The transformation of a garden: Part 1

I think it is time I introduced you to our front garden. Bear with me while I set the scene. Perhaps make yourself a cup of tea… Most of the photos you’ll see aren’t pretty. They were taken to record the work and before this blog existed but they’ll help you to work out what I mean.

When we moved here at the tail end of the summer in 2012 all our time was taken up with settling the children into new schools, making new friends, getting to know the area properly and the house. Oh, the house. It needed SO much doing to it to make it into the family home that we knew it could be. To be honest, we’re still not there. Time and money are the two things in short supply; isn’t that always the way? By the time we’ve finished, the children will probably have all left home! Anyway, it’s more than perfectly fine now and, while there are still jobs to do indoors, we try to spend as much time as possible in the garden. Last spring we set ourselves a mighty challenge by signing up for the village summer garden safari. There was far too much to do to get the whole garden in a fit state for visitors so all our efforts were concentrated on the back garden and the top terrace just in the front of the house. You can read about that herehere and here if you’re interested.

This year, it’s the turn of the front garden. Our house sits roughly in the middle of a plot which slopes from a road to the rear down to another road in front. It’s mostly terraced in front of the house and the retaining walls were probably built when the house was (in 1890); quite a few of them have seen better days. One of the steepest walls immediately to the front of the house collapsed during the first winter we were here and so we had steel-reinforced retaining walls built in 2014. Up until that point, I’d had dreams of the house sliding into the sea. I had many nightmares while the building work was going on and that was a recurring one!

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The finished reinforced retaining walls, coated in a self-coloured render (no painting required!).

The level in front of the house ended up being a couple of meters deeper than before, giving us a decent area of lawn and a border which we planted up with lavender – a simple, formal look with no tall plants to interrupt the sea view. There are lovely brick steps down to the bottom of the garden covered in Erigeron karvinskianus  and I can testify to the toughness of this gorgeous little plant as it survived the heavy boots of builders and clods of chalky mud for months on end but is now back to looking as good as ever.

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The bare patch at the bottom of the garden is now a ‘wildflower patch’ and also home to our trampoline.

We’ve been peering over the new walls down to the garden below since they were built. Occasionally we’d venture down there to hack at some brambles, attempt to clear ivy and trim the boundary hedges. We did try to clear the bottom level last spring that had been badly compacted by diggers and we sowed a chalk grassland mix of wildflowers. It provided some interest but it wasn’t as eye-catching as I’d hoped it would be. Preparing the ground and clearing the weeds for that was a mammoth task and we didn’t manage to get all the grass out. That seems to be the hardest task wherever we are in the garden – clearing weeds and invasive plants.

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A few weeks ago we took a deep breath and decided to clear all the plants from the next two levels down. These included a large palm (unknown variety), a mature, leggy Cotinus coggygria, a couple of phormiums (one huge), a yukka, a sad, badly pruned weeping cherry, a tatty Choisya Aztec Pearl, several self-seeded (insert expletive of your choice) sycamores and LOADS of ivy, brambles, hypericum, Japanese anemones, and other assorted weeds. We used a chainsaw, an axe, a pick-axe, a regular saw, forks (and bent one), a huge, heavy metal spike (which is great for getting under stubborn plants), loppers and shears. If we had a blow-torch, we’d have used that too. Several days of destruction, two bonfires and much heavy digging later and we’ve almost cleared these levels. There’s still digging to do to work through the soil to rid the beds of pernicious roots but it’ll have to wait until we have another spare day or two. And there are a few dry-stone walls to rebuild… Oh, and I haven’t told you about the pond yet. More of that in Part 2.

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My mother-in-law, working hard.

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It’s the village Spring Show this Saturday and I’ll be helping out. David will be entering the ‘3 white bread rolls’ class and I’ve got to rustle up a few entries myself (mixed daffs/narcissi and some spring flowers, plus a jar of marmalade –luckily there are a few jars left). My youngest and middle child are both entering the ‘Victoria Sponge, Junior Adult’ class. There’s a crisp £20 note at stake for the winner. I’m glad I’ll be busy at the village hall while they’re baking and I hope someone else wins otherwise there could be a lot of sulking here as neither child is particularly gracious in defeat. Have a lovely weekend.