Tips for mountain gardening



1. Ask yourself: are you sure you want to do this? Few dwellings in Britain sit above the 1200 foot contour, and for good reason: we’re 45-minutes from the nearest pint of milk or beer and deliveries seldom make it before the third attempt. We sit for days in dense hill fog while valley neighbours enjoy sunshine. Gales strip paint from the walls and at night the sound can vary between an organ pipe moan and an animal shriek.

2. You can only grow what will grow, which isn’t much compared to lowland gardens. Learn to love the simple: gates framing views, dry stone walls, wild flower meadows, old farm implements rusting in field corners. Because, like it or not, these will be your best garden features.

3. Savour the joys of winter. Learn to love wild weather and its attendant preparations: chopping wood, making stews, stocking the larder, and all the multiple delights of ‘granny bugging’. Read Thomas de Quincey’s prose hymn to the joys of winter, as enjoyed in a remote mountain cottage.

4. Throw away your spade. Buy a mattock, pick-axe and crow bar. The only reliable crop so far from our ‘infinity vegetable patch’ has been stones.

5. By the same token: don’t compare your beans with other people’s. Remember you are in a different time zone. Spring starts in June. Autumn starts in July. Summer doesn’t always arrive. The thrill isn’t the size or succulence of your apples or potatoes. It’s that you have them at all.  

6. Make hay, it changes your life. It did mine, anyway. Having grown up in the country without ever feeling part of it, then having worked in London for twenty years, I badly needed to reconnect with the land. We made hay to encourage the wild flowers in our meadows, but in the process I found an inner contentment and engagement with the countryside unlike anything I’d ever dreamt of.

7. Keep bees. They confer a reassuring sense of a large staff working industriously on your behalf.

8. Shut gates, bolt them, tie them, then padlock them. Our chief garden pest isn’t caterpillars, greenfly or slugs. It has four legs, wears a sheepskin coat and operates a zero tolerance policy on accessible food. There’s no barricade the Welsh Mountain ewe won’t attempt (lifting gate latches, vaulting wire fences, promenading along new six foot walls, rolling cattle grids). For all its marble-eyed cunning, however, to them alone we owe our blessed, springy turf.

9. If tempted to haul an old wooden railway carriage weighing 20 tons up narrow lanes, via vertiginous switchbacks, through rocky gullies, and across soggy moorland—resist. We didn’t. The resulting Fitzcarraldo-style adventure set our relationship with our neighbours and the national park back months. I do now write, however, from a cosy study with a roaring stove.

10. At low points, remind yourself you’re doing this by choice. Such as when the sheep have eaten the vegetable patch, say, or the fog’s so thick you’ve reversed your car into your wife’s for the second time that day.