I have recently come across a really terrific gardening book from the Second World War period, written by Richard Sudell, and while most of it was fairly predictable, there was a excellent chapter on ‘How to Adapt Your Garden in Wartime’, that has some relevance for this blog. I’m therefore looking at the chapter here to see what we can glean about what they call ‘cropping’ round where I live. The idea of gardening wearing a shirt and tie also appeals to me; this is a phenomenon we see in many early DIY books as well. In those days, clearly Britain Had Standards.
First of all, the garden it appears to be based on is large by modern standards (100ft by 35ft), and unless you live in the middle of nowhere, or are lucky enough to live in a house build before 1960, I doubt you’ll have enough space for most of their ideas. He also regards the average family as having 4-5 people, which again is large for present times. However it is possible to work from the same principles and develop a productive garden that might not meet all your food needs, but which will let you harvest something fresh and tasty to eat most days of the summer and early autumn.
Richard starts by suggesting you allocate half to two-thirds of the garden to the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, leaving an area with flowers and shrubs near where you are planning to sit, and near the bits of the garden you see most closely to the house. He also suggests widening the beds and reducing the size of the lawn so you can also grow flowers for cutting fairly easily (garden flowers rather than shop-bought flowers being a staple of this blog, so obviously we approve of that idea). I would add to his advice that there might be a case for losing the lawn completely, as they are high maintenance and the space might be put to better purpose with other things, but if you have football playing children this will be regarded as sacrilegious.
You then lay out your garden with gravel paths near the house (I would recommend putting landscape matting underneath gravel to stop weeds poking through, by the way), and grass paths in the vegetable area. In the vegetable patch he recommends growing potatoes, cabbage, beans and so on as staples to last you through the year. In addition he suggests adding fruit trees and bushes, and having a good compost pit. A small greenhouse will allow you to raise seedlings (vegetables being cheapest when they are grown from seed), early vegetables, salads, and also force rhubarb (probably the easiest plant to grown in the country, and when you put a cover over it, you get early tender pale stalks that are delicious in a rhubarb fool (recipe in the Austerity Housekeeping eBook if you need it).
He goes further and suggests your Anderson Air Raid shelter might make a good chicken coop ‘on the intensive system’. Please could any readers of this blog discovering an Anderson shelter in their back garden, and who are planning to try this, get in touch immediately as the television production company I word with will most likely be both flabbergasted and impressed enough to send out a cameraman to record it for posterity. From the way this chapter reads, it appears you would be bedding down with the chickens should Jerry fly overhead, so I wonder if he was implying the chicken stage of development would be better achieved after the war.
Now in relation to the actual vegetable patch, you apparently need to divide it into three portions.
- Greens (cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers)
- Legumes and root crops (peans, beans, carrots)
You also need a section for salads such as lettuce, celery, onions, small herbs and so on.
The beds are divided this way as each year you will need to rotate the crops, or in other words, only grow vegetables in the same bed once every three years. This is a method of avoiding pests and diseases, and not exhausting the soil. You’ll also need to feed the soil regularly with good compost from your pit, and he also recommends using an incinerator for burning garden waste to create good potash as extra soil nutrition.
Other additions from the Sudell book – a shallow pond can apparently become a watercress bed. I would never have thought of that. Also growing fruit up trellises and walls/fences is a real option to save space.
Overall it’s lovely to come across gardening books like these, as they take us back to a time when the craft of gardening was done in a more earthy way, working from basics, rather than the present convention of going to a garden centre and filling a massive trolley with expensive seedlings and plants somebody else has reared for you. I have a feeling that in the Sudell garden, growing your own fruit and vegetables might even be economical compared to that, which is presumably how he could afford to garden in a shirt and tie.
Incidentally, if you want a copy of this book for yourself, Ebay has several for sale at the moment.