Plant Layering

The new garden is finally finished. Well… there are always some little jobs here and there that need tackling, but it’s mainly done and most importantly I have raised beds I can plant in that are filled with lovely loamy soil and not dreadful sticky, yellow clay. Digging holes for the new plants has been a pleasure rather than a back-breaking effort, but who knew choosing them would be such a complicated business.

First of all there’s the confusing misinformation in books and on websites regarding the ultimate height and spread of trees, and trees categorised as suitable for a small garden that can reach 10m by 10m! I think what classes as a small garden has changed somewhat since these lists were drawn up.

Then there’s the next layer of planting – shrubs. These are often maligned plants consigned to municipal planting schemes now that grasses and wafty designs are all the fashion, but shrubs can be fabulous plants which will add interest and structure, especially in winter when those trendy grasses have collapsed and perennials have retreated underground. Choosing the right ones is crucial if your garden is on the small side as many shrubs can take on tree-like proportions and some can look quite boring for most of the year. I’ve gone for a Cornus kousa and a compact lilac, both of which have pretty late spring/early summer flowers and autumn leaf colour.

I’ve also found space for a species rose. When I first moved in and I told people I had such awful clay soil nearly everyone responded with, “Well, you should grow some roses, they’ll love that clay!” I sighed. I had roses in my last garden and each and every year they succumbed to the fungal disease blackspot. I vowed when I left never to grow roses again. So what changed my mind? Well I’ve gone for a wild rose called Rosa glauca that has the most gorgeous blue-grey foliage on purple-grey stems which provides a striking contrast to the bright pink flowers. It’s relatively compact, the single flowers mean it’s good for pollinating insects, it produces a lovely display of rosy-red hips in autumn and, perhaps most importantly for me, being a wild rose it’s less prone to diseases.

Around these are the perennials – a mix of flowers and grasses, some tall like Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, which can grow to 1.5m and others that are low-growing like Geum ‘Mai Tai’ and Campanula portenschlagiana, a bellflower which will hug the ground and tumble over the sides of the raised beds.

In autumn I’ll add to the layering with spring-flowering bulbs. There’ll be drifts of dainty daffs, ones that don’t have big leaves that take an age to die down and look a mess while they’re doing so. I’m also thinking of species tulips around the edges of the beds. These come back reliably each year unlike most of the bigger cultivated tulips. These I’ll save for pots. At the moment there’s a lot of bare brown soil and the shrubs look more like a collection of twigs but I have the beginnings of a garden.

Work Starts…

After nearly a year of toing and froing, making plans, the discovery of one problem after another resulting in more plans, trying to track down someone who would do the job and saving up, work has finally begun on the garden redesign.

When we moved I’d hoped for a garden that would be easy to get started on quickly. I envisaged a summer sowing annuals and creating vegetable beds. Unfortunately very quickly we discovered the garden had drainage problems and not long after we discovered the reason… clay! And a lot of it. The proper thick, claggy stuff. It turns out the soil in the garden was at the bottom of rivers over 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous period when Britain was positioned over the equator. It’s quite incredible when I think about it, but it’s also rather annoying. No gardener wants to discover they could supply a potter with clay rather than grow plants.

The results have been a protracted process of trying to work out what we could. Every time we seemed to have settled on a course of action something would crop up. Someone would tell us about their clay soil and how it blocked the drains they put in, then someone else said we needn’t bother with drainage. When the drainage experts came to assess the situation they suggested, unsurprisingly, the whole garden was given over to a network of piping, which would see the planting budget disappear underground.

Our minds swimming and not knowing where to turn we sat down with all the information and came up with a plan of our own. Raised beds with topsoil and drains just where the paths would be. My husband taught himself to use a computer design programme and we finally, after lots of incarnations, designed something we were happy with.

So far 3 skips have been filled with soil, turf, stones and decking and we have what looks like a bombsite out the back. Black piping is snaking across the soil, there are piles of gravel and soil and an uncovered slab of concrete that will become the base for a patio.

We made the most of the unusually warm and dry February weather by painting the fence, transforming it from a bleached buff colour to a slate grey that will be a neutral backdrop to the planting.

There’s a lot still to do. 10 tonnes of hardcore have to be moved by our lovely builder for the base of the gravel paths and stone patio, the patio needs laying and an eye-watering amount of gravel needs to cover the paths. Then the raised beds need to be constructed and filled with topsoil.

We have plans for a greenhouse, but these may need to wait until the bank balance recovers. This will eventually sit next to some of the raised beds where I plan to grow fruit, veg and flowers for cutting. I’ve really missed my old greenhouse and allotment since we moved so I can’t wait to get growing again.

Then there are the plants. I have endless lists of potential plants but narrowing them down is proving tricky. There’s just too much to choose from, but I have at least narrowed down a colour scheme. I’m thinking lilacs, soft pinks and purples with pops of yellow and magenta here and there, made up of flowers that bees and butterflies will love. I can’t wait to get my hands in the soil!

Squirrel Appreciation Day

January 21st marks squirrel appreciation day… an unofficial holiday started in North Carolina by wildlife rehabilitator Christy McKeown back in 2001, as a means to acknowledging the role that squirrels play in nature and the environment and encourage people to put out seeds and nuts for the cute critters.

Beast or Benefit..?

Squirrels tend to get a bit of a bad rep… Especially amongst the gardening community.. they dig up our garden either looking for +nuts and seeds, or burying their hoard… Not to mention having a particular sweet tooth for our tomatoes, berries and fruit trees… So why on earth would we celebrate such an annoyance?

We’ve done a bit of digging and here are a few reasons we’ve come up with to embrace the bushy tailed rodents;

Tree Populations

Apparently, squirrels bury so many nuts and seeds through the winter they often forget where they’ve buried them… These eventually sprout as new trees/ plants… Score 1 for nature and tree populations!

Pest Control

Although squirrels primarily live off nuts, seeds and berries, they also enjoy a healthy diet of small insects such as caterpillars, slugs and snails.. Keeping your cabbage patches just that little bit more protected.

Apocalypse Planner

Little fact about squirrels.. They build multiple nests so that in the event of their homes being compromised, they have a safe space to uproot too. This isn’t technically a benefit to the presence of squirrels, but you’ve got to respect a creatures with such prepper mentality.

Comedy Value

Let’s be honest.. They’re fairly comical little characters… So if it’s only to appreciate the humour they bring to mother nature, we think they deserve some recognition!

Winter Pickings

I’ve always preferred a more natural look when it comes to Christmas decorations – give me holly and ivy over tinsel any day. Up until relatively recently this was always an aesthetic choice, but as we’ve all become more aware of the impact consumerism is having on the planet, decorating the house for Christmas with evergreens and pretty twigs makes much more sense that buying in plastic garlands and baubles transported across the globe, where one day they’ll end up in landfill.

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A Woodland Border

Saying I’m planning on having a woodland area sounds rather grand, but our new garden isn’t huge – it’s about 24m by 12m. The back area faces north and when we moved in it already had a large (too large) silver birch, a huge lilac and several evergreen rhododendrons. It also had a 16ft tall leylandii hedge, along the boundary, but it was dead on our side and much too big. Tackling this was one of the first jobs in the garden to be tackled. Tree surgeons came in and chopped them down and then ground out the stumps. Doing this has meant we’ve lost some privacy, but the extra light coming into the garden now more than makes up for this.

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