preparing my spring garden

by Sharon Santoni

spring sunshine with daffodils

Welcome to my spring garden!  Oh my goodness, we are living through strange times right now.   Secluded at home with my husband, I’m in daily contact with my children, my mum and my good friends.   But while I’m happy to check in on them, I am so aware of those working in the health care world who are taking risks everyday to care for others.   Also people working in food retail who ensure that we can all still buy provisions, or the transporters and shippers who are currently so vital in keeping the economy going.    We are all so grateful for the work they are doing.

Like many of you, I feel pretty helpless to do anything except to stay at home and prevent the spread of the virus.  We are not going out at all, except for a weekly trip to buy food.   As well as working from my office, I’m using this confinement period to prepare my spring garden.   Sowing seeds, laying a final mulch and planning the year ahead.

This week on my Instagram I’ll be sharing lots of videos from my garden, hoping to bring you a little welcome calm and comfort.

garden seen from above

Today I wanted to explain how and why I have doubled the size of my vegetable garden, or potager.

I created the potager a few years ago, using the no-dig method.  You can see it at its start here. and here

I’ve since become an evangelist for no-dig gardens, it is amazing!     We add new layers of mulch, compost, leaves etc at the end of each year, and by the time the spring comes around, we have a beautiful weed-free bed ready to plant, or sow directly.

vegetable garden prepared for the spring

So inspired by this time saving method, this year I decided to double my vegetable garden.  We dug out the paths last fall, and they will soon be filled with sand.   We have created the same wattle fencing around the new beds, and are nearly done replacing the fencing on the original beds.   The choice of wood is important here.  The first beds were fenced in with hazelnut branches, but they only last two or three years.  The new wattling is made from chestnut branches, that I bought from a producer in the center of France, and he tells me they will last closer to 8 or 9 years.

Of course it is one thing to create the new beds, but now we have to fill them.   Last year I was lucky to visit some spectacular gardens where I took lots of pictures and notes, on how to plant and stake and design the beds.

Aesthetics are very important of course, ‘cos you know that I love a good photo :).  But the first decisions were what do we want to eat from this garden?    There is one bed that will be given over to herbs; we have huge established rhubarb already, but besides that it is a clean slate.

seedlings growing in pots

So I thought that you may have some advice for me.  Crops that you have grown successfully in your garden, or others that should be avoided.   There is an added difficulty this year with all our garden centres closed due to the virus.     Consequently, I am sowing seeds!  Gulp!  Did I just say that?!    I’ve never been very clever at growing from seed, but this time I have no choice.  I’m trying to stay concentrated, and remember to check in on them everyday, and water.   We have a very small green house, where I’ve made some very makeshift potting tables with some old doors and trestles.    Not really high-tech, but it’s getting the job done.

I’d love to hear if you are out in your garden avoiding seclusion blues.   Are you experienced at sowing seeds?    Have you also adopted the no-dig method.    There are videos going up on my instagram everyday this week, with images of the garden, of my seeds and the potager.  Please pop over and take a look.

Take care my friends.  Stay inside, or stay isolated.  The only way we can stop this pandemic is to avoid contact with other people, and we really have to take that seriously.   Let’s beat this thing together!

41 comments

Susan March 24, 2020 - 8:35 pm

Basil and parsley spring up from seed! Eggplants are also easy to start, and tomatoes are weeds. I think peppers are a bit finicky. Onion, chives, and all the bulb things should do well in your beds. It’s not too early to direct sow peas, spinach, kale, lettuces, and such greens. You’ll be fine!

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Wendy Peat March 24, 2020 - 9:53 pm

Thankyou Sharon for bringing light & joy to our day!
I love to grow Purple King climbing beans, Rainbow Chard, anything mini and colourful.
We are preparing for Lockdown at Midnight tonight downunder, aka New Zealand. We are all blessed indeed to live in a country with wide open country spaces near our homes.
It is Autumn here…. broad beans, kale, cabbage to name a few in our gardens!

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Susan March 27, 2020 - 2:46 am

You forgot to thank the most important people of all—-THE FARMERS!

