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A Garden Develops...

Fritillaria PersicaIn 1975, when I moved in, the garden consisted of grass, some trees, plenty of weeds and a concrete patio with a low wall. There were two beds of stunted rose bushes linked by a broken metal arch, plus a row of exuberant yellow roses strategically placed just outside the back door to catch you in passing.

The roses went. Thickets of small Sycamores were dug out or cut down; the stumps were dealt with by building bonfires round them! I turfed over the beds and vegetable patch and waited to see what else there was.

Time and weeding revealed snowdrops, snowflakes, daffodils (in parallel lines where the rose beds had been) and bluebells in abundance, plus violets, lily of the valley, clumps of Hemerocallis fulva "Green Kwanso" and a honeysuckle hedge. There were also a Yucca, several Hollies, a Hornbeam, a Pyracantha, two apple trees, a pear and a small conifer - plus brambles, nettles and Russian Vine.

The garden stayed pretty much the same for a few years with maintenance consisting of cutting the "lawn" and clearing the weeds as they appeared.

I built a shed on the patio and and fitted it out for the cats, complete with run, but it was not an ideal position. In September 1980 I had a barbecue and the first eight people to arrive found they had a job to do: on four sturdy poles the shed was carried across the garden and set on its new base. The patio was then clear for the barbecue! I added a 30 foot run to the shed so the cats could get outdoor exercise again.

June 1982In 1981 I tackled the bottom part of the garden. Excavation of a steep bank at the end of the lawn revealed a brick retaining wall; the rubble and earth which were removed to expose this were built into a rock garden to one side, enclosing an old water tank that had been abandoned there at some time but which, disguised, became a small pond with a waterlily - and frogs.

The area beyond the wall had been planted with artichokes, which proved very difficult to eradicate. Under the Hornbeam, where the grass wouldn't grow, I planted various perennials and bulbs and I put some Choisyas, Viburnums and a bamboo round the bottom edge of the garden. The small apple tree was too shaded by the Hornbeam to do well, so it went and I planted a Nectarine and a Mulberry bush in the large "fruit cage", together with some strawberries and blackcurrants.

June 1983In 1982 I dug a narrow bed along the top of the wall, for alpines. I also planted some trees in holes cut out of the large expanse of grass, mainly down the right hand side.

In 1983 I removed more grass to make an ericaceous bed in the far right corner of the lawn and planted some Rhododendrons and other acid and shade lovers. Primroses and foxgloves colonised immediately: I never planted them - they just arrived.

September 1983
Later in the year I made a small raised bed on the left hand side, added some chunks of tufa and planted some choice alpines. I also enlarged the rock garden - the plants were increasing beyond the available planting space.

September 1983
The garden in September 1983

1984 saw several changes: the conifer became diseased and distorted so, after consultation and permission from the local authority (this is a conservation area and the tree was too big to destroy without permission) it went.

Christmas 1984 The lawn decreased in size when I spent the Summer adding a second rock garden at the top of the brick wall, and the Autumn making another ericaceous bed round the apple tree. The pear tree produced one or two pears a year, so it was removed.

I decided I wanted an alpine house and set out to make a crazy paving area, with another raised bed and a concrete base for the house. I cleared the grass from the top of the lawn next to the patio, leaving a level base to do my "jigsaw puzzle" with the stone pieces; the ground is very gravelly and provided an excellent base with no additions needed. The house was delivered in December and built with the help of two friends; I spent a happy Christmas Day admiring and photographing it.

In 1985 I started planting in the new raised bed and the chunks of tufa in the paved area. By this time I was visiting a lot of gardens and specialist nurseries - and buying a lot of plants I just could not resist.

June 1985 I also cleared some grass from the bottom of the garden and added two more ponds and a boggy area; newts moved in - I never knew where they came from.

June 1985

Later that year I started running out of space so a new bed appeared round the Magnolia x soulangeana planted in the lawn in 1982.

September 1986The garden in 19871986 & 1987

There were no new beds in 1986 but the existing ones filled up.

In 1987 plants outnumbered spaces again, so yet more lawn disappeared as I dug out another bed.

In October 1987 we had the gales. My garden had few casualties - a Laburnum fell, unmourned, but little else.

In 1988 and 1989 the new bed filled up, the plants in pots increased and the garden became established or, as some might call it, overgrown.

January 1st 1991 We had further gales in February 1990 and the fence supporting the honeysuckle finally gave up and collapsed. That June I had a new fence put round the entire garden and, later in the year, a new wall next to the house. The disappearance of the honeysuckle hedge gave me several more feet of garden down that side and the new wall promptly had a new raised bed built against it.

1st January 1991

February 1991I replaced the cat house that year: foxes had dug an earth underneath it and the gales demolished the roof. The new house stood on a concrete raft to prevent the foxes digging in again. I also added a second run between the original run and the new fence behind it, tidying up that area considerably.

February 1991
New paths
By this time I had decided I was fed up with cutting grass. If I sat in the garden I avoided the sun, so the lawn was, so far as I was concerned, wasted planting space. I set out to convert the entire garden into beds and paths. I started by clearing the paths of grass between the existing beds, lowering the path levels at the same time, leaving them with a firm stony base.
February 1991
Next I cleared the grass from each side border and dug out paths in front of these, heaping the soil behind the edging to raise the beds.

I roughed out the shapes and positions of beds and paths, viewed it from all angles, including upstairs, and repeated the operation until I was happy with the result.

April 1991Finally, I removed all the remaining grass, dug out the new paths and edged the new beds. I transferred as many stones as possible from the beds to the paths and added extra compost to increase the height of the beds. The beds included all the existing trees and shrubs, and the numerous bulbs I dug up from the path areas were replanted elsewhere.

April 1991

The beds have filled up over the past five years. Some plants died but most have survived. Those that like my garden multiply like weeds: Primula vulgaris and assorted natural hybrids have moved into any available spaces, as have Hellebores and various Viola and Geranium species. Unfortunately the brambles, nettles and thistles also thrive.

The patioMy garden is definitely contrary. Clematis armandii, when I bought it in 1982, was supposed to be rather tender but my plant did not know this. By 1993 it had grown so big that it had reached across from the side of the garden to the apple tree and brought it down. In winter 1994 there was a loud crack one night and in the morning I found that the large plum tree on the border of the garden had snapped in half under the sheer weight of the foliage and buds. On the other hand, Clematis montana, supposedly a tough and rampant climber, does not thrive: of several different varieties, bought at various times, only a rather weedy "Spooneri" survives but rarely flowers.

Cordyline australis, in the front of the snowy picture, has survived unprotected since 1984 when, as a grassy wisp, it was sold to me as Sisyrinchium filifolium. Narcissus "Minnow", on the other hand, vanishes no matter whereabouts in the garden I plant it. I have also found that choice plants, on which I lavish all the care described in the books, die, while their self-sown seedlings thrive in the most unlikely places.

Encouraged by this, I now do very little to the garden. I water whenever possible, but rarely feed anything. I weed by hand, except for the really pernicious weeds and the paths - that way I can leave the interesting seedlings to see what they become. As I start at the house end and work my way down the garden, this means that if I have too many other things to do the bottom of the garden does not get weeded at all: at present it is a bramble-covered "conservation area" which I hope to sort out sometime this year.

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