Over the bank holiday weekend, Ryan and I came to the conclusion that the front gardens aren’t working for us as they are, and came up with a fairly drastic plan to annex one of them into the back garden, in order to provide us with an outdoor dining area. That plan is simmering away in the background, as we work out one or two niggly little details.


Front garden
The front garden last month

The upshot of this decision is that I am going to end up with less planting space, and I am rethinking the priorities for the space that I do have. That means the front garden, with its low-maintenance carpet of perennial edibles, is going to have to work a bit harder. It has poor soil, so the obvious answer was to put some raised beds in there to improve it and plant hungrier plants. I was very keen to find a home for the rhubarb (we really like rhubarb, and would eat as much as we can grow), and when we discussed what else we’d like to have more of, the answer was very fruity – gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries. My gooseberry and raspberry plants have been surviving in pots for years and would be more productive in the ground, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to try the new thornless, trailing blackberry plants (but don’t want to have to keep them watered in hanging baskets!).

And so out came the Feijoa sellowiana, the two Calycanthus floridus and the two buddleja ‘Buzz’. If they survive being unceremoniously ripped out and plonked into pots on a hot day then they will find a new home with my friend Chris. I moved a clump of Babington’s leeks, and one of the two white-flowered daylilies.

Meanwhile, Ryan was building raised beds:


Sleepers for raised beds

New raised bed

Once they were ready we heaved them into position and plonked them down on top of the ground cover of wild strawberries, and then weeded out the ones that fell inside the beds. A quick dig over, and we were ready to plant up my containerised plants. We back-filled the beds around the plants, using a selection of Earth Cycle peat-free organic composts, which I had been sent to trial:


Peat-free composts

They sent me a peat-free soil conditioner (based on composted plant material), a cow compost (based on composted manure) and a bag of their new mushroom compost (based on spent mushroom compost), all of which will do a great job of nourishing the plants. I was very impressed with the quality of all three – dark, lovely and crumbly, completely dry and not smelly at all! The raised beds are low, and the plants will be able to root into the topsoil, but as it’s so poor and thin they’ll rely on all this lovely compost for both food and water.


Peat-free raised beds
The front garden now

So, by the end of the weekend we had three new raised beds in the front garden, filled with fruit. Nearest the fence (in the shadiest spot) are two rhubarbs – ‘Timperley Early’ and the autumn-fruiting ‘Livingstone’ and my angelica. In the middle there’s two gooseberries – Hinnomaki Yellow and Hinnomaki Red – and my Lubera shrub rose ‘Vitaminrose Pirosa‘. I reckon a nice underplanting of thornless blackberries will go well in there! And closest to the front door, in the sunniest spot, are my patio raspberries ‘Ruby Beauty’. One of them brings along a welcome hitchhiker, Claytonia sibirica (pink purslane), a shade-loving perennial edible with lovely pink flowers. It should be quite well shaded by the house and the raspberries themselves. It has already seeded some babies into the back garden, and it’s welcome to spread into the front garden ground cover if it feels at home.


Peat-free Patio raspberry 'Ruby Beauty'

This morning I saw that the local bees have already found the raspberry flowers, so hopefully that’s a good omen for fruitful harvests to come!

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