Photo: garden by Wildroof Landscapes Penrith Cumbria

The wind and the willow

The wind and the willow

Liz Newport and Phil Bradley discussing the vegetable crop

Many keen gardeners across Cumbria will have come across willow weaver, Phil Bradley’s work, either buying wigwams for their sweet peas or commissioning a living willow sculpture or learning to weave willow for themselves at one of his workshops.

Phil is based at Deanscales near Cockermouth where he has a large garden of his own, mainly given over to growing willow – although some of his willow is harvested elsewhere – and vegetables. In January 2012, Phil and partner, Cath, decided to revive the former vegetable garden in front of their cottage. They approached Phil and Liz Newport of Wildroof Landscapes to discuss ideas on how to incorporate a reasonable kitchen garden into their existing space. Then the Wildroof team knocked the garden into shape before the spring sowing and planting season started.

“I’ve always grown vegetables but we wanted to make things easier this year and thought raised beds would be a good idea,” says Phil. “We were also keen on using recycled and natural materials. The garden has been a great success – wet areas of the garden are now drier due to the raised beds and the paths have been so easy to manage. It’s been great to spend our gardening time on the vegetables rather than weeding the paths!”

Liz Newport continues: “I have worked with Phil incorporating living willow structures into clients’ gardens on a number of occasions as well as helping him to redesign and build his own back garden,” says Liz. “When Phil called us to talk about his front garden, he already had quite a good idea of how he wanted to use the space. After a discussion of options, alternatives and details, we quickly sketched out his vision for the garden and then made it happen.”

The materials for the paths included slate waste from Honister for infill and recycled granite road setts (like cobbles) for the edgings. The timbers for the raised beds came from a reclamation yard just a couple of miles away at Lorton.

Phil started sowing and planting vegetables as soon as the structure of the garden was ready. He is now seeing the fruits of those labours, in spite of the wet summer and lack of sunshine. Harvests this summer include peas, broad beans, runner beans, onions, shallots and various salad crops as well as soft fruits and sweet corn.

“Next year we plan to get an asparagus bed going and carry on with Cath’s cut flower beds, inspired by her visit to the Olympic Park,” says Phil.

Wildroof Landscapes work on all sorts of garden designs and landscaping projects and the raised beds in Phil’s garden were a fairly typical challenge.

“With fewer people moving house at the moment, there is an increased interest in home improvements. A well-designed and landscaped garden not only adds to the value of the house but also to the owners’ enjoyment of it,” says Liz. “Productive areas feature regularly in my clients’ wish lists for their garden and Phil’s was no exception.”

Liz also has some ideas and tips for anyone else wanting to prepare their garden for a tasty harvest in 2013:

  • If you’ve not tried vegetable gardening before, start small and start with something easy that always gives good results.
  • Good first ideas are salads, including lettuce and other salad leaves, spring onions and radish. Runner beans are also easy and don’t need much space and herbs can add a lot to a garden as well as to your cooking.
  • Vegetables are hungry plants, so make sure you dig in plenty of manure or well-rotted garden compost every year and especially as you start out.
  • If you find it hard working down at ground level, try planting your vegetables in raised beds. This is also a good idea if your garden gets water logged.
  • If you haven’t got a vegetable garden, you can grow fruit and vegetables successfully in containers and grow bags in your yard. Just make sure you put them in a sunny spot and remember to water them regularly.
  • If your gardening plans are a little more ambitious and you need help getting started, call a landscaper for some ideas and a fixed price quote, but remember to check that they are accredited or have a good reputation to avoid costly mistakes.
  • Small projects in gardens with Wildroof Landscapes start from around £5000 and go upwards from there.

“With larger gardens, we regularly phase the landscaping over a number of years,” says Liz, “to achieve that ‘Dream Garden’ within budget and over a period of time.”