Today we started working on our Dig for Victory garden. As a WW1 historian I have read quite a lot about the food campaigns launched during WW1 and WW2. In both cases war severely disrupted imports of food from abroad, and it became critical to supplement production in farms, market gardens and homes across the country. It was essential to grow healthy food to feed both the forces and the civilian population. This was also an important way to raise morale. Each household could do their bit, however small, towards the war effort. I have nothing but respect for the families who created new gardens in towns and cities, even growing marrows and other vegetables on top of their Anderson shelters.
The Wartime Kitchen and Garden series, first broadcast in 1993, gives a good overview of gardening and cooking in WW2. The series starred Ruth Mott and Harry Dodson both of whom had lived through the Second World War. Sadly neither of them are with us now. All eight episodes are available on YouTube, but here’s episode one to get you started.
We are beginning our own garden without any training or experience. We found this beginners’ video by Charles Dowding particularly inspiring, and decided to buy the book, ‘No Dig Organic Home and Garden’ by Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty, as our main point of reference.
I also ordered two wartime gardening books by Cecil Henry Middleton. Mr Middleton is widely known as the first ‘celebrity’ gardener. He started out as a radio presenter between the wars and went on to become a hero of the Home Front, encouraging gardeners everywhere with his no-nonsense delivery and quiet sense of humour. Here’s his obituary from British Pathé.
One of my biggest fears as a beginner gardener is that I might fail. Plants might die, or become infested with pests, and I might feel inclined to give up. I was greatly encouraged when I heard one gardener (I think it was Mr Middleton) say that the great thing about gardening is that it doesn’t matter how much of a disaster you experience, you can still start again with a clean slate next year.
Here’s a photo of the garden before we started this morning.
Our garden is a small rectangle behind our 1975 McLean Homes semi in Royal Wootton Bassett. It faces north east, so the bottom of the garden gets full sun for most of the day, but the area immediately behind the house is very shady. There is a delapidated shed in the bottom right hand corner, and a concrete path down the middle.
I drew this scale plan so we could start thinking about what we wanted to achieve. This plan is very fluid as we haven’t read any books yet!
Our first job today was to clear the garden. We transplanted my hydrangeas from the sunny areas into the shadier part of the garden, where we suspect they will be happier anyway! We also removed a straggly overgrown shrub from the left side. My poor husband ended up with more work than he bargained for, as there was an old stump to remove on the right, and near the house there was a huge tub of concrete buried under six inches of soil, which someone had once used as a rotary washing line base. I suspect he’ll have a bit of a back ache tomorrow.
By the end of the day the garden looked like this. You’ll see that some of the plants have gone (we’ve not quite finished yet). Not a huge change, but we were very pleased with our efforts.
Today we’ve also started clearing a space in a shady corner near the house for a shed (we’ll make do with moving the old shed for the time being). There’s quite a bit of digging to do in this area in order to create a decent foundation for the shed. We’re using the best soil to level up the grass near the patio, but there’s also going to be a huge pile of waste clay laden soil to get rid of when the dump is open again.
Below you can see the hydrangeas in their new home. We can’t plant much in the area to their far left because there’s a large concrete circle just under soil level around a drain junction. And yes, we do need a new drain cover!
While we were busy with all this my ‘No Dig’ book arrived, so I’m looking forward to getting started on reading it tonight!