We have come a long way from a run-down croft house in a tussocky field to a refurbished cottage with a working vegetable garden, fruit cages and a polytunnel. However, the dream of spending my winters by the fireside with bulb and seed catalogues remains ephemeral, as once again I’ll be out and about in my wellies with my squeaky wheelbarrow.
When it comes to garden design, I belong to the slow evolutionary school. Fortunately the Head Gardener is a man of practical vision, otherwise I’d still be standing in the field dreaming about where to put the tattie patch! However, along with the practical genius comes the 5 YEAR PLAN. This might sound like a hang-over from the cold war, collective farms and the communist manifesto, but I’m sure it has its equivalent in Harvard business speak. After 35 years I still need to go and lie down in a darkened room when I see the twinkle in the eye that indicates that a new project is about to be announced. I realised long ago that a 5 year plan is never completed as it is part of the 10 year rolling programme which is integral to the 15 year strategic action review………….!
Life in the Outer Isles may be quiet and slow but it is never boring. In the last 5 years we have experienced two unusually cold winters, winds gusting over 80 mph and drought. I wouldn’t be surprised if a plague of locusts arrived at some stage. There are times when we still rage at the weather but adversity makes the small successes all the sweeter. Gardening is challenging and although we can now grow fruit and vegetables with a degree of success we could of course do better. Oh dear, that really does sound like a Stalinist slogan to motivate the workers!
Initially the vegetable garden comprised three rectangular beds with a wind break along the drive and in front of the cottage. Over time the height of the fence between the hedge and the vegetable garden has doubled and the width of the hedge increased. After numerous setbacks the serendipitous choice of Olearia traversii has proved a phenomenal success and the original plants are almost 6 feet tall. (It is rumoured that we might be the first crofters on the island to buy a hedge cutter). The vegetable garden is now relatively sheltered, although a stiff gale can still inflict damage and produce a grumpy apprentice gardener.
As the end of the first 5 year plan was growing to a close, I was hoping that, apart from extending the planting of the Olearia hedge along the roadside boundary and dividing the last section of cultivated ground into smaller fenced beds, the end was in sight. Ever optimistic, but classically deluded.
In September the Head Gardener was to be seen with a tape measure, clipboard, pencil behind the ear and a pensive expression. Finally the new project was revealed. I considered having a fit of the vapours, but as neither a nervous collapse, sullen rebellion nor hysterics would have any effect I went off to find my wheelbarrow and shovel.
The original three large, rectangular beds are now to be split into individual beds separated by gravel paths thus creating an array of 9 beds. There is also a new tall fence between the polytunnel so completing the enclosure of the vegetable growing area.
A change in the weather has reduced our rate of progress, so you will have to wait a while before I reveal part two the new project, particularly as you can no longer peer over the hedge.