As some of you know I’m building a low carbon kitchen garden, using local materials from the garden or from within a small radius of my home. The idea is to show that you can transform a wasteland into a productive growing space that will reduce food miles without increasing CO2 emissions during the construction phase. So many gardens, even organic ones, wipe out the advantage of growing your own by using high energy materials such as concrete block or quarried stone from overseas or wood grown in an unsustainable way. I’m avoiding all these materials by recycling where I can, or choosing coppice woodland products that I can source very close to the garden. I also want to create a space that is great for me to enjoy and fantastic for wildlife. I’m very much influenced by Geoff Hamilton’s style of gardening and organic guru’s Robert Hart and Laurence Hills. I’m not that interested in modern design themes, which quite often sacrifice environmental concerns in the search for dramatic and all to temporary aesthetic statements. I prefer to create a timeless, wildlife rich, comfortable, productive space to enjoy. The structural elements will be simple, natural or recycled materials. The planting will be in the ornamental kitchen garden or pottager style.
So far I’ve cleared up a patch of ground, sorted all the rubble I found there and turned some of it into a rubble wall seat (see rubble wall seat blog). I wanted to show that you didn’t necessarily have to take rubble off to landfill but could turn it into something useful. In fact, although I didn’t realise this at the time there’s a long tradition of rubble wall building which you can find out about if you do a web search. Monty Don featured a beautiful, artistic and individual Indian garden made out of rubble in his Around the World in 80 Gardens.
In phase one of the project I concentrated my efforts on clearing up and using the rubble. I’ve also made pathways and a little patio area but I’ll talk about this another time. My project runs alongside articles I am writing for Garden News magazine, which is the leading practical weekly gardening mag in the UK, now celebrating its 50th year. This week in Garden News, you can see the following article on making wattle fencing and bed edging and also dead hedges, along with loads of other great articles by gardeners such as Carol Klein, Joe Swift and Andi Cleverley. Anyway, enough of the plug, here’s the article.
What to do with prunings and hedge row trimmings.
I have a selection of unruly hedgerow trees at the rear of my plot that need regular pruning – hazel, sycamore, ash and privet. Over the next couple of articles I’ll be showing you how I’ve recycled the pruned woody waste into essential structural elements in the kitchen garden. The materials, supplemented for these projects with some cut coppice from a local woodland, have no carbon footprint, and are a waste product that might otherwise have been driven to the local dump-it site. Best of all no trees were harmed in the making!
Fencing and wind breaks
Even if you’re garden is already fenced off the wattle hurdle and so called dead hedge described below will make a useful wind barrier around your veggie plot – keeping the air temperature up around your plants by cutting wind chill and trapping sunlight. At this time of year a little extra wind protection and warmth can make all the difference for young growth. Make the garden micro-climate better for your plants when you design your garden and you will have fewer problems later on.
For both these projects you’ll need loppers, a pruning saw and a mallet. A bill hook (a type of axe) is useful but not essential.
Wattle Hurdle and Edging – for straight and straightish branches
The principles for making wattle edging and fencing are the same. Assemble several long thin straight but flexible sticks of a similar length with all the small side shoots removed (probably no more than two-three year old growth: I’ve used ash, sycamore, hazel and silver birch). Using slightly thicker shorter straight sticks cut a number of stakes (at least three) a third as tall again as the required height of the edging or fencing. Space them in a straight line at regular intervals so you will be able to weave your sticks between them and have a slight overlap of each stick at each end. Push the stakes (use the mallet if necessary) into the ground so the part showing above the ground is equal to the height of edging or fencing you require; like an iceberg a third will be underground.
Take one of the long weaving sticks and place the butt end on the ground so it slightly overlaps and rests behind the first stake. Weave it in front of the second stake and then behind the third and so on until you get to the last stake. Take the butt end of the next stick and place it at the opposite end of the wattle to the first and if the first stick ended up behind the last stake put this one in front of it, and vice versa. Weave back the other way, in front of one stake and behind the next. Repeat with each stick until you’ve reached the required height, each time alternating the position of the butt end. This alternation balances the pressure on the stakes and prevents weakness. Trim any lose ends with loppers.
The Dead Hedge – for crooked and dense branches
You soon learn that very few branches are actually straight or even straightish and therefore useful for wattling, but if you’ve got a mass of crooked and dense material you can make a so called dead hedge instead. This takes up slightly more space but making one is just as simple. Decide how tall you want your dead hedge and bash two lines of appropriately sized straight thick stakes in to the ground with the mallet (three to four year old branches will probably do it) – one foot apart at fairly regular but alternate intervals (in other words like a slalom or football skills course).
Pile the brash between the stakes pushing it down as you go until you have a good even and sturdy barrier.
Quite simple really: next time pea sticks, bean poles and more! If you want to learn more about coppice crafts CAT is running a coppiced products course next week – www.cat.org.uk/courses.