Behind the Hedge–Garden Work Areas

Author: admin  //  Category: Tips

Unless you count the jun­gle of house plants in my child­hood and later col­lege dorm rooms, I started gar­den­ing as a veg­etable gar­dener rather than a flower or orna­men­tals gar­dener. After all, I do love food. I also come from a fam­ily in which prac­ti­cal and use­ful activities—such as fix­ing your own car, build­ing a shed or grow­ing your own food—are highly valued.

But even more than that, the intel­lec­tual part of me under­stands that food is grown from the ground thanks to the com­bi­na­tion of sun, soil and rain. The roman­tic part of me, on the other hand, thinks that grow­ing veg­eta­bles, herbs and fruits is some­how magic. When I grow a tomato, I can mar­vel at it for quite a long time before I get around to sink­ing my teeth into it. The cucum­bers I pickle are more than mere jars of food. They are the prod­uct of my abil­ity to do magic—to make some­thing from prac­ti­cally nothing.

Down Place Greenhouse

Green­house at Down Place

Unlike some of my gar­den­ing friends, I have not had the advan­tage of a gar­den mentor—a par­ent or grand­par­ent to show me how to stake toma­toes, wran­gle rangy straw­berry plants or iden­tify which end of the bulb goes up. What I have learned about gar­den­ing has largely been gleaned from read­ing books and killing plants. So when I digress from my report­ing of my Big Fat Eng­lish Gar­den Vaca­tion to sneak behind the hedge and look at the lit­tle green­houses and poke among the uneven rows of nurs­ery pots, just under­stand that I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out this whole gar­den­ing busi­ness. Part of me still believes that if I can just see how these incred­i­ble gar­den­ers do things behind the scenes I may learn some secrets that will help trans­form my own gar­den into some ver­sion of the Eng­lish ideal. For me, it’s like sneak­ing behind the magician’s curtain.

So let me tell you about a few of the things I saw there behind the hedge.

In many Amer­i­can gar­dens I have vis­ited, there is no obvi­ous place where plants are started and nur­tured before being set into the ground or pot­ted up into a pretty con­tainer. In some Amer­i­can gar­dens it looks as if every flower and shrub comes straight from the nurs­ery and gets plopped right into a hole wait­ing for it to arrive. In oth­ers there is a lit­tle stash of plants in nurs­ery pots that looks as if they were shoved behind a garage or under a deck in the hurry to tidy up for vis­i­tors. But I haven’t seen a lot of pot­ting benches and even fewer greenhouses.

greenhouse at The Grange


greenhouse at Old Erringham Cottage

In con­trast, every gar­den we vis­ited on my recent Eng­lish gar­den tour has a place tucked out of sight and around a cor­ner to prop­a­gate plants. At one small town gar­den we vis­ited the gar­den­ers only had space for a small cold­frame, but most gar­dens had at least a small greenhouse.

As you can imag­ine, a few of the green­houses were pic­turesque or even archi­tec­tural show­cases in them­selves. But sur­pris­ingly, most of the green­houses I saw—even on the grand estates—were small­ish, eco­nom­i­cal and util­i­tar­ian struc­tures. Some were well-swept, quite tidy and visitor-ready, but oth­ers were a lit­tle bit messy. Oh they weren’t oh-my-god messy, just the kind of messy that hap­pens when there is work in progress. Many times it looked as if the gar­dener had just stepped away from the pot­ting bench for a cup of tea.

garden work area2

A few of the green­houses were used for grow­ing toma­toes and cucum­bers. If, like me, you are a veg­etable gar­dener then you know that toma­toes and cucum­bers like the warm sum­mer weather that we have here in most of the U.S. I sup­pose the com­par­a­tively cool British sum­mers aren’t all that con­ducive to grow­ing these warmth-loving veg­gies in the open air, so they become cod­dled indoor veg­gies in the U.K.

Some of the green­houses still had seed start­ing oper­a­tions in progress while oth­ers had been mostly emp­tied out by the time we vis­ited in mid-June. A good num­ber of them seemed to have long-term plant board­ers on the green­house shelves. One green­house even had a grape vine as thick as my arm grow­ing through the pot­ting bench, up the wall and cov­er­ing the ceiling.

vine in greenhouse

Near the green­house there were the inevitable com­post bins. As with the green­houses, some were magazine-worthy (for a cer­tain type of mag­a­zine any­way) while oth­ers were no more glam­orous than lay­ered yard waste, but they all had a com­post oper­a­tion going on.

When we asked the gar­den­ers about whether they fer­til­ize, even sin­gle gar­dener said, “Yes!” A cou­ple of gar­den­ers men­tioned spe­cial tomato food. But most often they men­tioned the lib­eral use of fish, blood and bone. In fact, I saw con­tain­ers of fish, blood and bone fer­til­izer in a cou­ple of the work sheds. When I returned home and Googled around to learn about sim­i­lar fer­til­izer com­bi­na­tions here in the U.S., there were none to be found. Strangely enough I did find a Mir­a­cle Grow (of all com­pa­nies!) fish, blood and bone fer­til­izer avail­able in the U.K.

fish blood and bone

Another thing I noticed in the green­houses were plenty of terra cotta pots, although I didn’t see many actu­ally put to use. The nurs­ery plants were all in those ubiq­ui­tous black nurs­ery pots–nothing at all fancy about that.

Potting Shed

Invari­ably, tools were care­fully orga­nized and well-maintained. There was no putting away a dirty shovel or hoe in these Eng­lish gar­dens. I can’t say if they were reg­u­larly sharp­ened, but I’m will­ing to bet that they were and that the fru­gal Brits know the value of tool maintenance.

tool garage

Birds must be a major prob­lem for gar­den­ers grow­ing berries and cur­rants. But rather than toss­ing on a stiff (and often tan­gled) black plas­tic net like I do here in my gar­den, nearly all the fruit­ing plants were caged in proper, neatly con­structed chicken wire houses, com­plete with lit­tle doors and some­times with raised beds. It’s obvi­ously work­ing for them because the cur­rents were gor­geous. We were there almost at peak pick­ing time.

red currents

Berry house at Nyewood House

Come to think of it, the gar­den­ers may have had their fruits pro­tected to keep vis­i­tors like me from gob­bling them right there by the bush. I mean, I had never had a goose­berry before so when everyone’s back was turned I picked and gob­bled the first unpro­tected goose­berry I came across in one of the fancy gar­dens! Have you had one? It’s an inter­est­ing tex­ture and a bit tart. But tasty. I can def­i­nitely see mak­ing goose­berry jam.

I have plenty of gor­geous pho­tos of the actual gar­dens. I took 1,977 pho­tos dur­ing my week-long tour, so it’s tak­ing me a while to fig­ure out how to share them. Check back!

A note about the pho­tos: I haven’t iden­ti­fied the loca­tion of most of these pho­tos. There is cer­tainly noth­ing shame­ful about well-organized tools or green­houses. But these pho­tos are cer­tainly not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the beau­ti­ful gar­dens we saw, so I’ll wait to iden­tify the gar­dens with the pretty photos–to come.



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