I think I have already demonstrated that I am more than a tad obsessed with my front garden at the moment, so I doubt it will come as a surprise that I have decided to make it the focus of my End of Month View posts this year. It is the area likely to see the most dramatic changes, and certainly the area I am most keen to get comments and suggestions on. It doesn’t really look much different yet, although the red azaleas are gone from the circle bed, and have been planted out and about in the village by “Cemaes in Bloom”. Oh, and the driveway extension in front of the house is beginning to resemble a mini builder’s yard.

Garden looking like a builder's yard

I have begun dismantling the rockery in the side garden so that I can re-use the lovely green stone out the front, and I have – slowly – barrowed the gravel that had been around the acer in the back round to the front, where it can be added to what is already there as part of the landscaping. Oh yes, and as you can probably see, the wind blew one of the fence panels down, thus amply demonstrating that we need a new fence, hence the pile of timber in the foreground…

We are going to build the new fence in sections, with pauses to allow me to move plants out of the way and in to their new homes. We’ve decided to go for an interlap fence rather than re-building a feather board fence. They are stronger, which is probably why you see them all over the Island. Two slight alterations to the design of ours – I am using 4″ (10cm) wide timber rather than the more usual 6″ (15cm), to give a slightly more “delicate” look, and I am going to leave gaps. A solid fence displaces the wind up and over itself, creating potentially damaging eddies. A hedge does a much better job, gently filtering the wind, and paradoxically providing much better shelter, but I didn’t want to lose my privacy while we waited for a hedge to grow to a good height. A fence that is 60% solid is meant to provide the best wind filtering, but would also leave loads of gaps for passing pedestrians to peak through, so I am compromising, and leaving just 2cm between the horizontal boards. We’re actually going to build our side of the fence first, leaving the existing panels (the ones still standing, at any rate) in situ, removing them one at a time as we have the opportunity to complete the “public” side. Hopefully this will mean I can move shrubs while they are still dormant and they will get off to a good start when the weather warms up. I do quite enjoy hard landscaping, but not at the expense of being prevented from doing any planting for months…

The big dumpy bag is full of compost, organic compost, no less, which was to be used to improve the soil in the back garden and be added to the raised beds providing an ideal surface layer to sow seeds and plant in to. Except:

Compost full of lumps of polystyrene

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t really fancy the idea of spreading a mulch full of lumps of polystyrene all over my garden and veg beds! To give them their due, the company who supplied it asked for a photo showing the problem, and immediately refunded my money, including the delivery charge. Can’t say fairer than that. I just need to invest in a riddler with a large enough mesh and will be mulching rather more slowly than I had envisaged…

We’ve lived here for six months now, and as well as obsessing about planting schemes I have developed a fairly clear idea of how I want to change the landscaping of the front garden. Here is a badly stitched together and rather out-of-date panorama to help explain what I am thinking (click on the image for a larger view).

A panorama of the front garden from upstairs

Sitting at the dining room table gazing out across the garden at the sea, the way the brick-edged gravel at the far end seems to shut off that area of the garden really bugs me. It acts as a sort of visual full stop, giving the message “not welcome”. And yet this is the sunniest part of the garden, with some lovely trees and large shrubs at the very far end now that they have been partially rescued from the overwhelming embrace of the viburnum. I say “partially” because although I have cut the viburnum back down to ground level, just to be able to see what was where, it is still there. And very much alive. I am hoping to dig it out and save chunks as it could make some invaluable screening for the back garden.

