Home grown peas, anyone? Some plans for the cohousing garden

March 29, 2019 10:42 am



In Colchester, we are close to great sources of garden inspiration. These Spring flowers are at Beth Chatto Gardens

It’s so exciting to be moving in soon! There are great things ahead, but also great challenges. One of the challenges will be to make the planting of the land around our homes look beautiful and bring the fruit and vegetable growing to fruition.


Our garden will have several elements: there is a stream bordering the north perimeter, a large mill pond, a vegetable and fruit growing area, wildflowers, large established trees and newly planted saplings. We will have a couple of chickens and four or five beehives too.

Colour in our adaptable plants, such as this purple loosestrife, is very important

Keeping to the theme of challenges, the site itself is challenging, as it consists mainly of heavy clay on quite a steep slope. We have all learnt a new garden concept – the swale. What is a swale? It’s a water engineering feature that helps with the management of the water running off the hill. Rainwater will be directed into the swale then, when the water in the swale reaches a certain level, it will be channelled into the existing natural water courses at the bottom of the hill and eventually be taken off into the River Colne and out to the English Channel. In dry spells, the swale will dry out, so the planting of the swale requires plants that can live and thrive through both extremes of very wet and very dry; some suggestions, to begin with, are such things as loosestrife, irises, hardy geraniums, crocosmia, and alchemilla, all intermingled with tall hardy ornamental grasses.

Ornamental grasses can provide dramatic shape in our swale planting


Our wildflower meadow might not quite match this one in the 2012 Olympic park

We are also hoping to find space for a patch or two of wildflower meadow. This will be more difficult than it initially seems as you have to get rid of the existing strong grass. An expert with a PhD in organic weed control from the Rothamsted arable research institute has told us that the trick is to mulch it with a four-inch layer of hay and wait for the grass to die before planting a wildflower mix. Some of us want our wildflower meadow right now but, in reality, it may take a few years before it is a beautiful colourful sight.

We have learnt of a very practical way to improve the fertility of the raised beds planned for our vegetable garden. Over time we expect to install several rows of raised beds, but we only need to build the first one or two in order to begin introducing the ‘chicken tractor’ technique of soil enrichment. The width and length of each raised bed will be able to accommodate the chicken run and coop.

An example of how our raised beds could be

Once the chickens are introduced, they will set about pecking and scratching the surface of the ground and leaving their droppings. The result will be perfect soil for planting! Then the chickens can be moved onto the other raised beds in turn. This process could be further enhanced by an initial planting of clover. The bees love the flowers, the chickens have a nutritious diet and nitrogen is drawn from the air and fixed in the ground – a win-win all round!

It seems we will have to be patient to see the gardens achieve their full potential, but we will get to work as soon as we move in to start the process, perhaps even getting a small harvest from the vegetable garden in our very first year. How good those peas will taste!


By the Cannock Mill Gardening Group