digging out, getting as much of the root as possible. This can be hard as some go quite deep. Picking just the leaves can weaken the plant over time, but is unlikely to eliminate it completely. We’ve learnt to use, or live with, the weeds.
- Use them to make fertiliser. You can buy organic fertiliser bins or just use a bucket. Beware – it will stink! Just put the weeds in and fill the container with water. Let them rot for a few weeks then use the water, diluted, to feed your plants. The rotted remains can go on the heap. Recently I’ve made an outside toilet (wee only) from an old water cooler bottle and a funnel. The weeds rot in there and the whole let gets diluted 10/1 to water the pots.
- Learn to incorporate the weeds into planting. We have ground elder and wild garlic everywhere, and actually they look nice once you get past them being a weed. We’ve planted other ground cover plants, like woodruff, which keep them in check a bit, and have plant larger hellebores and dicentra that grow above them. The elder coming through the bigger plants looks nice in a woodland scheme.
- Plant them in a ‘wild’ area, if you’re thinking of having them. If you are, pick the flowers of perennial weeds before they go to seed to stop them spreading
- If preparing a large patch of ground, cover it for a few months with plastic sheeting, carpet or old blankets to help kill some of the weeds that might otherwise grow there.
Woody clippings and twigs
Bigger, woody clippings may not break down in your compost, or you might not want the twigs in the final product (you could always sieve them out)
- Shred them – you can buy a shredder, borrow one or hire one. If you don’t have much material, save it up and do it once or twice a year. Then use the shreddings as mulch, or put them in the compost if you want them to break down more
- Put them straight on the beds, the same with old logs. Bugs will love it, so will the soil microbes as they gradually rot down. Healthy microbes = healthy soil = healthy plants. Make piles of them in unwanted corners too.
- Burn them. The resulting potash is high in potassium which is good for flowering and fruiting plants
These can be shredded or burnt if you don’t want them, or
- Use them to build a stick stack to attract bugs, or give shelter around a pond
- Use long, straight ones as plant supports. Hazel ones are particularly good because they’re long lasting and flexible
- Bushier sticks can be used as pea supports, or for other climbing plants like sweet peas. I think they look nicer and more natural than some of the plastic/metal ones you can get, and they’re free
- Put them straight on the beds, as above
There are lots of uses for logs, if you don’t burn them
- Sawn crossways they can be used under pots to raise them off the ground. You may attract beetles, as the larvae like to eat the wood. You’ll also get interesting fungi (just keep an eye on the kids and make them aware of the dangers)
- Make logpiles to attract bugs, or use them around a wildlife pond
- Use them as edging for beds (and get bracket fungi as a bonus)
- Leave the smaller ones for children to play with. This can help strengthen their shoulder muscles, which in turn can help improve fine motor skills. All good for learning to write and build lego models.
- Put them on the beds to rot down
These can be composted, but if you’ve got lots you might want to make leafmould. Just gather them up, put them in a dark bag with some holes in (you can mow them first if you like to make them smaller), make sure they’re moist (but not soaking) leave them for 6 months or so and you’ll have a nice mulch. Leave them for longer to add to the soil as a conditioner. It’s not an exact science – some leaves take longer than others, but it’s worth it and the plants will thank you.
If you find yourself digging up turf to make beds, stack the turf face to face, cover the stack and leave it for six months or so until it has rotted down into fine loam. You can use this for potting up, or adding to existing compost. Every now and again a mole come up in our garden, which gives us some nice loamy soil to use!
If you’re lucky enough to have willow in your garden, you can use it to make a willow sculpture (if there’s enough) or if you only have small amounts, make willow water.
- Collect up new willow growth (greeny/yellow)
- Compost the leaves and cut the stems up into small pieces
- Cover the stems in water and leave to ‘brew’ for a few days
- Drain the water into a container with a lid. Put it in the fridge if you’re not using it straight away
This water will be high in rooting compounds now, so you can use it to feed cuttings before planting. Just stand the cuttings in the water for a while before planting, then use the water to keep the compost moist
My wife will tell me off, but weeing in the compost heap is really good as it helps speed up the composting process. Apparently male wee is better though, sorry ladies
Recently I started an outdoor toilet with and old water cooler and a funnel – this can be diluted as a fertiliser after a while.
Dilute it and add it to the soil. There’s growing evidence that the microbes love it.
Controversial one this – some studies show that coffee can stunt growth (caffeine is a natural weed suppressant in the wild), but other studies show that after a few years it can boost growth. You choose! I tip it about the garden and it seems ok.
Hair brush and plug hole hair! Either put it in the compost, which will eventually help give structure (replicating animal hair loss in the wild). Or, tuck the hair in nooks around the garden to provide the birds with some nest building material.
Coffee cups and stirrers
Use instead of plant pots. Use the stirrers as labels.
I may be a bit slow at this at first, first time at a blog and all that. I’m excited to construct this site over the next few years and document the ideas that we’ve tried in the garden. Our garden evolved gradually – when we started we just wanted a green space to relax in, but over the years, and taking inspiration from numerous places, a philosophy of sorts emerged. There are three strands to it: Children, Parents and Nature. All three have specific needs, but we didn’t see any reason that a garden couldn’t cater for them all at the same time. Our garden is small, about 25m by 7m, but we wanted to make it feel big. We wanted to avoid non-natural materials and be organic (though we’re not perfect at this by any means) and we wanted to recycle and build as much as we could on a limited budget. We have have twin boys aged three, who road test everything, so the garden had to be tough. We both work, so it needed to be easy to maintain. Along the way we’ve made lots of mistakes, but that’s the great thing about gardens, they forgive you!