Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Gardening on the edge of sanity.

A beautiful view from the garden fence
I feel like I’m living in a conflict of interests of my own creation. Now, I’m not boasting (heaven forbid) but in many areas of my life I think I’ve reached a good balance. We’ve made compromises and changes to our life to fulfil our ‘needs’ wherever possible. We’ve got brilliant schools, great healthcare, fantastic local food and a culture which is safe and vibrant. What’s in conflict about that? Nothing!

The wind sock dancing about in the garden
We always strive to be better, try harder (getting the maximum benefit out of everything) and we try to reduce our consumption (our own footprint) where we can. However, one area of my life which definitely isn’t balanced is this need (and it is a ‘need’) to live in remote exposed, seaside locations and with my absolute love of plants and growing. Without wanting to give myself a hard time – the two aren’t exactly happy bedfellows. Salt laden winds, often gale force, a cool climate which is very damp and often misty days when the temperature does get a bit warmer the sea fog (haar) can arrive – I often wonder why as a gardener I put myself through this.
Cottage on the beach in Harry Potter - Image from wikimedia
We went to the new Harry Potter film last night which we enjoyed and there was a scene with a house directly on the beach (Fleur and Bill’s house) – the perfect abode in my honest opinion. Whilst we’re not far from the beach and the sea here (6 minute stroll) – I often wonder what the attraction of living on the sea/beach is for me. I crave this type of landscape – big skies, the sound of the sea, open views and the sand ready to tickle your toes if you’re brave enough to get those shoes off. We’re very lucky to live in such a beautiful and wild landscape. BUT – and this is a big BUT – I absolutely 100% love growing, living and breathing plants. With a few major exceptions – it would seem many plants (especially edible plants) aren’t really such a fan of this type of beachside living. Why not I wonder (I know for plants their dislike comes mainly from wind and salt) but....beaches are cool!

You'll have to forgive me now, but I am going to indulge myself in a moan. I can’t easily grow things outside that other people would just think nothing of, plants which come to mind immediately are things like my favourite ‘sweet peas’, annual bedding plants - too windy and many of the more delicate perennials. To be honest at the moment – even my wind-hardy hedging in bits of the garden to break up the wind a bit (a mixture of the hardy hedge planting here - AKA the 'Dirty Dozen' Gorse, Willow, Hebe, Escallonia, Fushia, Ribes and Lonicera) is also struggling to get established – even behind wind netting. I’m sure it will get there though – just might take a while longer and many crossed fingers and a few words of encouragement. Go on hedge you CAN do it - you can grow here.

Fushia hedge to divide up a section of the garden - with the new willow hedge at the back.
As for vegetables – well there are many which do well if they get a bit of shelter, but many that don’t like our climate without the production of a poly tunnel. I can’t grow runner beans outdoors, in fact aside very hardy broad beans –here I’ve NO chance of getting a crop of any type of bean unless they are indoors. If I grow dwarf pea types they might cope with a bit of shelter, etc but they’d be happier in a tunnel too). Outdoors I'll be growing hardier things in the veggie garden like onions, cabbage (which I'll start indoors), kale, broad beans and maybe some beetroot - I'll do the lettuce etc inside - that way I know it will grow well and earlier.

A start to the new veggie and fruit patch tucked under an establishing hedge.
As for other veggies - I can’t even think of growing courgettes/squashes outside here – not a chance – and let’s not even go anywhere near the more tender crops like tomatoes, chillis, cucumbers and aubergines. It’s a greenhouse, or the kitchen/living room window sill for them – they like to look at the view from indoors thank you very much – probably with a nice cup of tea. I know there are old windows in the shed and in the byres some old doors with windows - maybe I can try and make something like this out here tucked in somewhere nice - to coax the tomatoes and chillis out of the living room next year?

