From concrete courtyard to blooming garden – the story of the Big Dig

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In December last year I wrote about day one of the Big Dig, M and my plan to transform our barren concrete courtyard into a thriving patch of urban greenery. Today we celebrated the completion of that grand plan with a garden party – a harvest festival no less! – for everyone who helped us along the way. Here’s a little movie slide show of what we achieved.

Seeing all the insects buzzing between the flowers in the beds it is hard to remember that this was an apparently lifeless little corner of London (no doubt kept lifeless with ample weed killer). And in January, when we were standing in knee-deep holes in the ground digging in compost, it was hard to believe that it would turn into the lush environment that it is now.

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By the time spring arrived we were putting in the new ground covering: a mixture of turf and gravel, beds and raised beds. The trees and most of the plants went in by early April. I remember thinking that they were quite spread out – just as well given how much they grew. In the summer we turned our hands to plant vegetables – too late in hindsight, but we are still figuring this stuff out.

One of the aims of the project was to use waste material wherever possible. We had had our collapsing garden fence replaced with a new one, but had asked to keep the old timber. This well weathered material we were able to put to good use, creating three raised beds, a cold frame, a bike shed and compost heap. And because the material all came from the same fence, all the structures we built have a unified look. Continuing on the re-use theme: half of the old back door became the lid for the cold frame; the dozens of bricks we found in the ground became the garden path; an old allotment shed door became the roof of the bike shed.

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Two things have made this transformation possible. The first is the plan for the garden put together by our friend Amanda Dennis. From her beautiful pen and watercolour design, to the step-by-step project plan, she guided us through the whole process, and I think she is as pleased as we are with the result. The second is the tremendous help we have had from friends, family and neighbours – I count sixteen volunteers in total over the last nine months. People have lent us tools, sent us plants, driven cars to the dump, built sheds, looked after our baby and dedicated whole days to digging. It has been very heartwarming – and a lot of fun.

And so to the harvest. Roughly speaking: a punnet of raspberries, red currants, blueberries and a half one of strawberries; a few baby carrots; two plums; two courgettes; fist-fulls of herbs; a dozen ripe tomatoes – and two dozen green tomatoes still full of promise; and a gherkin. We wanted to feed our harvest festival guests the fruits of the labour, but since most of these fell earlier in the year, we had to be a bit creative with the menu: lavender cake; savoury vine leaf cake (delicious!) and herb bread topped with our one gherkin thinly sliced.

It would be easy to think now that the hard work is done – but now we have the not so small task of keeping it all alive. Watch this space.