The other visual full stop is the circle bed. It is less agressive now that all the bedding has been removed, everything that remains is muted in colour, but the stone itself makes a very strong statement, and draws the eye. I don’t want something there in the middle drawing the eye that strongly. It is at this point that I realise that, however many photos I take of the garden, at whatever time of day/year, I never quite have the right photos when I am trying to remember how it looked at a specific point, from a specific view. I never thought I would make a mental note to myself that I needed to take more photos. Anyway, this really quite appalling image is the best I have to illustrate the point.

bulky planting blocking view

I want the planting to help funnel the eye down the garden towards the view of the sea, not block it. The other dilemma I had – note the past tense – was whether to keep the small pond and repair the cascade at the far end of the garden, or remove it. In the end the decision was easy. I knew I wanted somewhere to sit, nothing fancy, just space for a couple of chairs, somewhere to drink a mug – or glass – of something and watch the sea. There were two main candidates. The first, the area close to the house, has the advantage that it gets the late evening sun in summer, and on a clear day you can see over the headland to the Irish Sea beyond, all the way out to the Isle of Man on a really clear day. I dragged TNG and some chairs outside to prove this just after Christmas. Yes, he is very long suffering!

Chairs where the seating at the back of the garden could go

View from seating at rear of garden

I got quite excited about this. Close to the house makes it convenient, and if I built a small pergola over it there would be height, sweet smelling climbers, privacy from the house opposite. Unfortunately there are two major downsides. We can’t afford a small pergola, certainly not for the forseeable (particularly as we defintiely have to rebuild the fence). Perhaps more importantly, to maintain the view I wouldn’t be able to plant anything higher than the wall anywhere to the left of the exisiting hydrangeas. It is the latter that really pulls me up short. I would really like at least the illusion of some privacy when I am gardening out the front. In time, the escallonia I planted to the right of the hydrangeas and the hydrangeas themselves will provide me with some of this. I would really like to continue the high planting further along, mostly for privacy but also to help frame the view of the cliffs and sea from the house. Ho hum. I am going to try and hold off doing anything that precludes this option just in case I go for “both and”, but it rapidly became clear where my favourite postion for a seating area would be. Yep, right where the pond is.

View of sea and cliffs from a seating area near pond

The view is pretty good immediately to the right of the pond, but from where the pond itself is the view would be right across the bay to the cliffs opposite, taking in the large sandy beach (Traeth Mawr). Which is my favourite view, particularly when the tide is almost all the way out, because the waves make wonderful patterns as they come in across the long shallow shelving of the big beach. Add to that the fact that I hate the brick walling around the pond, the cascade needs major repairs, and the pond itself is so small that it will be a constant battle to keep clear, and it has to go.

Deepening the borders on both sides, and creating planting in the middle that leads the eye onwards towards the view, combined with getting rid of the line of brick edging across the end of the garden and the pond with its associated brick walls and general “don’t go further than this”, should open out the space and draw they eye in and on. I hope. Having a seating area at that end will also invite you to walk through the garden, to explore, which has to be good. All of which will be a lot of work and take a long time, and will mean that for much of the coming couple of years large areas of the front garden are likely to resemble a building site more than a garden! I am hoping that by concentrating initially on the right and left hand borders I can at least ensure that larger plants get a good start and that there is something other than mud and half-dismantled brickwork to look at. I am, though, seriously thinking about dismantling the stonework around the circle bed and taking up the lawn sooner rather than later. I want to use the stone in the circle bed to edge the right hand border, and once that has gone mowing around the remaining island will become awkward. Perhaps more to the point, I find it really difficult to envisage the shape of the new planting areas and how deep to make the borders while the circle bed and grass remain in situ. So I am seriously considering taking a leaf out of the Patient Gardener’s book and just jettisoning the grass sooner rather than later and living with the space that creates while I work out how I want that space to look.

So there you have it, more a manifesto, or wishlist, than a description of progress. For more posts on people’s gardens at the end of January check out The Patient Gardener’s End of Month View meme.

50 thoughts on “End of Month View January 2013

    1. I know, utter madness, but at least I am not expecting to get it all done this year!!

  1. Bite the bullet, get rid of that pond and the wall around it and the grass. It will be wonderfully liberating and will give you some building stone for free, but more to the point, it will feel as if you are starting the reshaping of your garden rather than working within the parameters of someone else’s garden. The view is going to make it all worthwhile, especially seeing those ripple patterns from your sitting area. Going to be glorious.

    1. Hi Judith, I must admit I am rather looking forward to the deconstruction, and hopefully I will gain the ingredients for a couple of brick paths along the way.

