TAMING THE WILD
Kitchen Garden|August 2021
See how Andrew Oldham and his family have transformed an overgrown and unproductive patch of land into a vegetable haven
Andrew Oldham

The lawn had to go. When I wrote‘lawn’ I should have written ‘couchgrass’. Lots of couch grass. This grassy area at the top of our quarter-acre hillside garden is the last place we have tackled. It’s taken us a decade to get here.

As a disabled gardener, I found it impossible to mow this uneven space. It was left to go wild. It did not become the wild habitat I dreamed of but became the home of horseflies; I have the scars to prove it. This is largely down to the fact that this area drains poorly. I turned to professional gardeners who came to see our ‘lawn’ – most of them laughed, all of them quoted thousands to turn it into an immaculate bowling green (something I have never wanted). It simply wouldn’t work on a hillside battered by the elements.

I have for a decade yearned for an area of wildflowers and grasses that sequestered an intimate walled kitchen garden, bursting with flowers and vegetables. I am a great advocate of creating habitats for all manners of bugs and beasts but I had a problem. Unlike the rest of the garden, this space lacked bugs and beasts. We had midges, leather jackets, and horseflies; even the frogs and toads moved out a few years ago, finding solace in the rest of the garden. My garden is awash with life, the soil is like chocolate cake. Here it was compacted.

NOTHING WASTED

When starting somewhere new in the garden I work on the principle that, where I can, no waste leaves the garden. I have tyres around the garden as floral planters, old roofing tiles as edging to borders, bricks used as paths, and even the perennial weeds we dig up are dumped in a fermentation barrel where they are left to decay and release their nutrients into a rich feed. I like starting the bones of any garden in winter, before the snow and frost hit.

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