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Our Garden

I've always liked gardening, and have been lucky in my life to be able to set up three gardens from scratch. The first was a garden in our house in Surrey, when Mum and I moved after my Dad died. A brand new house with a blank canvas, this was my first attempt.

I then moved to the Midlands and bought a house in Sutton Coldfield. Although it wasn't new, it was only 4 years old, and nobody had done anything with the garden, so again, it was a blank canvas for me to work on.

Finally, I married Stephen and moved to Tamworth. Initially there was little time for the garden, but after our extension was built in 2003, it was almost like starting again, because the garden was little more than a building site. The re-design was aided greatly by the use of the mechanical diggers that we had for the building work to build a wildlife pond. But there was a lot more to do, and although there were some un-touched bits to the garden, most of it needed a lot of work. The soil is very poor where we live, because it was heathland, and the topsoil is very thin, with sometimes only 6 inches or so of soil before we reach sandstone bedrock, so one of the main things I had to do was clear stones, and dig in barrowloads and barrowloads of compost - this needs adding to each year, but there is passable topsoil now in some places. Otherwise, I have to stick to shallow-rooted drought-tolerant plants.

The brief was relatively simple: All plants must be either edible by humans or good for wildlife. I was allowed a few decorative plants, but basically this was to be a wildlife and food garden. Then I had to consider the aspect - an odd-shaped garden, with sections in sun, sections in shade and sections in half-sun and half-shade. Some faced SE and others NW. Very well-drained soil but also very poor meant drought tolerance was a must.

Well, I made lots of mistakes. But I also think that the progress has been good. The front garden has the poorest soil, and I made a low hedge of rosemary, cotton lavender and lavender bushes, with a few hebes, skimmias and other tolerant species. Beside the front door I made a bed of spiky plants to deter people from cutting the corner as they walk by.

At the side of the house I had a section that was largely in shade and had extremely poor soil full of rubble that was impossible to clear. Here I planted hostas and evergreen shrubs including skimmias, and some climbers to go over a small pergola - virginia creeper and Hydrangea petiolaris. Eventually they will decorate the end wall of the house.

At the back of the house we built some decking by the pond. Rather a cliche, but the decking is in a great place, getting sun through the trees during the hottest part of the day and basking in the evening sun for a lovely drink of wine. The change in level is pleasant, and it was made wheelchair friendly to accommodate Mum.

I extended the side borders, and here I was able to plant a mixture of perennials and annuals, with a very nice Photinia, and some very profuse crocosmias. Under the trees there is a small rockery, although plants are slow to establish here.

Finally, there are the vegetables. Lots of them! I have a small veg patch at the back by the garage, but a huge number of veg in pots. Potatoes, tomatoes in growbags, courgettes in grow bags, carrots in tubs, strawberries in tubs, and fruit trees in tubs. In the garden I grow runner beans, courgettes, pumpkins, broad beans, peas, onions, garlic and herbs. This year (2007) I have dwarf french beans and am trying elephant garlic and sweetcorn. Also some cauliflower, leeks, sprouts. I put a lot of this in the flower beds among everything else, and they seem to do well. Much of this is grown from seed in the kitchen and porch, in the absence of a greenhouse, and the mini-greenhouse is home to chillis, peppers and aubergines. We don't use any chemicals, and just put up with a few holes in the hostas and occasional nibbled lettuces. On balance, we get on pretty well with the wildlife, including the slugs.

Below are some before and after pictures. I hope it gives you a feel for our little garden and what we've achieved in the last 4 years. Click on the thumbnail and you will see a larger version of the picture.

Also, follow the progress of our nesting blue tits - we had them nesting in 2006 and again in 2007

And for pictures of our chickens - we have them on the web too!

