Zone 1a

Zone 1a of our garden is the area between the 1960s kitchen/bathroom extension and a 4ft 2in high brick wall that runs the whole length of the area dividing our property from the neighbours. It is about 25ft long by 4ft 8in wide. The whole area is concreted over.

The extension is south facing and in summer our neighbour's identical single storey extension casts no appreciable shadow. The dividing brick wall is the only part that provides any shade. Soon after we moved into the property we started to grow tomatoes, peppers and chillies in pots along the wall. We did this for many years but there were two issues. The first was that once the tomato plants got to 3-4ft  and were laden with fruit they became top heavy and the pots would often topple over. We considered putting up a system of wires along the extension wall to which we could tether the plants, but it was also obvious that we were not using as much of the area as we could for growing food. Building raised beds was a possibility but we didn't want anything that was too permanent. The plan might not work and not be as productive as we anticipated, and we wanted to retain reasonably easy access to the extension walls for repairs and maintenance. 

We decided to try some Gro-Beds from Marshalls (see Greenhouse Gro-Beds). (There are similar products from other companies). These have been extremely successful and during the summer we grew tomatoes at the back, peppers in the middle and salads at the front. We try and make use of the beds the whole year around and grow lettuces, oriental greens/salads, onions, garlic and swiss chard depending on the season. 
Peppers and chillis are no longer grown in the beds but are back in pots. This leaves us free to experiment with other taller crops in the beds. 

Last year (2015) some squash plants popped up from seeds that had survived our compost heap and we left them to do their own thing. They were so successful that we are repeating the experiment this year (2016). 

Squashes 2015

A new experiment this year involved growing peas at the back of the beds. They included mangetout, sugar snap and what I call ordinary garden peas. The seedlings I used were the result of viability testing that I had carried out at the beginning of the year on the Reading Food Growing Network's collection of pea seeds in their seed swap boxes. I grew the seedlings on to produce pea shoots and after two or three cuts I transferred them into the beds. We have had a fantastic crop so it will be peas at the back of the beds next year.

The soil in the bags originally came from the tomato pots, other areas in the garden where soil levels were building up and our own compost. We top up the beds twice a year with our own compost and the crops are fed with either liquid comfrey fertiliser or chopped comfrey leaves.

We still use pots to fill in the gaps around and between the Gro-beds and these contain peppers, chillis, potatoes and various herbs.

There is one large tub next to the kitchen door that is currently used for runner beans. We shall have to rethink this planting because we forgot how tall the beans can grow and the tops are spreading across the kitchen roof.  Ladders or long handled loppers are needed to harvest the topmost beans!

A second large tub is home to a Brown Turkey fig. It is now in its second full year and we might see a few figs ripening soon.

The area next to the dividing brick wall is home to three varieties of  Heuchera in pots. They used to be in the main part of the garden but had to be moved when the flower bed was converted to veg growing. They seem very happy in their new home and there are always plenty of insects buzzing around the flower stems.

Our comfrey juice extractor is here as well but it is in the wrong place. It needs to be around the corner in zone 1b near the two main sources of comfrey in the garden, the water butts and where the watering can is usually kept. It would save a little bit of time and effort when harvesting and chopping up the comfrey for the "extractor" and makes more sense to have the comfrey juice close to to where the watering can is filled up.

Stacked against the the length of the dividing wall are piles of branches and canes used for plant supports, empty and half empty plant pots, and bags containing shredded paper from both of our home offices and which is destined for the compost heap. We try not to disturb too much in what, at first glance, looks like a complete mess because the whole run of the wall seems to have become a haven for frogs and toads. Anything that is needed elsewhere in the garden has to be removed very carefully, especially in winter, so as not to disturb any wildlife that may be lurking or hibernating there.

The other major wildlife concern is the wasps.We had a huge wasps nest in the roofspace about 11-12 years ago. There were hundreds of them buzzing in and out and regrettably we had to have the nest killed. The entry point was an air brick above the kitchen door and the wasps were becoming extremely aggressive. They were a danger to people entering and leaving the kitchen plus we were about to have the roof cavity insulated. There was no way the workmen were going to do battle with hundreds of angry wasps! The wasps were killed, the air brick has been sealed off but this year (2016) wasps have found a way into the roofspace further along. We are happy to leave them be; they are unlikely to bother us from their current location nor we them, and they deserve their place in our garden (Why all civilised people should love wasps).

Additional photos

Looking east to west, 15 June 2015
Looking east to west, 17 August 2016

Looking west to east, 15 June 2015
Looking west to east, 17 August 201

View from the kitchen window, 22 July 2016

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