All gardens start somewhere, some gardens start and falter, some gardens, like Pig Row were left to go back to the wild only to be coaxed back into production. Hopwood has been a garden that has to some extent faltered. Everything to make it a great garden is here, the staff, the students, the land but it has still faltered being pulled in several directions at once with no clear aim. We have one direction for Hopwood and that is organic and to work on organic principles we need to get back to the soil and the other day we showed you how this started in the polytunnel. A few days later and the students have cleared the tunnel and it seems an apt time to take stock of this new garden and to put some ideas down in a blog post. To show you the site. You're more than welcome to chip in, this is effectively a new garden on a much larger scale than Pig Row, it's produce will filter into restaurants and the community. It will be a working kitchen garden with commercial aims. It will produce. It will teach. It will provide opportunities. Feel free to get involved in this journey by chipping in on our Facebook Page, twitter account or email us.
So, this is the polytunnel now, the clay dug over and loosened, ready to be limed and to also be mulched with well rotted manure. It's a large undercover space more than 50 feet long.
Though clay can be problematic, this is the right time of year to be digging it if it has turned into a pan (hard crust, water doesn't penetrate, compacted, awful) as the cold will break it down. We try to avoid digging and machinery on such soil as it will only lead to compaction and compaction means soil that is even worse off than when you started.
However, outside the polytunnel there is a large lawn earmarked for individual students beds of 10x3 feet (3x1 metre approximately) - think border or small vegetable bed - the students will take this on at Hopwood and choose here what they will grow through the seasons. They have to dig these soon and how that will go it to be seen, they didn't enjoy the clay in the polytunnel! But who does?!
Next on our tour is a large glasshouse in the Dutch style. At present it has the last of the courgettes/zucchini and tomatoes but sadly there were no plans for follow on crops and that has been a missed opportunity. Soil should never be left bare even in a glasshouse, it dries out and quickly turns to dust. This is a sign that the planning of this garden faltered but it is not the end of the world, we have the technology, we can rebuild! (except we don't have six million dollars or Steve Austin). We are looking at producing bedding plants in the dormant season, hardy plants that will survive the winter and can be sold on in spring and then replaced with food.
A common complaint with cougettes/zucchini undercover is mildew and they have succumbed here due to a hot and humid summer (those few days) followed by lots of rain and cold. It's just one of those things and the crops are still coming in strong and in some cases like marrows.
The tour brings us to the more problematic area. Or as we have started to refer to, the 'plant graveyard'. Where lovely plants and hedging have gone to die.
Now, students come and go at Hopwood but we have pigs, we have many pigs, we have two fat Kune Kune pigs - those tiny cute pigs that were sold to many but didn't come with instructions but came with the very fast and spreading realisation that tiny pigs become large pigs and then even larger and sometimes more grumpy. So, we have two large grumpy pigs and grumpy pigs love to turn soil over and they're not like heavy machinery. Heavy machinery on clay is not a good idea but pigs are, machines don't add manure as the root around, and it's goodbye plant graveyard and hello over wintering pig pen. Then come spring the pigs go to their summer home and us gardeners can move in. We even have plans for a show garden too at the lower end of the plot. A show garden! Yes, a show garden but with a twist, all the materials must be used again by following students making them consider conservation, upcycling and recycling of materials. That gardens don't have to come straight off the peg, that gardening has a real impact on the environment.
We now come what has been called the orchard, it's not a success and these trees and some of the soft fruit is coming out to be cordoned, or left as standards across the site. We have plans to create a new large orchard down the hill from the main site to link through to the Jacobean hall on the site. Call it the first phase of possible restoration that will look to the hall for inspiration in tree varieties. Yes, they will be fruit! There's strawberries here too, swamped by the grass, and they will be dug out soon and placed in the polytunnel - do you remember that as the start of this journey? - told you it was a large site.
We have then a dwindling kale and cabbage patch in what we call Tosh's Tunnel. It was put here by Tosh, we don't know who he is but if the name sticks, use it. This site is being used at the moment to feed the pigs but we want to extend into commercial growth of herbs and fast growing crops. There is a need for nets as the tunnel is brimming with caterpillars. Remember prevention is better than crying.
You think it's all over, don't you? But this is a large site. There's goats behind us, rheas to the right and alpacas to the left and we're stuck in the middle with a large site the spirals down to agricultural buildings and classrooms.
Our potting shed/seedling glasshouse is already being pressed into use, we have plants on the heated benches and plans for more to produce crops throughout the year. So, this is Hopwood and we are Pig Row, let's enjoy the journey and make the site something special. Get in touch if you want to visit or bring a group along. We are at the start of the journey, so join us in our new section about a new garden.