  2. So much work, but how exciting – and yes, time for the pond to go, and the wall. It’s your garden, and that view – hmm, needs exploiting! I can just imagine a sunny summer day (I know, but go with me on this one) and the light reflecting off the water, and a seat and a long, cool drink of something– sigh…

    1. I’m sure we will get some sunny days. Eventually. The nice thing is that even whilst I am dismantling ponds and walls etc. I can look up at the view and remember why I am going to all that effort. And look forward to that cold drink…

  3. Hi Janet,

    Being the private person I am; I’d get working on hiding myself from full view of everyone and their father walking/driving past. Then allow only for one area where people could potentially see me – but also allows me to view down to the shore :)
    I know I’d hate sitting there having people walking past haha. But I also don’t envy the work you have in store… It’s just a shame it always has to come at a cost (and sadly with gardening it’s either cheap as chips and definitely poor quality or absurdly expensive; why is there no middle ground???!)

    1. Hi Liz, at least most of what I plan to do will only cost in terms of a few plants and lots of time and energy. As work picks up again both of those latter will be in shorter supply, but it is a long term plan, so I think as long as I can see steady progress I will be OK with that. I completely agree about the privacy aspect though. You can tell it is a great place to garden because it isn’t stopping me from doing anything with it – not that I could really, it is half my gardening real estate!

  4. Lots of decisions to be made!! I certainly don’t envy you that. Lost fencing to the high winds at New Year 2012 so really do appreciate the job you have to do. That certainly is a lovely views I just wish I was able to offer some practical solutions but am no good on garden design.
    Like you I enjoy all the hard work and also working within a budget. I had my front drive done last year with a view to making a start out front this year but priorities have changed for now so am now in the process of saving up to have it done.
    I’m looking forward to reading about your progress and what you choose to do. Happy Planning :))

    1. Hi Angie, I hope you manage to get what you want done to your own front garden, priorities do have a habit of changing under one, don’t they. The best laid plans, etc. Am hoping to make a start on the fencing today…

  5. I normally would say keep the pond (knowing how much of a pond person I am) but on this occasion it’s a good idea to get rid of it as it needed extensive repairing and where it is now is a perfect place for a seating area with great views and all. So much to but exciting times ahead!

    1. Well you guys know all about having lots to do! At least most of what I have on my plate is the easy, deconstruction bit. It is a shame about the pond, I will keep the pump and liner etc, ad I haven’t given up the idea of perhaps having one in the back, though it depends what we end up doing about fruit trees. And yes, very exciting!

  6. I agree that you should get rid of the pond, I feel its in the wrong place anyway and if it would make the best sitting area, then don’t hesitate!! I would also get rid of the grass and make it a gravel area, have you read Beth Chatto’s book ” The Gravel Garden” ? I think you would be inspired by her and it would be in keeping with the position you are in by the sea, she has a fantastic way of grouping plants together so that they look really wonderful. It’s always more difficult to re-do someone elses garden than to have a blank canvas, but you will get so much satisfaction from what you will achieve!

    1. Hi Pauline, yes, ideally a pond would be in the back garden where the frogs would munch the slugs before they munched my veges! I’ve not read Beth Chatto’s books, but I have seen various images of the gravel gardens and find them very inspirational. Its great that you had the same thought about what kind of planting might work.

  7. Hi Janet, last year I replaced a fence in the back garden using this method. I am not much into stuff like this but was very pleased with myself at the result. The style of your front garden already looks very appealing and I look forward to seeing all you do. I have found that my method of getting the garden looking good is not very economical as I chop and change chucking stuff out and what not, very bad!

    1. Hi Alistair, love the new coastal avatar! Encouraging to hear about your experiences with fencing with this method. I know exactly what you mean about chop and change, I always used to do that. Every now and then I would frighten myself remembering the number of plants I had tried and then discarded. Can’t afford to do that any more, hopefully it will force me to be a more thoughtful gardener. Though seeds are very cheap…

  8. You’ve put so much thought into it, they sound like great plans. The privacy vs views debate is a tricky one, but I think you have chosen a good solution. Having a seating area a little away from the house gives you a whole new viewpoint of the garden, rather than just an extension of what you see from inside. And your favourite view too, sounds ideal. I agree that it will also give you a reason to move through the garden, with the view of the sea mostly screened by planting as you leave the house, it will entice you forwards until you reach your seats and suddenly the view opens up. Fabulous.

