Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Friday 3 November 2006

Exciting ideas

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 7:20 pm

Today Yvonne came to see me for the first time. She came round in time to take some photographs before it got too dark, and we talked for an hour about it. I gave Yvonne a document I had written called “Garden Aspirations”. It listed my ingredients for a perfect garden, which are:

  • Pond for newts and water plants
  • Another pond for frogs and birds
  • Tool storage place
  • Greenhouse
  • Somewhere to put compost bins that is more convenient than the side of the house
  • Vegetable plots
  • Fruit trees and plants
  • Lawn (but not necessarily a big one)

I also wrote down a list of things I like:

  • Stepping stones in plant patches for easy maintenance
  • Natural stone generally
  • Neat edges to beds and borders
  • Rockery
  • Changes in height (difficult in a level plot!)
  • Untouched corners for wildlife to use

and made a list of things I don’t like. I am pleased to note that this is a lot shorter than the list of things I do like.

  • Gravel (gets everywhere and gets weeds in it)
  • Decking (far inferior to stone)
  • Bog garden (dreadful to weed and looks terrible in the winter)

Then I listed the jobs I like doing and the ones I don’t like doing. I wasn’t really conscious of not liking certain jobs, but I decided that if there was anything that I was neglecting, it was probably because I didn’t like doing it.

Jobs I like:

  • Propagating, especially by seed
  • Weeding if not too onerous
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Harvesting
  • Light trimming of plants

Jobs I don’t like:

  • Serious amounts of pruning
  • Lawn edging
  • Weeding if I think I am losing the battle

I also made a list of plants that I had got and wanted to keep, plants that I had got but would rather not have, plants that I hadn’t got but would like to have, and plants that I hadn’t got and had no intention of acquiring.

Immediately Yvonne came up with some ideas. She considered that the greenhouse was essential, given my love of propagating, and suggested getting a pretty hexagonal or octagonal one that could go in the right-hand far corner, which is the sunniest position in the garden, and form a focal point instead of being hidden away somewhere. She also suggested putting a tool store against the wall in the narrow passage where the compost bins are at the moment, and moving the compost bins somewhere else. She also said that to make the garden look longer, using the diagonals would help. Now, I did actually know this from reading a few assorted garden design books, but it still seemed weird to me to align things diagonally, and I needed the confidence to do it.

I really felt good after talking about gardens with Yvonne because she is so enthusiastic. I felt that there was some hope for the garden, and instead of seeing the renovation project as a long haul, I felt that it would be really exciting. I explained that what I needed was a complete plan that I could work to, but do in stages over about three years. My reasons for running the project over a long period instead of doing it over a couple of weeks were:

(1) I will be able to do more of it myself, which will be cheaper and more fun than hiring professionals.

(2) I will be able to see the garden evolving, and will be able to make any corrections necessary as it develops, whereas if I do it all in one go I might not realise what the mistakes are until it is too late.

(3) I am a patient person who enjoys the journey as much as the destination.

(4) The garden has quite a few mature shrubs in it. If I renovate the garden in stages, it won’t look completely bleak and bare at any time.

(5) If I know in advance which plants I want, I can buy small specimens or seeds and grow them on myself for a year or two, saving a great deal of money. I still get satisfaction from pointing to my magnificent hibiscus in the frong garden and saying, “I grew that from seed, you know.”

I was highly amused when Yvonne went through my list of plants that I don’t want. They are:

  • Mahonia (I know it flowers when nothing else is, but it’s still ugly).
  • Large-leaved clematis (actually I like them, but they always die).
  • Anything too sprawly that looks a mess whatever you do with it. (Would be prepared to try again with heather and try and remember to trim it each year).
  • Anything spiny that needs pruning (e.g. Berberis).
  • Mop-head hydrangea (don’t know why, just don’t like it).
  • Cotoneaster (there is enough of it out in front).
  • Roses (I already have two, in pots, which were both presents).

She didn’t argue about the berberis, cotoneaster and roses (roses don’t grow well in sandy soil, apparently) but did her best to change my mind about the mahonia and mop-head hydrangea. This is exactly what I would expect from a plant lover. She didn’t convince me, but it was lovely that she tried.