I know Obama has fallen out of favour recently – what with Prism and all – but you do have to admire that initial campaign slogan of his – "Yes We Can!". It has that "we can overcome" ring to it, which is exactly the sort of battle cry you need to carry you into the spring, especially if your potential garden site is not – how shall I put this – "quite what you were hoping for".
I don't actually know of anyone who doesn't want some sort of garden, but I know of a lot of people who don't know where to start first with what they have – and who can blame them? It's all very well to say "just dig up a little patch in a sunny spot" but what if your sunny spot is infested with cooch or convolvulus – or blackberry! What if (as I once encountered in the back yard of the student flat my son had just moved into) your potential garden site is last year's tenant's rubbish dump, and full of plastic bags, bottles, and a rusting washing machine? If this is your lot, or even if you're simply feeling overwhelmed by a pile of dock, thistles, nettles, and buttercup, there is always a relatively simple way through the problem. That's because what plants want to do, more than anything else, is to grow and survive. All they ask is a modicum of assistance.
I can't emphasise enough that, whatever it is you're faced with in building a garden, you concentrate on that space alone, and not what goes beyond it. Women, especially, tend to want everything neat and tidy around the edges of, and beyond, their actual garden plot but that plan of attack soon saps your energy. All your veggie plants actually want is food, sunshine, and a little loose soil where they can put down their roots. Do the prettying-up (if you want to) after the veggies are growing.
Where perennial weeds such as cooch and convolvulus occupy your potential garden spot, I advocate the "cover-up-and-carry-on" method. Some people call this "no-dig", but I find that a bit prescriptive and technical. Instead I suggest you throw down a layer (or two, if possible) of old carpet where you want to build a garden, and use your common sense to provide a growing medium on top. Throw down any or all of the following: baylage, straw, hay, newspapers, cardboard cartons, seaweed, animal manure (use sheep and chicken manure only if it is a season old), rotting leaves, compost, a few handfuls of line and general garden fertilizer, and non-weed infested soil (if you can find any). Stir it all around a bit with a fork (it's just like making a cake), trample it down, and give everything a good water or leave the rain to do the work for you. This kind of garden requires frequent and tomatoes, and shallow-rooted vegetables including lettuce, silver beet, spinach, rocket, beans, and mizuna. Come next growing season, you may even have a good enough depth of growing medium to sow some short-rooted vegetables.
For those of you battling inorganic material (rocks, bottles, washing machines and the odd bathtub) don't despair. Where you can get access to soil, loosen it with a fork, and pick out items of rubbish you can easily locate (don't go digging too deep – a plant's roots will soon grow round a buried bottle or tin can). Embrace the junk you can't shift – fill that dying hand basin with soil and sow it with radishes, give over that rusting lawn mower handle to a climbing bean. Nothing looks more fabulously industrious than waste ground which has been turned into something rich, edible, and living. This kind of garden benefits enormously from the addition of colour – nasturtiums look particularly good climbing over bits and pieces (and you can pickle their flower buds and then eat them like capers). Marigolds grow almost anywhere and are a wonderful distraction from rusting home appliances. As you work in your garden throughout the season, you'll find yourself gradually heaving aside another rock or two, or fishing out another bottle and, little by little, you'll clear more junk-free possies.
"Colonising" waste-land and smothering choking weeds is so rewarding so, this spring, remember that you don't have to create the "perfect" garden space overnight in order to produce delicious fresh food.
Note: where you suspect soil has been polluted with toxic substances, seek the advice of your local council and consider soil testing before embarking on an edible garden.