Gardening on a Boat

Gardening on a boat has its challenges. For a start space is at a premium, and everything has to be grown in pots, but there’s still a great joy to be had, and it’s lovely seeing how different boaters adapt to these challenging growing conditions.

For us, home is a 60ft x 12ft narrowboat style widebeam:

We have the use of a small adjoining piece of land with an apple tree, greenhouse tent, chiminea, and a Belfast sink full of herbs, but the land floods so often that it’s easier to keep the majority of our plants aboard.

Our boat is due out of the water in May for maintenance (that rusty hull needs cleaning, blacking and new anodes fitting) so I was going to scale back our growing this year, but that no longer looks likely with the coronavirus pandemic and river closures. In fact, I’ve been sowing extra pots of vegetables for the front deck that I would usually only grow at the allotment just in case stricter lockdown measures come into force.

But I thought, during a break from seed sowing, that you might fancy a little tour of our boat plants so far. What do you say?

As you approach the boat via the pontoon you’re greeted by a collection of primroses in hanging baskets tied to our handrail. They’re beginning to go over now, but they looked their best January through to March and provided much needed colour after that grey and wet winter:

The back deck is mainly lined with pots of blueberries. Every year we share the fruits with the blackbirds as part of a wildlife tithe:

There’s also a few containers of herbs and flowers. During winter and early spring we keep bags of coal on the back deck so there’s little room for anything else, but plants will slowly make their way here as space becomes available. The back deck is also home to our boat guardians, carved by Dad C:

The pot of hyacinths was a gift from neighbouring boaters, and the blooms looked utterly beautiful last month:

We also have a pot of dianthus and aquilegia that’s so root-bound that I can’t get them out of the pot!

There’s usually a raggle-taggle selection of seeds and seedlings on our gas lockers during warmer days so they can bask in the sunshine. We currently have squashes, pumpkins, courgettes, globe artichokes, calendula and nasturtiums that will be planted at the allotment when they’re big enough:

If you climb onto the gas locker and carefully step over the pots and onto the roof you can visit our “terrace”. It’s where we like to sit on sunny days. We laid artificial grass when we first built the boat to give us somewhere soft and cool to sit as the steel of the roof gets very hot in summer. It’s a great place to watch bats flit across the early evening sky, and during really balmy summers we sleep up here and watch the Perseid meteor showers.

The grass is weighted down by the planters. Nine of them contain strawberries (our local crow family love to steal the fruits), the long bare looking pot on the left (or portside, now that you’re a boater) contains beetroot seedlings, and the middle pot to starboard is last year’s dead geraniums waiting to be composted.

Looking down from the terrace onto the bow you can see our boat garden. Come summer it will be a riot of plants and colour, but for now it is mainly seed trays and pots:

There was only enough room on the front deck of our old narrowboat for a chair and I regretted not having space for herbs and so, when we designed this boat, we made it big enough to fit us and a large selection of plants. We have artificial grass here too, but that’s so Lolly has somewhere to comfortably stretch out. Although, sometimes she prefers the table:

That is a photo of a summer past and we have a long way to go before it’s this green and lush again.

Currently we have carrots, turnips, spinach, rocket, mizuna, leeks, korean mint and onions. The flowers on portside are last year’s stocks, and they still smell divine. There’s sunflower seeds, peas and sweet peas in the plastic box. I close the lid if a frost is due. The tower planter has more strawberries, and a collection of chives:

It might be a little unusual to have trees on a boat, but we have two: a Norwegian maple and a whitebeam that Rob was given when his band played at a wedding last year. We’re not really sure what to do with them but it seems a shame to keep them confined on the boat:

The front deck is also home to my primula auriculas:

Pot of Gold , a show self, was the first to flower and has the softest lemony scent:

The farina looks like flour dusting the leaves. Mojave is just getting ready to bloom and the buds look so delicately frosted:

The other auricula in flower is an alpine, Boromir, and the petal colour starts a deep plum purple and gradually fades to lavender at the edges as the flower matures:

During lockdown I may have accidentally fallen onto the Drointon Nursery website and ordered Excalibur and Robin Hood.

Here ends the tour of our boat garden. Thanks for joining me and I hope you enjoyed it. There’s just enough time for a quick lounge and drink in the shade of our garden (that’s still recovering from the winter floods) before dinner…


13 thoughts on “Gardening on a Boat

      1. Still a beautiful relaxing sound to fall asleep to! Where are you moored? The marina with my parents boat has about 6 enormous barges that have been converted to house boats and some of them are absolutely amazing!

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      2. We’re on the Thames, a few miles south of Oxford. We’d love to own a proper big barge like those! Rob grew up on the south coast too, so dreams of one day being back on the sea. I don’t have sea legs though, even after 15 years on a boat! Where about is your parents’ boat moored?

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      3. Oh wow – a lovely place to be! My parents are based in a tiny marina near Portsmouth Harbour. The house barges are incredible – so spacious with beautiful gardens. Your garden looks so lovely – I see why you might struggle to have chickens. Although I am sure there would be a way of having them!

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      4. This is probably a case of small world – but Rob is from Porchester so those are probably the same barges and gardens we dream about! I’m afraid we’re not allowed to keep livestock here, but we do get the local ducks popping in to steal the cat’s food!

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  1. What a beautiful home. I love that the birds help share in your bounty. LOL Lolly has so many places to stretch and enjoy the sun. I know that Shelley loves to visit your home, she says it is so warm and cozy. XXkat

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