I was going to start this post by saying that I’m not a very good gardener. But, really, I have no idea about what kind of gardener that I am because I’ve never had a garden of my own before. For all I know, I might be an excellent gardener – we have, after all, kept a couple of house plants alive for the last two years – although my sneaking suspicion is that I will never be anything more than enthusiastically average.
By way of introduction, it might help to describe the layout of our flat briefly (illustrated by a handy floorplan below). Having spent many years living in a block of flat without a balcony or any kind of communal garden, one of my main requirements when we moved was to get a little bit of outside space of our own.
Our flat is out the back of the block, looking out over the communal gardens and a relatively peaceful (for London) residential street. When the trees in the gardens are less bare than they are at the moment, you can’t even see the houses on the other side of the road. The kitchen is straight ahead as you enter with the rest of the flat off to the right. There’s a long and narrow reception room, split between a dining area at this end and a living area towards the window. A hallway leads to the three bedrooms – ours is at the end – and the bathroom.
You can step out onto the balcony from any one of the main rooms in the flat. In the summer, we tend to keep all of the doors open almost all of the time and it becomes an extension of our living space, pulling the outside in.
When we bought the flat, I had grand plans for how I was going to transform the space into my own little urban oasis. I pictured myself whiling away the hours out there, twiddling around among my plants and coaxing life from my pots.
Now as we’re entering the start of our third spring/summer in the flat, I decided it was time to stop daydreaming and actually make my vision become that bit closer to a reality.
Over the last month or two, I’ve read a lot of books and browsed even more blogs, trying to learn this new language of soil types and bedding things out. And at the weekend, I finally felt ready to take my first tentative steps into the world of trying to grow actual living plants.
It’s not a big space – enough room for a small table and a couple of chairs at most – but it gets plenty of sun as it faces south/south west and my general plan is to use the space as effectively as possible to grow herbs and some of the easier vegetables, tomatoes maybe and most likely some salad leaves. I think it’s a little ambitious to aim for self-sufficiency on the basis of a few square feet of concrete but I’m captivated by the idea of being able to wander out there, barefoot, and grab all the ingredients I need to make a simple salad. I’ve always cared where my food comes from but, for me, this is a whole new level of engagement and connection to what I eat.
Except then I visited the garden centre on Sunday and bought all sorts of unrelated plants (lavender! and raspberries! and something else which I’d never heard of but was the right size to fit in a pot that I already had!). But, hey, at least it’s a start!
Whilst I thought I was relatively well-prepared, it turns out that I really have zero idea what I’m doing. I have a feeling that this is going to be a pretty steep learning curve. So far, I’ve realised that I’m an exceedingly messy gardener. After less than ten minutes of trying to pot a couple of plants, I had soil in my hair and streaked all over my face and had tracked muddy little footprints all through the flat. I also had a mild panic attach when I found a dead earthworm in the bottom of one of the pots (for the record, I’m not very good with nature).
But I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve started posting about my feeble attempts at urban homesteading will keep me accountable and provide me with the motivation that I need keep on tending to my little patch of the outside. I’m going to aim to provide some updates along the way (like whether these twigs ever produce anything resembling a raspberry – I have my doubts).
I can’t promise that it will be pretty. I feel sure that I’m going to break down in tears over some plant that’s refusing to bear fruit but hopefully, in a couple of months, I’ll have something to show for my efforts.