    1. Hi Sara, yes, that’s exactly it! Potentially losing the view from the back but gaining more privacy will, I think, work better for me. Now I just have to do it… Gulp… Still, visitors can always help with a bit of wall removal or viburnum digging up in return for free beach side accommodation!! A gardening tax – yes, I think that may be the answer…

  9. Lots to think about Janet…so much possibility but it is the time and temptation to try and get it all done at once…I understand that as I have many projects still to go here….I love how your compost is delivered. Ours is delivered in bulk and is laid on your driveway as one big heap. Too bad it had the plastic parts in it. I love the idea of the fence…once you have the fence in and the pond out with some other changes you will be in good shape. Love the views and ideas as always!

    1. Hi Donna, I am hoping I won’t mind how long it takes as long as I can see I am making progress. I am here for the long term after all. Its a good theory! I agree about the compost delivery, far neater than getting it dumped all over the drive, plus we gain a useful bag and a pallet, though this one is a rather unfortunate blue so I’m not sure I can use it near plants. Might be toxic paint.

  10. Let’s hope that with so much to do that it’s a good year weather wise.
    I think that you’re doing the right thing with the fence, and nearby plants, and that once done you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it’ll all look.
    I’m sure that I don’t really have to remind you not to overdo it, and to just sit and smell the flowers now and again. Flighty xx

    1. Hi Flighty, I know, but on the other hand I might need a few wet days to force me to take a break occasionally! And yes, I really do need to remember to enjoy living here too, just sitting on the beach and watching the waves rather than always needing to be removing walls and ponds or building fences…

    1. Thanks Damo, I think I’ll need it! Good job I like a challenge…

  11. Janet you have done so much work and I’m not just talking the gardening but the planning and thinking through too, I think this is where many people don’t spend much time, from your previous post I know exactly what you mean about the local colours, it’s the same here, interlap fence is used here when people want something more solid, with your trees and shrubs planted beside it people will not be able to see much, I’m glad you posted the panarama from your upstairs window, I didn’t realise before just how large the grass area is and consequently how large your front garden is, view v. privicy and view v. wind…… that’s the one I toy with more,
    sorry about the plastic in the compost, I’ve heard this happens in local authority compost, people just are not carefull about what they put in the bins, glad you got compensation but still irritating the extra work when you have so much to do already, I look forward to seeing your garden develope, Frances

    1. Hi Frances, I thought you might “get” the colours thing, from what I have seen of where you live. Interesting that interlap is used there – I am pleasantly surprised at how quick it is to put up too, so the strength is a bonus. Featherboarding would have taken a lot longer.

      When I spoke to the compost people they said a lot of it comes from recycling those polystyrene containers of plug plants you get at garden centers etc. so I suppose it makes sense that some would creep in, but they did claim to have graded it thoroughly, and there are some surprisingly large lumps! Can’t complain though, it is free, and the compost itself feels lovely.

  12. I think the problem is wanting to get everything right and the choices and decisions can be difficult and a little overwhelming. I felt the same when we moved here. We had a limited budget for the garden and the ideas I had first had when we moved very quickly had to be shelved when I realised how much putting in fences and a path was going to cost. In the end some things in the garden don’t ‘work’ which annoys me slightly but when I think what the garden was like and what we have done I feel better.

    The idea about the fence is a good one. I can understand the dilemma – wanting privacy but not wanting to spoil the view. It’s a hard one. The round bedding area does draw the eye doesn’t it? For me it would have to go. I love the idea of the planting drawing the eye down towards the view. A path that wended it’s way from the house with borders either side would be good. Maybe some small trees with light canopies too would give a bit more sense of privacy without making the garden feel too enclosed. Maybe one by the driveway and one on the other side of the garden from the hydrangea. I hope you don’t mind me making these suggestions. I’m no expert by any stretch and everyone has their own view as to how their garden will come together. You’ve done so much already the garden will look lovely as you work your magic on it. :)

    1. Hi WellyWoman, it is scary how expensive any kind of landscaping is, I find I am continually re-planning to avoid new expenditure. I have been lucky to inherit so much gravel and stone, I would never have been able to buy it.