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Kameela March 28, 2020 - 2:11 pm

I too am conntemplating extending my potager with a no dig garden. Plant what you love to eat .Artichokes are pretty but do suffer from black flies. Rainbow chard.Cavolo Nero. Haricot green and yellow. Squashes aubergine peppers. Chillies lettuce including raddichio leeks. Mange tout. Purple carrots. Sweet potatoes!Have fun

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Judy Feyen March 24, 2020 - 8:46 pm

Sharon…thank you so much for your lovely post. I am in the U S in Michigan. My garden bulbs are just trying to get a start. We have had a few warmer days, but then yesterday we had a couple inches of snow. It didn’t last, but since we are all under a “shelter in place” order here, it would be so wonderful to have warm weather and flowers. I can’t wait to get out in my garden. Your garden pictures are so welcoming!
Stay well!

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Eileen March 24, 2020 - 9:04 pm

I am doing seeds for the first time. Primarily flowers and I’ll some in a seed tray in my house. I’m in California so I should be able to put many in the ground before long. Excited about this.

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Sharon Santoni March 25, 2020 - 10:41 am

Me too Eileen, a little worried too, because I’ve never been very successful with seeds. Here’s hoping!

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Janet March 25, 2020 - 4:14 pm

Don’t worry as they are just seeds that are inexpensive and you can always try again. Everyone who has a successful garden has had many trials and errors…just do not get discouraged and keep trying.
Right now in north Alabama, I have tomato seeds started in my greenhouse in trays under grow lights. There are many companies that make seed growing kits that make starting them easy.
Outside I have finished planting all of my spring seeds: carrots, lettuce, arugula, radishes, kale, kohlrabi, bok choy, Swiss chard, beets, potatoes, strawberries and some flowers. The last part of April, I will plant my summer seeds: zucchini, various beans, cantaloupe, corn, Sweet potatoes and many types of flowers.
Many of our plantings are in raised beds, but we also created one large bed in the ground. We use the no till method and cover our beds with cover crops and mulch for the winter. It works really well.
I also like to have a few crops that continually come back every year like: asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, some herbs and fruit trees.
Best of luck, but mostly enjoy!

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Janet March 25, 2020 - 4:18 pm

Don’t worry as they are just seeds that are inexpensive and you can always try again. Everyone who has a successful garden has had many trials and errors…just do not get discouraged and keep trying.
Right now in north Alabama, I have tomato seeds started in my greenhouse in trays under grow lights. There are many companies that make seed growing kits making starting them easy.
Outside I have finished planting all of my spring seeds: carrots, lettuce, arugula, radishes, kale, kohlrabi, bok choy, Swiss chard, beets, potatoes, strawberries and some flowers. The last part of April, I will plant my summer seeds: zucchini, various beans, cantaloupe, corn, Sweet potatoes and many types of flowers.
Many of our plantings are in raised beds, but we also created one large bed in the ground. We use the no till method and cover our beds with cover crops and mulch for the winter. It works really well.
I also like to have a few crops that continually come back every year like: asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, some herbs and fruit trees.
Best of luck, but mostly enjoy!

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Sally Newhart March 25, 2020 - 7:34 pm

I always start my bean and pea seeds by putting them between 2 sheets of paper towels on a plate and wetting them. I keep them moist and in about 4 days to a week they start putting out roots. Then I plant them, root down. Sometimes I don’t get to them right away so I end up planting them root down and first leaf up. So many hours in a day, you know.

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Taste of France March 24, 2020 - 9:05 pm

On our last supermarket trip before the lockdown (and we haven’t been out since), my kid and I bought what vegetable seeds were on offer. Hope to plant them soon. As you say, we’re in strange times.
Bit by bit I started using leaves (we have many trees!) as mulch. They are a lifesaver! My husband was 100% against it–he wanted leaves to be collected and taken to the dump. But spreading them around the base of hedges, even the raspberries, has eliminated weeds and kept the plants happy in our hot and dry south-of-France summers. It’s a win-win.

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Marianna Chryst March 25, 2020 - 3:54 am

Mentally planning my raised beds …Adding a few more this year. Plus lots more wild flower seeds ..Last year I just scattered the seeds and voila ..magic.bees. , butterflies .birds. magical.Love your posts

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Gina March 24, 2020 - 9:13 pm

Hi Sharon, sow turnips right now. The are ready to harvest in only a few weeks and they make you look good because they are so easy to grow. I also sow cylindrical red beets. They are even in size and perfect for salads, canning, etc. Bush beans are easy. You must have a gourmet salad blend and you must have a few carrots. I grow a few rows of annual flowers (Asters, Cosmos,Zinnias) within the beds…attracts bees and you will also have a ready bouquet of flowers for your house. Plant a few plants such as cabbages, peppers and cucumbers to give you encouragement to keep on weeding.
But most of all enjoy being outside. Your garden is already a charming spot. Make sure you take time out for a glass of wine or a cup of tea.

