Autumn has well and truly set in here at Bedfordshire – lately, it’s been a mix of those dull, damp days where everything seems saturated and sodden, and those gloriously sunny days when everything virtually sings with colour, all basked in a golden glow. I’m happy enough with that. The mixture of warm and damp has seen a surge in weeds though, which has added to my to-do list, but the benefits of weeding at this time of year is that even the toughest of tap roots virtually slide out of the fluffy, damp soil. This weekend, in between work, I was hoping to hoe over a couple of the veg plots, gather leaves for leaf mould, and  windfall apples for the birds/compost.

But the really great news is that FINALLY we have made some progress with our Mediterranean eating area. We bit the bullet and ordered in some turf from our local nursery (we’ve reseeded parts of the lawn, and the birds are very good at dropping bird seed on it, which germinates alarmingly fast at this time of year, so turf was our best option). What was once an overgrown, untidy, corner of the Smallest Smallholding (and once a convenient out-of-sight dumping ground) is now level ground, laid to turf. But what we found – unsurprisingly – is that in its tidy, unappealing state, it was home to so much wildlife; beetles, spiders, worms, woodlouse, earwigs, caterpillars. We relocated virtually everything we could, but I’m very much aware that although we’ve levelled the area and made it look very neat, it’s also a very barren area.

(Take a look at our progress below – the first pic was from 2011 when we started the clearing work. After levelling it and leaving it over the winter/spring of 2012, we had to re-do a lot of the work again after this summer. The paint dribbles on our fence are courtesy of our neighbours’ paint job on their side. Lovely, eh?)

Clearing and levelling in 2011 Levelled ground Beginning the turf laying View from the cherry tree Freshly laid turf

The number one factor that I will always have in mind for my Smallest Smallholding is wildlife. So I’m hoping this barren state of affairs won’t last for long. The plan is to begin planting in Spring – I think it might be too late to start now for many of the plants we have in mind, and besides, we need to be saving up over winter for things like tax and the C-word. As I’ve mentioned before, the little – or not so little, as it now looks – corner of the Smallest Smallholding is home to relatively sandy soil, in a sunny aspect that’s prone to drying out, has a rain shadow from a 3ft fence on one side, and a 6ft fence on the other (adorned with lovely dribbles of dark green paint from our neighbours’ side). So a Mediterranean planting scheme should be perfect. We’re starting with the basics – lavender, rosemary and a couple of other flowering herbs… maybe the likes of hyssop… and working from there. My dream is to be sitting out there in the summer, eating my lunch whilst I watch an army of bees, butterflies, hover flies and other pollinating insects feast on my plants.

I’ll be attempting to come up with a planting scheme that means that flowers will be available for as long as possible for the wildlife, from early spring right through to the last possible point in November or December. My home-grown cosmos are doing amazingly well in a border further up the garden, which has bolstered the idea that I should at least try and grow most flowers from seed. We might spend out on getting good-size lavender and rosemary in there, and then fill in the gaps with our own home-grown plants. As ever, I do need to try and be as frugal as possible.

Now we’re approaching the dormant season, we are thinking about tackling our trees. The fruit trees have been largely left to their own devices, which means that the ancient plum killed itself earlier this year with a heavy crop of plums that was too much for its gnarly old boughs to take. Subsequently, it’s shooting up suckers all over the lawn so we might dig one out and replant it where we actually want it to grow… a bit like  legacy. The overbearing sycamore has its days numbered, but we’re hoping to replace it with a series of paper birch trees (bought ridiculously cheaply from Buckingham Nurseries straight from the field as a bare root tree), whilst leaving the ash in place, just taking the top off.

The cherry tree already had a haircut earlier this year so is in pretty good shape, which leaves the crab apple and the damson, perhaps the two trees that need the most attention. The damson is huge and could probably be taken down to a third of its size, and like the plum, the crab apple has been a victim of its own fruity success, with various limbs dropping off due to excessive weight over the past few years. So it’s grown in a rather strange shape… something we’ll look at when the leaves have completely dropped off and we can get a good look at it. I have a feeling I’ll be borrowing Mum’s RHS book on pruning. Really I have no idea when it comes to trees.


  1. That looks like a lot of hard work. I hope you get to sit out and enjoy your new lawn next summer.

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  3. It’s looking lovely, I bet it took a lot of hard graft to get the area into a decent enough state to lay the turf!