Smallholdings, big dreams…

On my thoughts about how far I’ve come and what the future holds for me.

If you’d asked me ten years ago where I wanted to be in ten years time my answer would have been that I didn’t know. Not a clue. Ten years ago I didn’t even know that I loved gardening, or that my best friends in all the world (aside from the steadfast and longsuffering boyfriend-now-husband) would be an errant spaniel and a flock of four raggedy ex-battery hens. I’d never sown a seed, never walked a dog. I’d probably never even seen a real chicken.

Somewhere along the way, something turned this city-raised girl into a country-loving, mud-streaked, wild-haired woman. Who I am now is as much a gardener as anything else (and I have been many things – student, scholar, nerd, cheerleader, rower, singer and, latterly, wife). But – and I don’t know if anyone else feels like this – I’m still not yet who I want to be.

You see, I have a big dream. It’s huge. Scarily huge, so big that it’s almost unattainable and yet I spend all my waking hours trying to achieve it.

British folk of a certain age will remember a sitcom from the 1970s called The Good Life, in which a married couple, Tom and Barbara Good, swap their affluent lifestyle for self-sufficiency. In an average suburban house in Surbiton, no less. Their adventures growing their own, keeping pigs and homebrewing were and still are hilarious. Tom and Barbara are pretty much my idols and I often think that my current situation resembles theirs. I stopped short of pigs, but I do often wonder what the neighbours think of my flock of squawking chickens and my ramshackle garden, crammed to the brim with pots and seedlings. It’s a far cry from the neighbours’ identikit mowed green squares, with their trampolines and hot tubs (and, the author wishes to add, that both of the aforementioned are a great deal noisier than chickens).

I love my unconventional life but it’s not unconventional enough for me. I’m not happy with self-sufficiency in Surbiton. I want to go the whole hog, if you’ll pardon the pig-themed pun. My big dream…is to get a smallholding.

I’ve got it all planned out in my head, because I think about it so often. It’s out there somewhere now, a good ten acres or so, a red-bricked, sash-windowed Georgian traditional farmhouse. It has outbuildings galore, a workshop, a sewing room, a home forge. A handbuilt clay pizza oven, treehouses, places for my guests to camp under the stars. A stream, a huge and beautiful kitchen garden. A coppiced patch of woodland for the woodburner. An aga in the kitchen with two spaniels curled up next to it. Miles of woodland to walk without meeting another soul. Nooks and crannies that I only I know.

I can see myself running out barefoot as the summer sun rises in the morning, with my linen apron held out ready to collect the eggs. I can hear the birds singing and the cock crowing as I make my rounds, feeding the pigs and checking the alpacas, wending my way back to the backdoor via every bed in the kitchen garden, bunch of cut flowers in hand, just to check on the day’s growing progress. I let myself imagine the new traditions we will create as a family – Christmas dinner on the long table, board games, the annual competition to see which family member will grow the tallest sunflower that year – but I can’t quite see how many sunflowers there are in the running just yet.

It’s all just a little bit too far out of reach.

And that’s the crux of it all really. Smallholdings cost. So do families. And sadly I don’t have any land or titles or trust funds and I haven’t managed to win the lottery yet, despite numerous attempts. So it’s a question of earn and save, earn and save – until I can reach what Mary Lennox called ‘my little patch of earth’.

I’ve started on my way there, sure, and I’m doing everything I can, but I don’t know when or even if it will all fall into place. I hope it does. But until then I’m going to appreciate what I have and learn all that I can, so that if I do get there, I get there prepared. They call it Cathedral Thinking you know – sometimes you have to build the foundations before you know how to build the roof. Well I am building some big foundations.

The question I started with was where do I see myself in ten years time, and I’ve written this post as a kind of open diary entry, for myself to read in ten years. I wonder now where will I be? Will I make it to the open air, rag-tag band of free-range children in tow? Will I teach them to read, to know the names of each of the trees, to tell a bean from a pea and how to plant it? Will they dash out of the door, barefoot, as the summer sun rises, aprons outstretched?

Future Bryony, if you’re reading – let me know…?

Bryony x

3 thoughts on “Smallholdings, big dreams…

  1. What a fab post. We are in the lucky position of having our smallholding dream come true, a bit later in life but we’ll continue to do so for as long as we’re fit and hopefully doing this will keep us fitter longer. Met my partner 12 years ago, both from farming families but living in suburbia. Both wanting to be back in the countryside but had resigned ourselves to the fact it was so costly. Instead we converted an old minibus to a camper and took off north to the beautiful west coast of Scotland for various holidays. On our last visit, a for sale sign on a small piece of land caught our eye and got us thinking again. Although we couldn’t move away up there because of family commitments it had awoken the seed. Two weeks after we came home John heard about a farmhouse and about 3 acres that was coming up for sale, 3 months later, with a lot of stress and scraping every penny we had, on the 18th December 2015 we got the keys. The house was and still is in need of renovation, we’re working slowly through it. We have the veggie garden, the sheep, pigs ,chooks, 3 spaniels, 3 border terriers and a cat. Lots of hard work and we still need our day jobs but I wouldn’t swap it for zll the money in the world.
    Don’t give up on your dream, it will come true
    Love your insta squares too

    Love Julie x

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  2. Hoping your dreams come true as well as my own, just the same as yours but without the children! Paws are the kids in the house to me and I’ve already got three of them. You’ll get there, we all will. Just takes a lot of hard work in the process but it’s always good to look back on when you dream for what you have now. The dog, the husband, chickens and all your knowledge. That dream came true so this one will too! Xx

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  3. Ah I could have written this myself (albeit swapping the alpacas for a horse or two!) It feels so unachievable (especially as my husband is not the animal lover that I am) but I do hope that one day I can own my own little small holding paradise! Just got to re-think my career to get there…good luck in your journey x

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