Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Garden

Since I was watching the history of British gardening on TV last night, I thought it might be time to talk a little about the space outside the house. When we moved in, there was a patio, large bay tree, one ornamental shrub and a small shed all in the back garden. Previous to that we had been in a one-bedroom flat so this was our first garden.

The first task was to find out what was there, then to tool up for planting, pruning and mowing. Within a few weeks of moving in the shrub fell over and killed off half the lawn (which was patchy anyway - this was the middle of winter). The rear fence was also covered in ivy which ran all the way along the boundary to the house. Having had the previous episode with root growth through the house walls, I decided to embark on some radical pruning. This took about 3 days and filled around 6 bags with Ivy! At this point I found that the ivy was largely responsible for holding up the garden fence.

Once spring arrived it was time to get the lawn sorted. I decided that this would be done with seed and proceeded to double dig the existing lawn area (2 days). This exposed all sorts of roots and builder's rubble just below the surface. We removed the worst of this and added topsoil to the thinnest areas then prepared a compost and sand mix about 2 inches thick over the whole lawn. After seeding and tamping the area down it had to be watered every day for around 3 weeks, at which point grass shoots started to appear. It also became apparent that the local pigeons had had at least a 3rd of the seed, so I did all this twice and remembered to net the lawn the 2nd time!

The bay tree was about 6m tall when we moved in and then proceeded to add about another 4m over the next 4 years. In the end I resorted to getting a tree surgeon out to give it a thorough pruning. There is a reason that most people grow these in pots or planters and that is that these things are like triffids bent on world domination! Every year it sprouts shoots and saplings all over the garden, however it does provide evergreen shade and lots of bayleaves (although I think the amount of stews and soups needed to use these up could feed half of London). It also stops rain getting at the plants and lawn below it so there is a need to actively water that part of the garden regularly.

Once this was sorted out it was time to consider the planting beds. I had actually done quite a bit of landscape work as an architect, so I had a much better idea of what I wanted to add and where. The main thing is to try and picture what the plants will look like in 2 or 3 years time, and also allow for how they change seasonally. So the main structure was done with evergeen shrubs (preferably flowering) and in between this I went for maples and birch which don't completely block out the sun in summer (allowing bedding plants to grow underneath) and provide good colour all year (see picture above). More recently I've added some fruit trees and shifted some of the original planting around (the maples didn't like direct sun - leafburn).

So what's left to do? Well, the existing garden is actually on a hill and the patio is more or less at finished internal floor level with the inevitable pea-gravel to ensure that the damp drains away from the house walls. The native base soil is clay and over time the slurry fills up the gravel giving it the drainage properties of concrete. So the main thing is to fix the levels so that the gravel isn't necessary. This means a level change of around 225mm somewhere mid-slope, and some channel drainage to deal with the patio run-off. At the same time the planting beds near the house could do with being bigger, and there is a definite need for more storage (new sheds and outdoor cupboards for pots, BBQs etc).

Oh, and did I mention herbs? Lots of these all over the place (mostly in pots but some in the beds). So far the collection includes marjoram, origano, tarragon, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary, lovage, garlic and chives with a seasonal planting of basil, parsley and coriander. I'll talk more about sheds later on when I've figured out what they'll be!