A plan for all seasons
EVERY DAY THERE’S SOMETHING TO HARVEST AT FRANCINE RAYMOND’S SMALL GARDEN IN KENT: PROOF THAT YOU DON’T NEED MASSES OF SPACE TO HAVE A PRODUCTIVE PATCH
The story so far
I was a fashion designer in Milan but returned to my abiding love, the English countryside, with small children, making the most of my garden and opening to the public with a tiny shop and a flock of Buff Orpington hens. My sons now have their own children, so I moved to Whitstable to be closer to them and spend less time gardening a 150ft plot, rather than an acre’s worth. I want to prove that even a small space can be productive, stylish and a source of healthy food: a delight to all the senses.
I’m a great believer in making that little bit more of outside space. I garden to hold tight to my connection with the outside world. It lightens my mood and keeps me sane, improves my health and brings hope – a small patch of soil that’s mine, where I make things grow, just like that first child’s plot or indoor garden at nursery school. The results are a larder packed with small tastes of the season, tiny flavours to heighten the senses; smells that evoke souvenirs of good times; and flowery visions to cheer, all at peak freshness. I love sharing this harvest with friends and family. The garden in May Full of promise, the garden has a sweet freshness in May, unsullied by the heat of high summer. The hens are happy, eating protein-rich short grass and laying beautiful uniquely coloured eggs, with yolks in a rich hue that only free-range hens with access to plants lay.
From plot to plate
I grow a few essential vegetables to taste the season: those first eagerly expected delicacies, the gluts of high summer and supplies of salad throughout the year. My herbs add spice to life, and since moving to Kent’s Garden of England, I’ve concentrated on growing fruit. I love the blossom, the excitement of fruit ripening, and the chance to eat it straight off the tree. You need bees to pollinate fruit, and I’m keen to encourage early bumblebees to kickstart baskets of cherries and apricots, as well as other bees and butterflies. So, even though I’m not expecting honey, providing year-round flowers and a welcoming habitat is part of my gardening year.
I’ve tried to plant fruit for all seasons, starting with rhubarb, then the berries and cherries, and on to orchard fruits through the plums, gages and apricots. I’ve also popped in a fig, a passion fruit vine and a persimmon, but am yet to harvest anything edible from these tender delicacies. Fast disappearing from commercial orchards, the damson is a fruit to relish and I’m lucky to have several scraggy trees in my garden. Suckers abound, and I plant them about and give them to friends.
Poultry keeping has been my passion for a quarter of a century. My hens eat pests and leftovers and in return improve the soil and produce the freshest eggs for the kitchen. Ducks, geese and other poultry are just as productive and, if you have the space, maybe even a couple of pigs. I love the companionship of gardening with my flock, as well as the glamour and drama of their adventures.
The magic of compost
Every day I go out into my garden and become a magician. I take kitchen and garden waste, and, hey presto – turn it into crumbly compost. It’s one of the most satisfying things about the process of gardening and appeals to the pennypinching puritan in my soul. A whole section of my garden is dedicated to this black art – a hidden coven where benevolent spells are concocted for the
“I aim to fill my house with something flowery all year long… It’s not difficult, it just takes a little planning and imagination”
greater good of my plants. There are as many ways to compost as there are cake recipes. Mine has been perfected to deal with my waste over decades of trial and error. I don’t have to turn my compost because it has been cooking for a whole year, with just the right balance of materials in a shady spot that helps to keep the temperature constant.
Flowers for the home
I aim to fill my house with something flowery all year round, or at least to pick a bunch of flowers for my kitchen table, keep something tiny that smells sweet next to my bed, a small posy of inspiration on my desk, and maybe a pot or two by the front door to welcome visitors and remind me of the season. It’s not difficult, it just takes a little planning and imagination to have flowers, greenery and pots flowering every month to cut and take into your home.
This is an edited extract from The Garden
Farmer by Francine Raymond (Square Peg). Photography: Sarah Cuttle.
Francine’s favourite spot for breakfast is against a brick wall warmed by the morning sun (top). Aubergines (above) need full sun to grow and ripen. Her productive raised beds (right) and globe artichokes grown in pots
The apple tree (opposite) in spectacular blossom in May. Above: Francine’s hens, painterly auriculas and taking a break from gardening in the swing seat
A few years ago, Francine moved from her one-acre plot in Suffolk to new beginnings by the sea in Whitstable, where she continues to garden productively with the help of a few hens. She believes the size of your plot shouldn’t determine the scope of...
Francine’s garden in mid-summer (above), and the lofty purple stems of Verbena bonariensis – lovely to cut and bring indoors