Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sunday in the garden - Life on Pig Row - Before I moved to Pig Row ...


Before I moved to Pig Row, I gardened like most people in my spare time and with aspirations of a grander life where I would live off the land. At Drovers, my old garden, this was impossibility. I came to Drovers at the start of the millennium, a plot that was no more than ten feet by seventeen, a reclaimed piece of ground from the off road parking movement. This L-shaped garden largely faced south apart from the path to the front door which was shaded by the gable end of the three storey weaver’s cottage we lived in. The ground was hard, compacted by car wheels and was home to a sad crocosmia and dying daffodils clinging to the edges of the garden.

The parking space cum garden was a home to the neighbourhood cats and kids. The latter became clear after we built a new fence and had to scrape several children and their bikes of it one Sunday afternoon. Later, I waged a war against randy cats with a water gun as they moved in under cover of darkness to dig up the new plants and sing.

Over ten years the war with cats escalated, a war I won, thanks to the fact that I never left any bare soil at Drovers. The neighbourhood kids grew up, moved away, saving my fence and I built a garden.

But, at Drovers in that first year, like most new gardeners, I planted everything and anything. Any plant that I saw at the garden centre came home with me, I had no idea what hardening off was or why it was wrong to see summer plants in full flower in March. Such are the dangers of garden centres and over eager new gardeners looking for an instant garden. Back then, I had no real idea what to plant or when. In that first year I lost more plants than I have lost in the last decade. I over planted and never dug over the plot except for planting holes.

In that first year I didn’t dig in any manure and composting was something that old men did alone at the bottom of the garden to avoid their wives. Drovers was not big enough to avoid anyone, and I had no desire to avoid my wife.  Drovers was a front garden on show to everyone who lived in the small courtyard in which our house nestled.

Drovers failed in that first year and if I had been a less stubborn man I may have turned my back on gardening. But I am stubborn. I spent the autumn and winter reading up on gardening, I moved from room to room, floor to floor, clutching an open book. There were sounds of ohhh really?, never knew that and well, that explains a few things from every nook and cranny in Drovers.

I learnt that all gardens work when they start at the most basic level, the soil. Drovers had hardly any of that in that first year; a mere inch clung to a hard pan. When I left ten years later the soil level was a good twenty inches in parts. I crammed in the power factory for that garden, two compost bins and two water butts. There was no room for a greenhouse and in spring many of windowsills at Drovers were full of seedlings and complaints from my wife.

However, Drovers taught me an important lesson that gardens are organic, that they can change as we live in and with them. Though the path to the front door never moved the plans for Drovers changed seasonally as I tried my hands at raised beds, fruit growing and herbs. I was never afraid to sweep aside sections of the garden to fit the family’s needs. This is an important lesson for any gardener, that the garden is there for your enjoyment and for your family, and like your family it changes, sometimes it likes you, sometimes it argues with and sometimes it sits there in a huff but it will always be with you and you with them.

This is how I see Pig Row. This is how I have approached it. Pig Row is my family’s garden and fits my family’s needs. I grow for my family. There would be no Pig Row without Drovers.


Andrew Oldham writes about gardening at Pig Row. Pig Row is split into three gardens, the fruit & herb garden, the allotment and the meadow. These gardens are spread over a quarter of an acre on top of the Pennines. Weather is not a problem there, it is a lifestyle. He has received no formal training in gardening. He ignored the gardening wisdom his father told him and opted to eat fresh peas straight from the pod. In his defence he was only six. He has learnt from his experiences of building several gardens from scratch and working an allotment. Andrew is an organic gardener and keeps chickens. His work has featured in The Sunday Times MagazineThe Cottage Gardener and on BBC Radio Four. He is an ex-BBC Journalist. He still eats most of the peas before they get to the kitchen but learnt to listen to his father.