The garden I have now isn’t the garden I started with. My first proper garden was in a swamp. I didn’t realise it was in a swamp in the beginning as I was keen to get started and completely naïve. I just knew I wanted to grow my own food so I could have a healthier lifestyle.
The first version of that first garden was amazing. I grew everything I could think of and it all grew well. I thought it was all me – I was a natural. But looking back, one of those elusive perfect growing seasons where the weather was ideal, and the pest populations were low resulted me catching the gardening bug wholeheartedly. I suspect if I had started my journey in any one of the growing seasons since I may not be where I am today!
That first garden in that first season was dug straight into the ground and for most people the soil beneath our feet is just fine for growing in, without the need for fancy raised beds. The soil I had was amazing stuff. You really can’t beat swamp soil – except as swamp soil – it has the tendency to hold water. In summer this is great and another reason my first attempts were so successful. However, buoyed by my initial success I decided to grow a winter garden in our mild climate and all was going well… until the rains came. The soil type is known as the sponge of the soil world and can hold 20x its own weight in water! But it also had a tendency to raise the water table above the level of the ground. During the first heavy rain in my winter garden I panicked. The garden was flooding, and I needed to save it. In my naivety we tried to scoop the water out but the more we removed the more there was. We gave up when my carrots sailed by.
The next version of the garden was a raised bed built from one of the horse fences that surrounded the property. Then I took down another fence and made another bed and another and before I knew it, I had 35 raised beds and no fences. It was a productive garden, kitted out with a fabulous irrigation system, thanks to the good people at Gardena. It not only provided our family with all our vegetable needs, but a surprising side affect was a blooming career as a garden writer. I was in my element and had made my peace (most of the time) with the occasional flooding.
Then we moved. I cried when we left. The garden was almost and extension of who I was. But with the promise of having a new garden at the new place I began the process of building a new garden in a new place. This garden was built in a season, with improvements based on lessons learned the hard way during the previous decade. There was a partial season in there where I had to resort to container gardening and have full respect for those who garden this way successfully. It is not an easy way to grow food.
The new garden has its own set of challenges, it is beside the sea, with its strong winds, on a sandy soil. The beds are raised once again to help negate the problems drainage problems with the less than ideal soil. They are filled with lovely swamp soil from the 6 truckloads I brought with me. There are the same number of beds, laid out in a different way. I knew how much space I needed to grow what I wanted to grow and fiddled about with grid paper hoping for a beautiful potager style garden only to find myself with functional utilitarian rows!
There is a whole different kind of learning to be done in this garden and in this environment and so the journey of the garden will continue to grow, and so will my journey as the gardener. A good gardener never stops learning.