Backpath Before Back Path After Backdoor
Outside the extension, a building site in 2003. Stephen is digging a trench to take the three phase cable to the garage. It's a bit of a mess Slightly tidier, having a concrete path laid round the outside, but a lot of work remains to be done on the garden. That's better. In 2007 there is a herb bed. This bed gets scorched, so it is full of mediterranean herbs - garlic, sage, marjoram, lemon balm, feverfew, thyme. Great for cooking, just outside the back door. Also some growbags of tomatoes and a mini greenhouse with peppers and chillis. At the back there are tubs of potatoes next to the barbecue and motorcycle trailer, as well as a growbag and pots of courgettes and pumpkins.
A building site - piles of bricks and a bare wall, with the soil devastated by cement from mixing. 2007 - established herb bed and lawn, and the wall is now disguised by the growbags of tomatoes, hanging baskets, the mini greenhouse, a honeysuckle. The corner bed is much more attractive with a tree fern, Fatsia, and various shrubs and perennials.  
What a mess! The back garden in 2003. We still have the pond (just planted in 2003), and the lawn is in a better state now. We also still have the trees and the loganberries at the side of the garage. Most other things are new. 2004 - a year on, and we have finally sorted out some decking. The shrubs are starting to grow after our old plum tree was felled, and there are a couple of decorative troughs by the decking. The pond looks a bit bare, but the plants are growing well. 2007 - a more mature garden. Lots of tubs by the decking, some with carrots, spring onions, potatoes and strawberries. We've installed a water butt at the end of the garage. The pond is quite mature, with large lillies, carex, purple loosestrife, dwarf bulrush and yellow iris. The shrubs are now lovely and large - particularly the laurel.
The trench carrying services to the garage (gas and electricity). 2007 - no trench any more. This is the small vegetable bed at the back of the house. I'm not allowed any more than this, to accommodate various projects that Stephen may want to do in future, but I can grow a lot here and can double-crop on the area currently under broad beans (put pumpkins in there once they're finished). Another "before" view in 2003 - quite a change since!
Another "after" view in 2007 - I've tried to use lots of different foliage colours to make the garden interesting throughout the year - it sort of works.    
The side of the extension in 2003 - rubble, weeds and rubbish are the predominant features. It isn't an easy bit of garden to plan because it is so shady. 2007 - the bed of shrubs and hostas has flourished and the virginia creeper and Hydrangea are climbing up the pergola towards the house wall. On the patio, there is a shed and lots of potatoes in grow sckas, as well as various other plants in pots (roses, bay tree, mint, courgettes, pumpkins, aubergines)
A good view of the shrubs at the side of the house - it seems to be taking off after a slow start. From the other end of the garden - the hostas are doing well here.  
In 2003, just before the building was finished - a bare front garden A couple of months later, and I'd planted some fairly puny-looking shrubs in the very poor rubble-ridden soil at the side of the house 2007 - what a transformation! The shrubs have grown and flourished, and form a lovely thorny barrier to stop people walking over the garden. The mahonia is a nice focal point, and on the extension we have a climbing Clematis armandii (I know it's wrong aspect, but it's doing well). Also a lovely japanese ornamental willow. The Heucheras seem to really like the soil here too.
Before - most of these shrubs came from cuttings from my old house, but a few were new. Again - a big transofrmation by 2007 - There is a new low hedge between us and neighbours (to stop kids walking over the garden), and all the shrubs are really flourishing, particularly the rosemary. There is a honeysuckle climbing at the far end of the extension wall. Our low hedge - lots of different coloured leaves, which really helps. Lavender and alliums provide a lovely mauve rush at this time of year. By the front window is another vegetable patch - with tomatoes, sweetcorn, peas, broad beans and dwarf french beans. In a week or two there will be a lot more here - courgettes, pumpkins, more runner beans, and some leeks, sprouts and cauliflowers.
The front path being installed. The soil next to this is just builders' rubble. It took a lot of work to prepare it for planting and many barrowloads of compost later it still only just works as a flower bed 2007 - approach to the front door - not bad now. The lavender bush at front is extremely lush and the cineraria seeded itself - given the difficulty I have with plants in this bed, I daren't move it!. There is a clematis montan on the fence and quite a lot of creeping Ajuga reptans and snow-on-the-mountain providing ground cover.  

Finally, a few pictures of our blue-tits can be seen here.



Copyright © 2004 Dr Sarah Walters
Last updated October 23, 2009