Recycled windows used to make a greenhouse - genius!
Does this growing climate of wind get me down? Often I guess it does – but then again one walk on the beach or a look out of the window to the big skies that surround me make me realise the bigger picture. I feel truly blessed to be here and utterly ungrateful when moaning about not being able to grow things without a fight.  We like our life here, it suits us, in fact when I lived in a town for a while recently I found myself as unconnected to the elements/seasons as I would on Mars. Admittedly in the town we lived in an upstairs flat with a very tiny shared garden – I felt so disjunct from the earth and nature, I did find it very difficult. I clearly prefer this kind of a location - despite the moaning about the wind and how it affects my gardening ability!
The waak tae Grannies - Hoxa Tapestry
The big open skies - as a family, like this - on in a print of a tapestry picture I have - we're very happy here in the big skies.
So why don’t I hang up my trowel and take up something far more suited to my climate (wind surfing, kite sailing, etc) – I guess I must like a challenge. The reality of it, for us really the crux if you like, like many folk I want a really good standard of living, at a fraction of the cost I’d have to pay for it elsewhere. In areas as remote as this, space is bountiful – I have a big garden and room to grow. Elsewhere I’d have to make that sacrifice for a smaller place with a very small garden, if I had one – or get a very highly paid job to recreate a similar standard of living – which means I’d probably not have the time to enjoy it or be with the family or the hen-family. All about compromises to make your life the way you want it - to have the space and the freedom we have - the price here is the windy climate - not a bad price to pay - even if it does make my gardening a bit on the edge of my sanity! Its worth it, it truly is. Not much in the way of shelter but we've got time to grow some of that for the house.

The homestead - one house, 2 byres a fair bit of garden and cows in the field over the summer- bliss!
Therefore, now that I've stopped whining, I’m tackling the ‘gardening’ head on – I know I’ll need shelter to grow a lot of things outdoors to cope with the wind – I’m on the case with that, wind netting and a baby hedge. I know that if I want to grow a lot of veggies for the house and flowers I’ll have to do that in a sheltered area like a poly tunnel or a greenhouse – protect things from the wind here and they flourish. Up here protected growing is a fact of life if you want to grow a range of things. Thats the next thing on the agenda - at the weekend we'll try and move the poly tunnel frame from the place which gave us one for free if we moved it - its down now and next bit after that will be getting it up on site here. And, then we get a cover for it - oh I can't wait - did I mention that!
Picture of Polythene Calculator
A place sheltered from the wind to grow vegetables and a few rows of sweetpeas in - oh I can't wait - I really can't!! It will help realise the 'good life' bit by helping me to grow everything we need - maybe not coffee and sugar - and bananas might be tricky - but I'll try and grow as much as I can - including flowers for the house and extra greens for the chickens!

Game on!!


  1. Can't wait to see what you grow in the polytunnel when you get it installed and fixed up.Pity you couldn't have brought that gorgeous greenhouse with you from your last plce, but suppose the owner might just have missed it,, lol :)

  2. Maybe you shold think of moving to warmer climes to be by the sea. The growing would be easier but you wouldn't have the wild sea that you have now!
    MOH has been looking into a polytunnel for us but they are very expensive and we live in a very wiondy spot - not as much as yours!! The cost was £1000 and then there would be delivery on top from the UK, but when you think about all the things we could grow, all year round it would pay for itself in about xxx years! That's what we keep thinking.
    We spoke to one of our farmer neighbours last week and she had some HUGE beetroots, the size of a cabbage. She said this year they had used teh drip method for watering and that was the result they had had. What do you think?

  3. Hi there dreamer I think maybe they might have missed the greenhouse! I'm really looking forward to a tunnel.

    I think sue that £1000 is quite alot for a tunnel - what size are you thinking of - a basic one which isn't that big or expensive would feed you both quite easily - delivery here is an issue too -they charge an extra £100 to get them here - dunno what its like for you - aren't there french companies?

    I normally use Northern Polytunnels - but Citadel are good too - or First tunnels - I'm sure you've heard of these anyway? We tend to get the free delivery to the port and then pay our local delivery company to do the shipping from there - or do it ourselses if we can.

    Being in a warmer place by the beach would be fab - but probably expensive - good plan though!

  4. Oh drip irrigation - I guess where you are irrigation is more of an issue - tunnels can be drip, overhead or sub irrigated - I'm a fan of both drip and sub irrigated systems - easy to put in yourself and quite good/easy to manage - great for the plants if you get the rate right.

    Drip systems can be pricey - and if you wanted to do a diy sub/ground irrigation - you can DIY that by just buying a hose pipe and putting holes in it at regular intervals - lay it inbetween your pots leave it there all season and connect it up to the tap as and when you want it. Much cheaper than some of the 'proper' ones at a fraction of the cost.


  5. Thanks for your replies, I have passed them onto MOH. he is the gardener. I will keep you posted