Designing a French Allotment
Updated: Sep 11
One of our many passions in life has always been gardening. We have been spoilt moving to France, in fact some people actually said we were mad rather than spoilt. We purchased a non working farm which had been used for many years as a holiday home. We gained many outbuildings alongside our Farm House plus an amazing 13 acres of undulating ground,gardens and woodland plus a 3 acre lake. Our dream is to set up a small rural holiday let business which will provide us with a small income to be able to live on in later life whilst providing us with an added opportunity to travel. We don't expect to be rich but we would like to enjoy life and not struggle. Becoming self sufficient was our dream and being able to live off of the land - all 13 acres of it.
Along with the land we gained a Walnut orchard of 10+ trees and a fabulous fruit orchard however due to the previous owners only visiting for holidays there wasn't an allotment plus all of the trees required some TLC. We had always had vegetable gardens wherever we moved but not to this scale. We wanted to grow as much as we could so we could store for the winter months. This was another challenge we would have to research. We had made the occasional Jam and chutney but nothing as grande as this
We were both ready and excited - that was until we started. Selecting its location proved difficult. You may question why when we had 13 acres to choose from? We wanted it to be a working garden but still wanted it to look beautiful but we also didn't want it to take away the beauty from the rest of the garden. All of our land is open plan with no boundaries allowing the eye to follow our land and then move onto the Sunflower fields and beyond. We are lucky to have many types of wildlife stroll over our gardens and come to drink from our lake etc so we wanted to keep this. We chose the area next to the orchard as we were eventually going to get chickens so we could call this the kitchen garden enabling us to keep all produce in one area. Plus we could fence it all off as a whole.
So we started, or rather Darren did. Trying to dig a vegetable garden in clay soil on bedrock. OMG. Our neighbour gave Darren his old rotavator which managed to churn through one bed before it decided to call it a day and die. We had to reevaluate. This was when we decided to develop raised beds, a decision I now look back on with a very big smile. Not only do they look good but will help later in life when our backs go due to all of the hard work, hahah. As we get older they can get taller I feel. Fabulous. We made a decision to design the beds and get them planted ASAP with whatever seeds we had just to get an idea of what would grow, after-all we were in the South of France.
We started out by building the beds and also erecting 2 very large compost bins to enable us to produce our own soil for the ongoing planting. Being very rural we knew we would need to fence the area off but didn't want to separate it from the garden. We are hoping we have done it justice by just using green fencing which we can grow fruit trees up, plus it is not as visible. Within 4 months of development of the compost bins we had the most amazing soil which we were able to keep returning back to the ground. When we first began the ground was hard clay with a fine dust covering on top. Within 6 months, lots of hard work, lots of compost bin turnarounds and watering we finally got to see grass around the raised beds which then started to resemble not only a vegetable patch but one which was loved.
Looking around the area we always wondered why people never had greenhouses and we were soon to find out. We decided to purchase a green house with plastic windows and also 2 pop up small green houses that we had decided to use for tomatoes and also peppers. Despite looking fabulous our questions were answered when we had a wild storm one night only to spend the whole next day trying to locate all of the windows. This didn't dampen our spirits and we continued to produce some fabulous plants from shrubs despite the hard work of rebuilding it after a storm.
After 9 months of hard work we were finally able to plant the garden. Yes we are still learning and yes we did lose many vegetable we thought we could grow but it has been an adventure. We have grown some amazing produce much to the disgust of our neighbours who have been trying for years. This year we have kept it very small and are still waiting for the development of our potting shed but we are very excited for next years produce. We would like to reinforce the raised beds and eventually when we have the money use sleepers however for now we are very proud of what we have achieved.
A few words of advice for people who are thinking of moving to France or are at the time when they are looking at starting an allotment. Start small and build on it, don't take on to much straight away, Have a go and don't be disheartened if things don't work the way you want them to, Experiment, and most of all ENJOY. Enjoy the designing, enjoy the growing and most of all enjoy the produce you have produced.
Here's to 2018 and more experiments.