      I like the small trees idea, I have been toying with getting an Amelanchier, and hope to get a pear tree. I also keep thinking about Tamarisk, which is quite scary as it is a “pink and pretty” plant, but I think it would look great wafting in the wind, owhich we get a lot of… And never apologise for making suggestions, it is the reason for me “baring” all my thought processes, to get feedback and constructive comments, so thank you and please carry on! And a big “yes” to the wending path. I had been wondering about a board walk, but I think it would be too definite a statement – plus costing loads – I am thinking two paths dividing around a less visually obstructive central planting area built around the witch hazel. Thanks for commenting, keep it coming!

  13. I can see what you mean by wanting to borrow the landscape and the full stops in the garden. Weirdly I quite liked the view from the window (the one with the window in it). I think if you remove the raised island bed and just rake it over so it is flat with the lawn it will be less of a full stop and maybe clear your mind more.
    Thanks for joining in again this month – thats two of us doing front gardens this year!!

    1. Hi Helen, so glad my “full stops” comments make sense to someone other than me, always a danger of discovering one has disappeared up one’s own posterior when revealing innermost thoughts about one’s garden! That’s a good idea about just raking the edges level, the grass will be easier to walk on when it is wet and then I can take it up bit by bit – that or I will hire one of those turf lifting thingies, though I hear they are harder work than they look.

      This gardening in the front in public is a real challenge, isn’t it. Though you do have lovely hedging around your patch, I hope that helps, and your plans sound great.

  14. You have really bared your thoughts to us all, Janet – thinking aloud really. Sometimes you can mull things over for a few weeks or even months and you will suddenly get the inspiration you need and know exactly waht you want to do. Enjoying the structural work is such an advantage – as well as keeping the costs down, and I am sure you you are happy enough to pick the bits of polystyrene out of your compost now you know you have had it for free! It was a real help seeing your panorama – I had not visualised it like this until I saw it in its entirety. Our garden is all at the back and but don’t have any upstairs windows that you can see it from, so there is no chance of us having a panoramic view at all, more’s the pity. I look forward to sharing your progress.

    1. Hi Cathy, yes it was a bit of a soul baring post, as was the last one – but then I so value the comments from other gardeners, so it is worth it. And you are absolutely right, picking white bits out of free compost doesn’t feel much of a chore, though I fear I have already spent the refund three times over in my head!! The panoramic view really helps with planning, the neighbours must think me a right nuttcase the amount of time I spend leaning out of upstairs windows just staring…

  15. Oh decisions, decisions Janet – that part is always harder than the actual doing. I think that I’ve told you before that I’m next to useless when it comes to design but I would certainly remove that circular bed as it does really detract from what’s beyond. I like Pauline’s suggestions of replacing the grass with gravel – I can see grasses and some of the other plants you love gently swaying on a soft summer breeze. Which direction does your front garden face? Bad luck about the compost – glad to hear that you have been refunded.

    1. Hi Anna, I really am rubbish at times, the gravel was so obvious I forgot to mention it! I am collecting up all the golden gravel littered around elsewhere and hoping it will be enough, if I make the planting area that will replace the circle bed large enough. The garden faces north, so the front third is full sun, the rest shady to partially shady, giving pretty much everything.

  16. I was once tempted to dig a central flower-bed in my lawn, but never got round to it. You’ve convinced me not to think about it again!

    1. My work here is done! Glad to have helped you avoid the circle bed, though I am sure in a suitably formal deisgn one could look wonderful, like a circular ornamental pond at the junction of a set of paths.

  17. What a lovely project! I like the way you have talked through your thought processes and have given us a really great insight into your plans for your garden. That is a fab view – one that is well worth designing your garden around.

