When sustainability consultant Emma Bushell and her partner Carolina bought their two-bedroom terrace house in Bermondsey, South London, they knew from the word go they wanted to bring a bit of the countryside to the metropolis and ‘grow their own’. This meant totally transforming the 25ft by 13ft back garden from an ornamental showpiece into a fully functioning, working garden.
“When we moved in the garden was very ‘old lady’,” laughs Emma. “There were a lot of bedding plants packed in, which made it very high maintenance. We kept a few of the plants, but really our first job was to clear all the beds and start from scratch.”
The garden is laid out with a paved patio area outside the backdoor and a paved central area that forms a ‘T’ shape with the patio. Two beds run down either side, which Emma dug out, adding nutrient-rich seaweed extract bought from the garden centre, before planting runner beans and sweetcorn. “The beans were a huge success. After our first summer, we had so many beans we couldn’t eat them all, so I offered some to the local restaurant at the end of our road. That was a real high point: I grew the beans I ate in a restaurant – talk about keeping food miles down.”
Emma planted other crops in pots – soft fruits such as blackberries and strawberries, and potatoes. It’s effective way to maximise space in a compact, urban garden and means that the plants can be moved around to make the most of the sun. “It also makes the paving look less boring,” says Emma. “We wanted to keep chickens, so keeping the central paved area was more practical because the chooks would have just scratched up any grass we laid down anyway.”
Emma’s chickens live in an ‘eglu’, an ingenious modern take on the chicken coop by Omlet UK and have a run where they can scratch around on bark that Emma lays down. “Keeping the chickens has been our biggest challenge. We have two – they produce more than enough eggs for two people, in the summer about 10 or 12 a week. It’s been a real learning process – we lost our first two to the fox because we didn’t shut them up properly at night. And, we didn’t realise that if you are not careful, when you let them out during the day they will eat all your produce!”
Emma says that the chickens are great for eating slugs and pests, “they even get rid of weeds, but once they’ve got through all of those they’ll start on the veg. We lost a lot of our first crop of tomatoes that way.” Emma’s solution has been to weave wire in and around the pots to stop the chickens from walking through. Everything that is cleaned out from the coop goes into the compost bin, as does waste food. “I’m also now clearing up all the leaves that get blown into the garden, and putting them into black sacks to make a mulch which I’ll then dig into the garden.” Future plans include raising the beds and starting a rhubarb patch. “For me, there was no point in having a garden unless I could grow stuff. We’ve really created the good life here.”
Getting started: how to grow runner beans
Runner beans are the perfect crop for a novice gardener. Start by planting seeds in small pots in April and bring them on indoors on a window ledge. The shoots can go outside in late May. Erect a row of ‘wigwams’ made from bamboo canes on soil that has been prepared (dug through with organic matter) then dig a small hole and the foot of each cane for the shoots. Gently tie the small shoots to the poles so they will climb. The beans will be ready to harvest in late July/early August.
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