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mary stewart March 24, 2020 - 9:18 pm

i love your posts and even moreso in these uncertain times…i’m not a seed starter either, but you have inspired me…i know i’ve successfully done most herbs from seed…but nothing else…pumpkins one year from a random one i left out for the critters in the winter….keep on with your beautiful posts…i never have done raised beds wither but would like to ….i will read again how you did it…i like the idea of branch fences….take care and stay well <3

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Teresa Phillips March 24, 2020 - 9:21 pm

Most important not to overwater your seedlings. Let them dry at the surface before watering again to prevent fungus. Can’t stress that enough. Easy to grow staples are squash, beets and potatoes. Trickier but just as important are carrots and onions. Next some long producers like broccoli, green onions, chard and kale. Then some overwintering varieties like cabbage, parsnip, sprouting broccoli, turnip. Only then would I fill in with lettuce, spinach. Always nice to have a corner for perennials like sorrel, asparagus, rhubarb.

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Sharon Santoni March 25, 2020 - 10:42 am

THANK YOU Teresa!! Such timely advice, I’ll hold back on that extra watering can 🙂

x

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Susan Collard March 25, 2020 - 5:39 pm

I was just going to comment about the watering of seedlings. Seedlings “transpire” breathe out the moisture in their soil during the day and “respire” breathe in moisture from the air at night. So if you have a damp or rainy climate this will affect their moisture retention. Refrain from watering your tiny seedling babies until the pot or flat they are in is lightweight, not heavy with moist soil. Very important. I learned this the hard way. It is fun and rewarding to see them thrive!

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Rob March 24, 2020 - 9:52 pm

Here in New Zealand we are in Autumn, & it is decidedly chillier (especially further South). We are also commencing total lockdown. As we head into Winter, we will be following your vegetable garden’s progress with great interest : thanks so much for sharing!

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Beth R March 24, 2020 - 10:32 pm

Thank you for a beautiful magazine, Sharon, Unfortunately, I just had to cancel our 2 week may trip to Provence. Hopefully we will be rescheduling for the fall.
I too have enlarged my veg garden and am starting seeds for the first time in several years. We live in southern maine and had 4 inches oof snow last night so planting time is a bit off. I am focusing on 2 types of plants – food that I can preserve and foods that we love to eat fresh. I’ll be starting San Marzano tomatoes for canning sauce, salsa and chopped tomatoes with basil. Bush green beans for dilly beans (pickles), hot peppers for drying, tomatillos for salsa verde. Cherry tomatoes for eating, along with Long seedless cucumbers, lots of different lettuces, sweet red peppers, Sugar snap peas (going in the ground soon!)rainbow chard, multi colored carrots (because they are so beautiful). And probably more!

Thank you again for the beautiful magazine.
Beth

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Kelly March 24, 2020 - 10:44 pm

Do not know if you are doing carrots Sharon but if you are, throw in some different colors to complement the ordinary orange variety. Red, yellow, purple and white. I also like to grow tomatoes from seed and while I favor Beefsteak as I am known to eat tomato sandwiches during the summer, I also like to find variegated varieties to grow as well as yellow, purple and orange tomatoes. I love my summer vegetable dishes and salads to be a blaze of color. Good luck and take care of yourself and your family during these very trying times.

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Nettie March 24, 2020 - 11:37 pm

This post is such an inspiration! We had snow yesterday, which isn’t unusual for March here in the Midwest United States but hope for sunny days and warm weather to get started in the garden. My garden is tiny compared to yours but it is a space that is relaxing and Zen. Thank you for the photos Sharon…..
Also I’m new to your blog and have so enjoyed your charming short stories……lovely.