    I liked your panorama photo – it really helped me to gain an understanding of your plot and I applaud the way in which you are re-using so much. I look forward to seeing your garden develop this year.

    1. Hi, glad the panoram gave a better sense of the overall space, I often find myself concentrating on small sections of garden, or even single plants, and they make no sense without the overall context. We are indeed very fortunate with the view, it makes me smile every time I see it, even if just putting the rubbish out!

  18. I love the way you put that photo together and I also love the dumpy bag full of compost! It looks very nourishing!! I’m really looking forward to seeing your garden grow this year too : )

    1. Hi Anna, the compost – apart from the polystyrene – is lovely stuff, all light and crumbly. It is going to be an interesting – and busy – year, weather permitting!

  19. Hi Janet, count yourself lucky! I once had to spread compost (bought by a client from a supplier) that was full of shards of glass! As it was for an area of lawn where kids would play, we had to sift out every last piece. How we chuckled. And she didn’t get a refund either. Dave

    1. OK, am very lucky – particularly since the compost itself is lovely fluffy crumbly dark stuff. I can’t believe they didn’t give you a refund though…

  20. What a beautiful front yard Janet. Particularly like the idea of dragging chairs about to discover where exactly you’ll be spending your sitting time. Better to pick a spot now with the view you want and then plant around it to preserve that view. My eye went directly to that circle garden too. Shame as it must have been time consuming building that rock wall but it just seems out of place.

    1. I agree, the wall has been very well made, I bet I won’t be able to build edging that looks nearly as good, but I will enjoy trying. It was fun moving the chairs around, now my main challenge is to plant so that we don’t lose the view as we walk round the corner either… I never realised there was so much to think about when gardening with a view in mind!!

  21. Janet, your panoramic view is wonderful. I understand the desire to preserve the view but have some privacy. Your garden has really been transformed. If the pond has to go, it has to go. You certainly have the sound of water nearby…..a big body of water. lovely

    1. Hi Janet, I did think of you when I was first thinking about removing the pond, I couldn’t see you building one with the wonders of the lake so close, and I feel the same with the sea. If I could build one in the back I might, if only to encourage some frogs to eat the slugs, but there are so many cats around I’m not sure they would live long enough to make an impression!

  22. having recently read Beveley Nichols ‘Green grows the city’ I nominate you as his successor. Love the way you draw your readers into the narrative of changes you want/plan/consider. Since the view seems to be the main focus for the front garden I’d change it all to look like a cultivated replica of the distant landscape. Take lots of photos of that area and see what you see in terms of textures and colours! The pond could be changed to represent the sea. In short seascape/seaview transplanted to front garden. Simples!!!
    p.s.clever you – since the fence already blew down it does need to allow some wind to blow through and I look forward to peeping through that fence at the changes there :)

    1. Hi Laura, goodness what a complement, thank you! I did wonder about doing something along the lines you are talking about, but there are so many trees and large shrubs at the far end, many of which I really like, that I just couldn’t get it to work in my head. Besides, no way I could compete with those cliffs, so I will settle for trying to “reference” the surrounding landscape in colours, rocks, planting combinations, and look forward to it being dry enough to walk the cliff paths again!

  23. Sometimes I pass houses whose gardens consist of lawn and nothing else. I always grumble about the waste of a gardening opportunity. On the other hand I have just realised that those are the kind of gardens it would be great to move into…a blank canvas. No need for the mental effort of juggling 20 different garden tasks each dependent on the other.
    I would make your seating a priority – You will need frequent rests while doing all that work :-)
    Looking forward to seeing how your front garden changes.

    1. I think you are right about needing lots of rest! U currently tend to perch on a wall, but a comfy chair with a view would be a much nicer experience. Noted! As to blank canvas, I wasn’t sure what I wanted when we came to move, and actually I think I have the best of both worlds. There is a backbone of good shrubs and perennials that, even if I have to move some of them, will form a good basis for a garden without breaking the bank. Add in all the hard landscaping materials that I wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy, and I can live with the mental juggling. I may moan about it but I do actually enjoy it!

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