Growing from Lockdown – A member guest post

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Thanks to Louisa Hammond for writing this article for our newsletter. We thought it was particularly relevant so posting it here now:

For us all, this global pandemic has put us all under a lot of strain and stress. Alongside millions of others, I have had to put my business on pause for the time being to ensure the wellbeing of all.

I largely work in craft and design events, so my ‘lockdown’ started a few weeks before most. At first, I was in shock and grief stricken with the uncertainty of it all – but after two weeks of mini eggs and wine, I dusted off my old Hamley’s shirt and headed out to my garden.

It’s been a dream of mine for many years to ‘have time to do..’ and therefore I sat in my sunny garden (god bless this weather) and thought – ‘OK, I now have time – use it wisely to be creative and learn’. So that’s what I’ve done for the past 7 weeks – I’ve dedicated my time to learning how to nurture and respect our land.

We bought our forever home nearly 4 years ago. When it was dry enough to venture into the garden, I looked at the piles of wood which surrounded a magnificent Magnolia tree. 27 car trips to the dump later (thanks Dad), we discovered we gained an extra 8x10m of garden! I found an old wavy stone path and a brick built raised and very deep vegetable patch. And we found large ornamental rocks.. I cannot tell you how many I’ve had to dig out and move, honestly, it’s obscene and the previous custodians of this house must have spent a fortune.

My gardening oracle (My mother – Carol Pacifico) advised me to live with the garden for a year or two as it was, so we could explore which mature plants we have. Obviously, I was cattle prodded to weed along the way (1 year of weed is 7 years seed), but I only ever did the minimum amount as I was more interested in growing vegetables. I’m a believer my garden needs to earn its keep!

Moving forward to 2018, I decided it was time for the large raised brick-built vegetable patch had to go. We we’re planning on a large home renovation and the existing potting shed needed to go – beyond repair and we needed the space for our kitchen. So for 4 months, I shifted tonnes of beautiful loamy soil and the red bricks to another patch of the garden in hope our builders could re uses this for foundations.

After our home renovation was complete and new shed was built at the bottom of our garden where the raised bed used to be, I now had a blank canvas to re design and create a space for us to enjoy and grow vegetables in. This of course was when I was working at the rate of knots, so alas the garden was only tended by my mother and father during this period.

Skipping forward to late Feb 2020 and with lockdown commencing, I now gave myself the time to weed, landscape and started to think about growing vegetables. Whilst others ran out to buy toilet roll, I headed out and bought starter potatoes and onions alongside carrot, tomato, courgette, sweetcorn, cabbage, lettuce and sweetcorn seeds. I also bought A LOT of compost and growbags – thank god for my mini clubman! Although I have quite decent soil, it was definitely time for me to give it a bit of love, my leaf mulch wasn’t going to cut it alone.

First step, I raided my small plastic pot collection and trays and set out to germinate my seeds. With frosts still looming, my poor husband allowed me to take over our beautiful new kitchen as a makeshift greenhouse.

Whilst I waited patiently day in day out for signs of growth, I set myself the task of landscaping areas of my garden to create zoned vegetable beds. Using my rock pile, I dug trenches and started to edge out areas around the forgotten path to create these beds. With these largish areas in place – I then had to figure out how to split these up to define my various growing patches. Having discussed the various options at length with my husband, it was he that reminded me the builders over bought on roofing tiles and they left the remains behind the shed. Bingo! These worked perfectly and gave me a path to walk through each bed without taking up too much space.

With this all-in place, another gardening friend of mine suggested I turned over the current soil and removed old roots and large pieces gravel three times over before adding new compost to it. So, I listened to his advice and let the beds ‘be’ for a good few weeks.

This gave me time to weed. Oh, how I weeded. With the sun shining every day, I was chasing the shade around the garden. My garden has not been loved for at least 14 years, I know this the previous tenant confessed this to us when we bough the property. Sitting in the beds and removing dozens of sycamore or ash trees, whilst trying to think out the mature plants I wanted to keep it was a labour of love. I now have a 20+ old compost bags full of weeds to take to the recycling centre as soon as it reopens. Honestly, I just want to get a skip, but as money is tight, I’ll be joining the queue with the rest of the neighbourhood at least 10 times to save on an excess cost.

In between the weeding, I gave myself some creative projects to stop the monotony of the task in hand. I had cleared all the weeds around my mature plum tree, I wanted to add a bit of ‘design’ to preserve the roots around this as I was using the surrounding area for some tomato plants. So, I popped into my shed and as luck would have it, I had a box of my fish scale kitchen tiles left (curved top with a pointy end). These worked beautifully in a circle formation and the off-white colour provided a perfect contrast against the soil and complimented the white blossom of the plum tree. Once in place, I ventured to my tubs of large gravel/ rocks I had collected from the soil I had been weeding, gave them a clean and filled the surrounding area to fill in the circle I had made. A cute unexpected feature, all for free!

In these weeding breaks, I also put my ‘design’ skills to the test and started to build wigwams and trellis for my beans and peas (read on to find out how I was given peas) from the large bamboo cane pile I amassed in year one of owning this garden. When we moved in, someone decided this garden should have a very large and intrusive patch of bamboo. This mature patch took me weeks to remove and still today I find the odd Bamboo cane poking out of the middle of the lawn as the roots spread across the entire garden. Anger aside, I did save as many usable canes as I could and they have been drying out nicely ever since. Again – another freebee!

So landscaping done. Weeding.. will any of us ever be on top of it?.. Done-ish.. Time to plant my vegetables. Being a novice, I planted every seed from each pack I bought thinking if I’m lucky a few will germinate. Oh no.. they pretty much all germinated. This left me with over 140 tomato plants, 40+ French beans and the list goes on. So, in the spirit of giving in these times I sent a message to my local friends and offered them free plants delivered for free to their doors. I love giving presents, but it was me who gained from this.

I never knew my friends were as much into gardening as I was. It rarely came up in our conversations, perhaps a passing comment. However, from this gift giving, I now have a circle of friends who I talk too on a daily basis about the efforts of gardening each day and swapping tips and excess plants, this is how I adopted the peas. From our joint love of garden and all with a strong professional career in design and architecture, we are now talking very seriously about forming a company post lockdown to offer our services! It may not happen, but just the possibility of it has given me a new wave of hope and joy in my life.

So, I will leave with two top tips I have learnt from the oracle and I have passed on to my circle of gardening friends.

1: Keep your egg shells. Once dried, crush them up and keep in a jar. Use these crushed egg shells around plants that slugs and snails like to chomp on. They hate grit, so it acts as a barrier – giving your delicious plants a chance to survive! Organic and free too. A double win.

2: This one is actually from my grandfather Ted Brain, who was a member of the Lambeth Horticultural society himself (I’m proud to be a third-generation member) – Plant once it’s rained and sow when it’s dry. Makes your life easier in so many ways.

Louisa Hammond (nee Pacifico)

Current business:

New gardening Instagram account: @ladylougarden