Wednesday 8 October 2014

An area all of my own in the Model Fruit Garden

I was offered to take charge of an area in the Model Fruit Garden that needs some redevelopment as a cottage garden. It is an exciting, though slightly daunting (as I have never done a large scale design before), project!

My manager will offer me a small budget to acquire some plants and one day a week to take care of it after my initial induction into the team. In the meantime, it needs weeding and autumn clearing, pruning of the stepover apple trees and drawing up a plan of (as I could not find one that was detailed enough for me to work with). I also need to compile a list of seeds I would like to sow, as I they could be available in our members' seed scheme department or they might come in as a donation to the RHS (which is a charity).

Anyway, today, I managed to spend the day in my area even if I'm still in my induction, as it is quite a prominent space in the garden and it needs autumn tidy up, so I pruned the stepover apples, cut back the spent Geraniums (which will regrow fresh leaves), and spent the rest of the time digging out last year's meadow, which was not looking good any longer.

We had discussed how best to carry that out, as the meadow is 4.5m by 4.5m with a recently planted apple tree in the middle. My manager had suggested we mowed, sprayed and then raked away the dead plant material. However, I never think of spraying as the first option, as my background is in organic gardening: I said the way I would do it was by digging it out by hand. We evaluated the possibility of doing half the bed one way and the other half the other way, to assess which one would be the most effective practice. However, the week being a wet one, it was not ideal spraying weather, so we went forward with the digging it out plan for the whole meadow.

The mowing, spraying and raking had been estimated as 3 hours' work, so, with that in mind, I timed myself over the day.

Starting on the meadow

Over midway through the job
It took me 4.5 hours to clear the space, mainly with a handfork (especially as the apple tree is still establishing), composting all the plant material and tidying up the bed and surrounding gravel.
At the end of the day

Lissotriton vulgaris
Everyone was pleased with the result, and over the day I got to find a common newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), and two of the weeds that would come up later in the day, after work, in our fortnightly plant ID exercise!

That is also one of the reasons why I like hand weeding: you get to know the plants you have to deal with, which is great for a range of reasons:
  •  you understand weeds and how to deal with them (those with rhizomes like couch grass Elymus repens or perennial nettle Urtica dioica, or and that regrow from leftovers of the ttaproot like dandelion Taraxacum officinale require a totally different treatment from those that can be just hoed away, like annual nettle Urtica urens)
  • you learn about plants and their ways to thrive and reproduce, which, for me, is an essential bonus... cannot personally understand how botany has disappeared from the UK curriculum. Weeds often also harbour pests and diseases, so if you are inquisitive enough you get to know those too. Who says that weeding is an unskilled job?!?
  • some weeds are simply beautiful, or even useful, and knowing them does trigger my curiosity to try them, like it happened with dandelion and nettles which I have included in my diet in the last few years: they are cheap and nutritious greens.
Coronopus didymus
Juncus effusus
The two weeds I got to learn today, which I had never seen before (as I worked in different soils and areas of the country) but that will never forget about now were Coronopus didymus, lesser swine cress of the family Brassicaceae and Juncus effusus, soft rush of the family Juncaceae (good to remember Rushes are round and sedges have edges).

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