A plan for all sea­sons


The Simple Things - - NEST - Pho­tog­ra­phy: SARAH CUTTLE Words: FRANCINE RAY­MOND

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.

Sim­ple plea­sures

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.

Crea­ture com­forts

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

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