Somebody appears to have stolen October and thrown me into the middle of November. I am not impressed. On the plus side there were visits from family – watching nephews battle with their father to hold back the tide was hilarious! There were some sunny days on which I managed to do a little gardening. On the minus side I am battling with a relapse and feeling rather fed up that I can’t get outside and do as much as I would like. Instead, I have been gardening in my head. In fact, even when I am outside, I spend an inordinate amount of time just sitting, apparently staring in to space. Actually I am creating and changing planting schemes. Be that as it may, all these things have combined to make me a very absent blogger, so this is me trying to get back into the swing.
To say that the back garden is a work in progress would be an understatement! I feel sorry for our next door neighbours, who look out over this mess from their conservatory. I am giving a very good impression of someone who has taken a perfectly decent garden (albeit with an ugly patio and a couple of strange “features”), and systematically embarked on a programme of destruction! The grass, which was in very good nick, is suffering from the piles of plant material that get left waiting for the shredder, and the energy to use it. In order to set out and fill the veg beds I have had to remove some of the strangely curving edges that define the borders, leaving an ugly area of bare earth combined with landscaping fabric and piles of golden gravel. It actually looks a bit better than this now, thanks to TNG. He has managed to saw up and/or shred most of the remains of the two conifers he and my brother-in-law took down back in October, revealing more of the grass, and I have managed to do a little actual planting.
In place of the funereal conifers I have planted a hawthorn (just visible as a stick in the back left corner), a mahonia (now clear of all shredded paper), and a portion of the black bamboo we moved and split in our old garden last year. The hawthorn will blend with those in the park behind, as well as providing a prickly screen and a good wildlife habitat to augment the huge tree stump and log pile behind. The bamboo and mahonia will give some evergreen cover, movement and winter interest. I had to plant the bamboo further in to the garden than I had planned, since the tree roots were in exactly the wrong place. I am hoping to rescue and re-purpose a pyracantha and put that in alongside the sambucus, and then plant the spindle in front. I have happy daydreams of seeing the orange seed pods of the spindle against the black lacy leaves of the sambucus.
There are some very strange edges in this border. There are 2 foot spikes of wood hammered into the ground like DIY log roll forming the back edge of the bed. These curve to meet the straight edges of half round timbers nailed to more wooden spikes, which in turn meet another, presumably older, curved bed edged with stone. All of this has to be removed to allow the veg beds to be laid out and the final depth of the border to be defined somehow. Which brings me to the title of this post, working with what you’ve got.
Clearing the ivy that was choking this border revealed clumps of epimediums, some lovely bronze euphorbias, and these:
Given how expensive hard landscaping materials are, I was delighted with this find, which are the clean raw ingredients of that curved stone edging. I was rather worried about how easy it would be to dig out and clean them up, but actually a few taps with a cold chisel and a little effort with a crowbar and I am collecting a rather useful pile of edging material!
Like everything else, it will take me a while to dig them all out, and even longer to clean them off so that they are usable, but time is one thing I have plenty of at the moment, so a few blocks a week is just fine.
Where I have removed unwanted shrubs I have several large holes that will need filling. Fortunately the slope around the side of the house turned out to be a rockery. Tearing out large quantities of ivy revealed some rather lovely large pieces of local stone that should work really well out in the front garden, and by flattening that border and using the earth to fill the many holes I also gain the space to plant raspberries. Definitely a win-win situation. (That is a rubbish photo, I know, but the slope is actually quite steep, so even if we decide to fill in the pond I should have enough soil to work with.)
Other than ivy, there aren’t many plants to rescue in this border, but I did discover plenty of ophiophogon and some stipa. I know the black “grass” is not to everybody’s taste, but I rather like it. I have used some around the base of my purple hazel, interplanted with anenomes and species tulips, and put some in the circle bed, now the nursery bed. I will also give some to a neighbor who is also a fan (not a taste his wife shares!), as a thank you for the welsh onion he gave me for the as-yet-mythical kitchen garden. Bill is a remarkable man, and I hope to be able to do a blog post on his kitchen garden next year.
I love re-using materials and plants already here, not just because it saves money, though that is a big advantage, but because it somehow feels right, continuity rather than complete revolution. I have to admit to be struggling with the gravel though. I am not a fan of golden gravel. All that lovely green stone just begs to be used with subtle grey-green gravel. I want to use gravel and rock in the front garden in place of that circle bed and the grass. But I already have a large amount of the golden gravel. So I am currently trying to persuade myself that actually it goes quite well with the green rock, that it echoes the browns that define the beach and the cliffs that form the backdrop to the front garden. What do you think?! With enough plants to soften the effect?
For a gardener, another part of working with you’ve got has to do with learning about the local climate. We’ve had plenty of wind and rain, interspersed with some breathtaking clear bright days where the sea has been so calm it reflects the clouds, but what has really surprised me is how mild it has been, and therefore how much is still flowering.
Fuchsias and hydrangeas are still throwing up buds and flowering away.
There is a lovely hebe.
I’ll have to remember this as I plan for autumn and winter interest, I could find myself with combinations I didn’t expect because things flower for much longer than I am used to. Not that I am complaining, I hasten to add! And I do have some autumn colour, in the shape of the purple beech and cotoneaster.
The lack of any frosts also means that my salad leaves are still growing strongly, and although the leaves are starting to become a little bitter, they still provide for sandwiches and wilt beautifully in spicy winter soups.
I doubt there will be much more progress in the garden until the spring, at least that is visible to the naked eye, but I will carry on gardening in my head, drawing up lists of plants and seeds, re-arranging borders, and pondering golden gravel. And in the mean time, on any clear, bright day, I will be sat on the beach, snuggled in many layers of clothing, watching the waves and the birds. Just being thankful.