Student - Documentary Photography

The Simpson Sisters

Gardening from scratch

It seems to have been a long time in the planning, but I think we finally have a date set for a bit of landscaping at the barn. Although in a truly lovely spot (according to me!) the barn does essentially sit in the middle of a flatish field at present, with the the glorious oak outside the front door, a pretty magnificent beech in the top corner but little else further than some mostly hazel hedges, brambles and nettles. So, we're good for blackberries and nettle wine if I felt inclined to make some, but that's about it produce wise.

The view to the north with our baby orchard at the bottom

The beech in the southern half of the plot

The Garden Now

We did plant a few fruit trees in the orchard a couple of years ago, and although growing painfully slowly for my taste they have borne us a few utterly delicious fruits this year. The Elstar apple has produced almost a dozen (well, at least eight) of the crispest, juiciest, most delicious apples I have ever tasted. We did each enjoy a Victoria Plum in the summer too, but jam making remains a treat for years to come.

I have many ambitions for the garden, most of which are well beyond my means or capability at present, but a combination of Pinterest and Gardeners World are responsible for my horticultural delusions of grandeur! My desire is to create a garden that will look good around the year and provide me with something to pick and enjoy inside for as much of the calendar as possible. A tall order I know, and as patience isn't my greatest strength I will certainly have the opportunity to develop this attribute!

My top priority was of course the chickens, and I just couldn't wait until any work in the garden had commenced before we introduced them back into our lives. I so love their enthusiastic greeting when I arrive, their gentle clucking and comical waddling along with an endless supply of delicious eggs makes any inconvenience more than worthwhile.

Chicken coop with mint growing on roof

Our chicken run will hopefully look a little more like this next year

Gardens of the past

I have in fact planted and cared for several gardens over the years, beginning in London where slightly bizarrely our first floor flat owned the garden at the back of the house. It was was weedy to say the least, and frequented regularly by foxes, but it gave me a taste of being responsible for curating an outside space which I loved. I spent many happy hours in our next garden in between waiting for, producing and caring for two babies, and it was here that I began to learn some plant names and characteristics and to understand which plants I was drawn to and why.

The following years saw me plant new gardens, or parts thereof,  in two homes in Germany and another two in England. It has often been hard to say goodbye to gardens in addition to friends in various locations. I have left many plants that I grew from seeds or cuttings along the way and I sometimes wonder if they have been looked after and appreciated by those who assumed custody of the gardens after we left.

In Hampshire I experienced for the first time the great pleasure of harvesting something in the garden and transforming it into something delicious in the kitchen. The apple tree at the end of the garden was bountiful and I made my first chutneys at the stove in our new kitchen while awaiting the arrival of our first baby. I was quite convinced that if I was busily occupied with something requiring my full attention that labour would commence. It didn't! What did happen at that time though was our friendly postman asking if he could take some of the many apples to use at home as he didn't have a supply of his own. I happily said yes of course, and was generously rewarded by the most delicious apple pie left on my doorstep later that day. It brings such a smile to my face to think of him now.

The Future at Oak Tree Barn

So, the landscaping will give us a path around the barn, a path from the gateway and drive to the front door and a small patio outside the barn doors. I will have space in which to plant a cutting garden, some herbs and salad, a few veggies and some borders to fill with what will become the backbone of the garden. More trees, some hedging and lots of hydrangeas to remind me of our house in Belgium are all on the list. I have many scraps of paper with lists of plants and flowers I hope to include in the garden, but I have much to learn about what will be happy where on the plot.

I'm really delighted that Louise Bastow, a local garden designer and florist has chosen Oak Tree Barn as the venue for a series of floral workshops throughout next year. She is just finalising the year's programme which I will be able to share soon, but having her here regularly will certainly be a good incentive to create an inspiring garden!

Use your imagination if you will to see a cutting garden here!

The donkey barn, my potting shed to be

As I make plans I am suddenly very aware that I spend far too much time looking at gardens on the internet, and not nearly enough visiting them in real life. I am trying hard to spend less time in front of a screen, and while I'm not aching for a complete digital detox yet I definitely need to get out and about a bit more in the next few months. As the hours of daylight reduce it seems more important than ever to get outside and spend some time in the sunlight we have. So, your best suggestions of gardens I should visit please! Any case studies you know of that would inspire me as I start with a blank canvas would be greatly appreciated.

While our children haven't grown up in a single family garden as I did, I am really hopeful that they will be somehow touched by my enthusiasm for creating something special here at the barn. As they get older I wistfully imagine them looking forward to enjoying the rewards of gardening just as I do, and my Mother and my Grandmother did too.

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