Getting the priorities right, compost and herbs
Having assessed the existing garden, its plants and potential, it is time to start work. We tend to use a lot of herbs in our cooking and having a herb garden just outside the kitchen door, as opposed to in an allotment 15 kilometres away, is going to be a huge bonus.
The area we have chosen for the mixed herb, herbaceous area is alongside the south wall. In one corner is the orange tree mentioned last week. The bougainvillea that was overgrowing the orange has been cut back to within a few inches of ground level. Any future growth will be carefully trained up the fence, not over the orange tree which is looking happier already. The strelitzia is a handsome plant and will not look out of place in the finished bed, unlike the ornamental grass that was swamping it that has now been totally ripped out.
I dug the ground over. There were no surprises, a few stunted montbretia bulbs and a clump of Spanish iris rhizomes were taken out, divided, and saved. The shrubby herbs that are going to be in there for years were planted first. Sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender and bay. They were well watered in and I will keep the ground moist until they are established, no more than a couple of weeks. All they will need after that is an annual dressing of garden compost and water every few days depending on the temperature. The earth is a gravelly alluvial soil, so it drains well, ideal for herbs. I left plenty of space around the new plants, it is surprising how quickly they expand. I have placed the rosemary and lavender in such a position that the irrigation pipes that I will lay when the plantings are finished will not come anywhere near them. Both are more easily killed by over watering than by drought.
Julie bought a carnation plant so that went in towards the back of the bed, then I interplanted the shrubby herbs with the saved iris and montbretia and some gladioli that I brought with me and an amaryllis bulb that Julie bought me for Christmas some years ago that is now on its third transplant. I hope it survives, it must be the best travelled amaryllis in Andalucia. There is no sign of any growth at the moment, I expect the first flower shoot to appear any time now.
Towards the front of the herb garden I put in some parsley and coriander plants. They will do until the seeded plants are ready to go in. I also put a mint plant in a shady corner. Mint does tend to go rampant but I find it easy enough to control by simply chopping the spade around the perimeter of the planting area and wrenching out the unwanted root growth every spring. I have left a small patch for marjoram and oregano, both of which grow easily from seed.
It all looks a bit bare now but come the summer the bed will have filled out nicely. In the meantime, two meerkats and Brutus (I have no idea who he is or how old, I dug the head out of a previous garden), add a little interest.
Down the side of the house part of the gravel has been removed. I used the excess to increase the depth of gravel on the parking area. The earth has been forked over and made into ridges and sown with turnip, beetroot, parsnips and a dwarf broad bean. Although open to the sky, this strip is very shaded so I can see it being a challenge. The trellis fence was moved down to the end of the cultivated patch and I have sown peas at the foot of it. Notice the temporary lashing holding the trellis together. This is only a temporary position, the fence will move again when the entire patch is finished. The low fence at the front of the veg patch is really to keep the gravel back and is mostly hidden by the flower tubs that Julie has been working on.
Another temporary structure is the compost bin. Four pallets and eight lengths of bailing twine, all very rustic but effective. To my mind the compost bin is the first and most important structure in a garden, it is surprising how quickly the compostable material accumulates, and it is far better to have somewhere tidy to put it than leaving it in heaps here and there.
Julie has been busy with flower tubs and containers. The emphasis this first year is variety and colour so we have fuchsias, geraniums, alyssum, zinnias and ranunculus, the latter better known to most people as buttercups. It is one of the largest genus of plants and some of the double flowered varieties are spectacular. Our windowsills are beginning to look quite attractive. Our idea here is to have the plants on the outside framing the window to lead the eye out into the garden beyond.
Finally, this week, Julie has been sowing seeds in trays. She is growing the plants, that will, hopefully, fill the garden with colour as it develops; pansies, aubretia, violets, delphiniums, sunflowers, zinnias, verbena and petunias. The vegetable plants that will be grown in containers are being started off in seed trays; tomatoes, peppers, chillis, aubergines, pepinos, courgettes and butternut squash will all, eventually, be grown up what I call my verticals, all the fences and walls around the garden that provide lots of growing area, just vertically inclined rather than horizontal.