Spending time and motion in the Donington garden

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When it came to combining a three-acre garden with full-time work Colin Johnson applied his management experience to the task.

Far from utopian visions of The Good Life – a ’70s TV comedy in which Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers adopt a self-sufficient lifestyle in their Surbiton home – Colin and his wife Janet have to work to pay the mortgage on their Donington home.

Colin and Janet Johnson like to keep traditional rare breeds.

Colin and Janet Johnson like to keep traditional rare breeds.

What’s more, Colin tends to be away from home from Monday to Thursday, so the main work in the garden has to take place at weekends.

So Colin, whose job it is as a management consultant to travel around the country giving companies advice on efficiency, put his skills to good use in the garden.

“Everything out there is done for efficiency so I can go up and down three times in the orchard with the mower and it’s done,” he said. The lawn is the right radius to allow the mower to go round and the water in the greenhouse is automatic and the chickens have automatic water feeders as well.”

The garden is certainly orderly, while being full of interesting plants and a delightful pond.

However, there is far more to this garden than the traditional herbaceous borders: the couple have planted a rose garden filled with 280 David Austin roses, a cider orchard which is used to make cider and apple juice, they have bees and an area for fruit and vegetables.

Colin and Janet also have a large, neat area dedicated to rare breed animals, with Lincoln Longwool sheep, large black Hampshire spot pigs, goats, chickens, turkeys and geese.

Naturally, Colin has organised things so that feed bins are laid out in the most convenient places for Janet, who gets up at around 6.30am so she can feed all the animals and clean the chicken houses before going to work as a legal secretary in Spalding.

Colin says: “Our most precious commodity is time. I dug out the pond by hand because I didn’t want to get a digger in and ruin the lawn. Our son Peter helped and we dug out ten tonnes of soil with spades and wheelbarrows.”

When the Johnsons moved in in 2006 the house was new and the garden just a field of long grass.

They planned it all out on paper before starting with the vegetable plots and buying in ewes that were already in lamb, and gradually established the rest of the garden and animals.

Colin says: “We tend to go for the old English breeds because it’s good to keep the breeds going and the quality is better.”

Meat they don’t consume or freeze for themselves goes to friends and they eat vegetables in season, freezing or drying any surplus produce. Eggs are sold at the gate at weekends or at Janet’s workplace.