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Julia Yeates March 24, 2020 - 11:45 pm

I think I just found a use for the pile of bamboo shoots I’ve been climbing over for the last year!
I am in Brittany (hello neighbour!) and here I grow really good butternut squashes, courgettes and pumpkins, the best being those that grew in the compost heap from seeds from fruits I cooked last year. This year I have bought some steel arches to train the ‘wanderers’ to grow over, having seen a pic of a tunnel of squashes that looked beautiful as well as practical.
I had a bumper crop of red onions last year (I’m an hour from Roscoff so of course they grow well)
And in my courtyard the raspberries are a treasure that I add to gin and vodka…

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Bronwyn Lee-Coward March 25, 2020 - 12:19 am

I have serious garden envy the way that you have fenced the beds, they are so fantastic. Is it Willow? You definitely need “Tommy Tomatoes”, they are the little ones with some Basil, Nasturtiums and Marigolds for the Bees. The yield is better from the little tomatoes and they make a great Tarte Tatin. Try and erect a Framed wire support at the end of one of the beds for your peas or beans and shove some Sweet Peas on the other side. Potatoes, and Pumpkin and any one of the Swede family do not mind being togther, I used the seeds from a pumpkin I bought never bought seedlings again for pumpkin it comes back all by itself. Watermelon does that too. Just some of my thoughts and success stories. Here in the Blue Mountains (Australia) I am just sticking close to home…………. what can I say. Stay safe Sharon and everyone else enjoy your Spring and Summer, we are going into Autumn/Winter.

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Jeannine March 25, 2020 - 12:34 am

I like to grow various basils, cilantro, calendula, and heavenly blue morning glories from seeds. Your gardens are beautiful.

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Marie Batson March 25, 2020 - 3:11 am

I usually start my seeds indoors in Feb. but here it is nearly April and have not gotten to it! I like to use heirloom seeds and save my own from year to year for many of my plants, esp. tomatoes, peppers, etc. I just have a small space for myself now nearly 80 yrs old but raised my kids on a small farm where we grew nearly 90% of our organic food and always had a huge vegetable garden, fruit and nut trees, and vine fruit as well. My Kale and chard both wintered well thru this mild winter in the Pacific Northwest so happy I can still pick some greens before the new seeds sprout up. I now grow my own culinary herbs and raspberry and blueberry bushes as well as what I call my salad garden. As long as I am able I must have my garden as it is so much healthier picked fresh. Perhaps this year I will put more food in place of so many flowers and is lovely to mix them in the beds. Your fences are wonderful.
Does it protect from the critters?

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Robert March 25, 2020 - 3:34 am

Your garden is vast and charming! Thank you for sharing!! Lettuce does well from seeds and basil and chervil. One of my favorites is spinach. Wishing you the best in your endeavors. As for your wattle enclosures, my guess is that yew would last a few years.

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Emm March 25, 2020 - 3:43 am

Thank you for all of this, the pictures and the planting suggestions — it inspires and even more important, it gives hope. We have a way yet to go, but we will get through this. I am growing herbs from seedlings and experimenting with a few veggies in pots on the deck. Not sure how much I’ll get but figure it’s worth the effort.

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Jeanie March 25, 2020 - 10:10 am

Thank you for sharing your beautiful garden with us, Sharon. It is indeed inspirational and uplifting and we look forward to sharing your progress. Here in Kuwait our growing season is nearing the end, but I always have good luck with basil, kale, and green bush beans. They’re easy and disease resistant.

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Kelly March 25, 2020 - 12:55 pm

Thank you for your posts and especially your free copy of MFCH in March, amidst 30 cm of snow last night and the covid-19 just on the rise, I emerge myself in your emails, short story, etc.
It makes me smile, dream and gives me hope!
Stay safe

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Mary March 25, 2020 - 1:13 pm

Beans grow beautifully, but remember not to plant any member of the onion family near them as this will stunt their growth and production! Beans grow wonderfully direct seeding in the garden we have had wonderful luck with pole beans, but remember you need something for them to climb on! Their pretty little white flowers and leaves are lovely to look at and provide a nice screen if you want to cover something like a composting area fence.

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Sharon Santoni March 25, 2020 - 2:27 pm

Oh my goodness Mary, how did you find out that onions stunt bean growth?! That is so mean ! I love to grow beans up high branch wigwams, and will be doing so again this year …. a long way from the onions

take care

Sharon
x

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Pam March 25, 2020 - 2:20 pm

Wow this is a perfect post for me today. I’m doing the same this year with seeds. Yours look great. My beds look similar to yours, I’m thinking about putting gravel in between the beds this year. Do you do anything to the grass in between the beds? Fertilize or weed control? The grass is so perfect and natural looking.

