Passageway

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some statistics about the average UK garden size, and I found some interesting ones. According to the 2015 media pack for the RHS The Garden magazine, a document that is aimed at attracting advertisers to the publication, the 380,000 RHS members the magazine is sent to have gardens that are 10 times larger than the UK average, covering over half an acre.

The UK’s flagship gardening TV programme, Gardeners’ World, was first broadcast in 1968 from Oxford Botanic Gardens. Since then it has had a tradition of broadcasting from the lead presenter’s (gargantuan) garden. Alan Titchmarsh’s Barleywood covered an acre. Current host, Monty Don, has two acres at Longmeadow.

Meanwhile, a 2015 survey for the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) found that the average UK garden size is just 14 sq.m. If you’re under 44, the average is 12 sq.m. For those over 44 you get 15 sq.m. For ease of comparison – an acre is just over 4000 sq.m. (so you can see there are very large differences in estimates of the ‘average’).

This could explain why a survey conducted for publisher DK this year (about which I received a press release) found that two thirds of British gardeners now grow plants in pots rather than borders. Despite this, 21% have a fruit or veg patch and 30% have fruit trees or bushes.

Whilst some people find statistics fascinating in their own right, I collected these with a purpose. British gardeners tend to hanker after The Good Life, a smallholding or a Victorian walled garden. Whilst we all still want to Dig for Victory (with the modern enemy being climate change or global corporations), the truth is that we’re being increasingly squeezed into small gardens (even allotments are being split to shorten waiting lists), and conventional gardening advice isn’t keeping pace. I remember watching Monty Don energetically turning his gigantic 3 or 4 bay compost heaps once, and thinking “who has the time for that?”. I could just have easily asked “Who has the space?”.

Houses are also getting smaller. Mine (like many others) doesn’t boast a frost-free garage that’s perfect for storing potatoes or housing a chest freezer. It doesn’t have a big kitchen in which I could shelve a year’s worth of preserves, nor does it have a pantry. It doesn’t even have an airing cupboard for me to germinate seeds in.

On the plus side, I’m luckier than the folk who have no garden to speak of at all, and are forced to have an ‘allotment’ on their windowsill, or to grow everything in pots on the balcony.

Both ends of the spectrum appear to be very well catered for in terms of published gardening advice; I’m not so sure about those of us in the middle.

Which is why I have been writing a new book, currently titled The Small Harvest Handbook, which I’m hoping to have out (in paperback and for Kindle) before Christmas. (For those of you still waiting to see The Peat Free Diet, I haven’t shelved it – I just think it’s more of a spring thing. Besides, I wanted to write something new 🙂 )

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

My vision for my garden is of a beautiful and productive multipurpose space. A place to potter and relax, to entertain and to experiment. Somewhere where I can pop outside every day and find something tempting to nibble on, perhaps even to take back into the kitchen, without being overwhelmed with produce our small household can’t finish. We won’t have acres of storage space, and we don’t eat our way through mountains of jam or chutney – I’d rather eat seasonally than try to be self-sufficient. Whilst I’m happy to share with friends and neighbours, I don’t want them hiding from me and my marrows! I can’t grow everything we need, but we have farms and commercial growers who have the space (and manpower) to provide the bulk.

I will be aiming not for feast and famine, or even for glorious gluts, but for diversity and interest. Growing different things, or growing and using familiar things in different ways. A garden that is a delight to every sense, a haven for us and for wildlife and somewhere I love to spend my time. I don’t want to measure my success by weight or volume; my definition of ‘yield’ is less tangible, and more fulfilling.

Watch this space for more information as I get closer to a publication date. There’s more exciting news on the horizon (which has to do with the spoken, not the written, word), but I’ll leave you in suspense for now!

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