While you’re enjoying the last of the year’s warmth, now is the perfect time to start planning next year’s garden and planting for Spring. Brett Braley-Palko shares his tips for creating a bountiful (and manageable) Potager Garden, whatever the size of your outside space
IMAGE: BRETT PALEY PALKO AT HOME ON HIS FARM
I used to live in California; it did not work out for me. Having grown up in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, the colour palette was a gradient of greens. I used to shake the grapevine over the chicken run and watch them scramble for a muscadine. Small and disfigured peaches grew in the backyard of my childhood home. They were almost sour, but I still felt like it was an accomplishment to pick the best ones and share them with my mother. But in the city, I only had manicured lawns and water conservations brought on by drought.
I needed greenery. I took it for granted. Urban life was suffocating, so I now live on a five-acre farm. I got myself a flock of chickens when I moved back; three dogs and a husband followed. And while I look at our raggedy pasture; the barn that needs a door replaced and the million weeds that need pulled, I know I couldn’t survive – mentally – anywhere else.
I built a sanctuary out of necessity, and have enjoyed watching the small victories unravel over the months.”
In a fit of excitement and naïve enthusiasm, we tried an acre-long garden the first year we moved here. It didn’t last a season. I am not a farmer or gardener in a professional sense and we didn’t know how much work it would entail. So I began small again. Started over, as I always tend to do. I bought seedlings of tomatoes, courgettes, rosemary and peppers. I poked my fingers in the dirt and covered over lettuce, kale and dill seeds. I grew it all myself, on the back deck where I could put my love into it.
I built a sanctuary out of necessity, and have enjoyed watching the small victories unravel over the months. Here are the tips I found that helped me build a small sanctuary outside my kitchen door that has nourished us in more ways than one…
Learn the layout
To start, it is best to understand the layout of your space – whether it’s a compact apartment balcony, a garden deck, or a large growing bed. Ask the following: How much sunlight does the space get each day? Are there sun, frost or wind protection options I can utilise if needed? We found out the hard way that our plants were getting nearly nine hours of constant sunlight a day by ending up with a sorry-looking crop of scorched tomatoes and cucumber vines. With an east-facing garden, we ensure to provide additional shade and water vigorously in extreme temperatures.
Consult the experts
Farm shops, garden centres and even bloggers are almost always eager to answer questions. There’s something about the gentle art of gardening that builds a camaraderie between strangers; it’s a mutual respect of slowing down and being humble to nature, I suppose. And while you may fall asleep dreaming of what you’ll do with your abundance of courgettes and pumpkins, a more experienced gardener may temper your goals down to a manageable, workable scale. I wanted a whole English rose garden set-up, but the lovely lady at the garden centre brought me down to a more realistic handful of bushes to be planted along our front walk. While not as luxurious, it is beautiful and more easy to manage for first-timers like us.
Grow, don’t sow
Understanding the limited square footage you may have available, you may want to opt for plants that are already started instead of growing everything yourself from seed. Considering the extra space needed for sowing trays and the time required for sowing and watering, it might be worth it in the long run. Consider it a head start to harvesting your own herbs for your next dinner party.
Think outside the planter
Be creative when it comes to space and what your plants need. I’ve found that, due to the position of the garden, those large black plastic tubs just don’t work for our plants due to the heat they retain. Instead, we opt for a crop of terracotta pots I was given by my neighbour. While in our west-facing front porch, I have a few old metal buckets with flower seeds thrown in for fun. I don’t hole myself up to one ideal. I also try to think both horizontally and vertically. Using trellis, chicken wire, or even creatively braided twine can offer the stability needed for vining vegetables such as courgettes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. This frees up more space on your patio while also promotes fruiting.
Country style for all sizes
I’ve had to come to the realisation that I may never own a proper country estate. But that has not stopped me from trying my damnedest to recreate Arcadian beauty, no matter where I live. The best way I have found to do this is by adding rustic elements to my design and growing a little haphazardly. Wildflower turf planted in apple crates adds bucolic charm to a balcony and I let my plants grow a little wild before pruning. I like the relaxed feel to a space. Too manicured and I can’t unwind properly.