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Sharon Santoni March 25, 2020 - 2:26 pm

HI Pam, we have had grass between the raised beds, but frankly the lawnmower has done a lot of damage to the wattle fencing. That’s why in the new beds we have dug down about 15cm, and will be laying a sand path. You say the grass looks nice (thank you!), I always say we don’t have a lawn, but just a collection of weeds that are cut to the same height 🙂

take care

Sharon
x

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maude ciardi March 25, 2020 - 3:24 pm

Love swiss chard very easy ti grow from seed and last well into cold days in the fall

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Patricia Cowan March 25, 2020 - 5:01 pm

I live in Virginia and we’ve had a very mild winter and early spring…thus, Swiss chard, snow peas, parsley, thyme all doing well here. I have carrot, radish, heirloom tomatoes and nasturstium seeds started in eggshells that will grow/wait in my TINY greenhouse until ground warm enough to plant. My ARP rosemary, French and lemon thyme, as well as parsley and water cress have remained with me in the garden [in the ground] all winter. The rosemary has bloomed blue and the thyme has tiny white blossoms now. In my 75th year, I still garden year round…well, maybe the snow when it rarely happens keeps me in, but I do go out to beat the snow off plants and shrubs with a broom. Your photos are an inspiration and a dream to so many who love your lifestyle, Thank you!

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Annie An March 26, 2020 - 7:16 pm

Hello Sharon,
Thank you for the beautiful pictures of your garden, We are lucky enough to have our own big land that we can roam in this hard times of our life.
I myself love to garden and I really appreciate it even more now. I have plenty of seeflings like tomatoes and paprikas from red ..orange…yellow and green….beans cabbage to name the few and…plenty of flowers as well…anyway be safe…let us all stay home as much as we could.
Cheers from Alsace!

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Terry March 27, 2020 - 7:43 am

Thankyou so much for your delightful posts..and a look see of the magazine..just what was needed here today! My husband and I had lunch in our Autumn garden today..with pretty tablecloth, flowers..and our dog for company! Tomorrow it might be a picnic lol

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Martha Vera March 27, 2020 - 10:14 pm

Dear Sharon,

thank you for your lovely posts. I am in El Paso, Texas where it gets hot. Seeds that never disappoint ar Zucchini of every type, tomato, peppers, melons and pumpkins. You might try those. Stay safe, healthy and stay home. I can’t wait to see your pictures of your mature plants and vegetables!

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Clare Howarth March 28, 2020 - 8:34 am

Thanks so much for this Sharon!

And hi to all you seasoned veg patch folks

During this time of confinement, as they call it here in France, I was surprised to find both of my kids home in a flash with me from Paris, and with the modest… ambition of making a permaculture lasagne potager. Loathe to discourage them in their ambitions in what, to my many years of gardening and composting experience it seems to be rather late to be getting started…. a frame is already prepared with some boards of wood we had hanging around, seeds sprouting in the living room and there really is no choice but to try anyway.
I have a decent size compost heap of stuff from the winter I can tip in there, dead wood blown off the trees in winter storms the first grass cuttings and a little top soil, then all my cutback ornemental grasses for straw, but one thing confuses me, the cardboard underneath…wouldn’t this slow down all the soil critters from working their way up into the (future ) soil?

Grateful for any advice, and keep safe all

Clare

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Diana March 28, 2020 - 2:46 pm

The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests the following that are easy to grow from seed:
Beans, Beets, Carrots,Cucumbers, Kale, Lettuce, Peas, Radishes and Squash.
I am a novice gardener in Oregon and have tried many different types of gardens in my few years of learning about gardening. I think any success I have is Location. Most things grow in this beautiful state with minimum help from the gardener.

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Lisa March 30, 2020 - 2:01 am

Your garden is so lovely! Another way to grow things is by propagating what you find in the stores. Yellow and red potatoes, asparagus, pineapple, carrots. So many things. I’m just now learning about this myself but do a search on google and you’ll find plenty of resources. Love looking at your beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing!

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