Creating a New Garden
In the Beginning...
The garden was a wild tangle of waist-high grasses, weeds, brambles and mare's tail when my husband and I bought our home on the Wirral peninsula in 2000. The media was merrily enthusing about the Millennium celebrations; we were almost as happy to locate our boundary fence.
I burnt out two strimmers levelling that lot. And then I was left with a dejected-looking "lawn" which rapidly sprouted a carpet of dandylions, buttercups and bindweed - and more mare's tail, with which the locality is heavily infested.
A lumpy tarmac path emerged, initially as a brown stripe when the thin layer of turf hiding it died. Under the tarmac lay thick concrete, and under that lay thick hardcore. As hiring a JCB was out of the question at that time, I admitted defeat and reluctantly incorporated a dead-straight path into my design. A layer of builder's sand levelled it, and then I lay the pattern of old red bricks which covers it now. (Note: nice fingernails and bricklaying do not co-exist.)
A garden can take days to design, months to build and years to mature. This is the story of my garden.
On a Cold and Frosty Morning!
New to Gardening?
When planning a new garden, there are a number of issues to consider:
- Local Climate
- Soil Type
- Spare Time
Take a look at which plants grow well in your locality. This can save you buying plants which simply won't survive in your garden. Some plants do better in a particular soil type, also, so learn which kinds of soil your garden has by using a soil testing kit in different places of the garden. Or, again, you could simply peep over the garden wall and see what's growing nearby. Research at this stage can save you a lot of fruitless work later.
How much spare time do you have, and are willing to devote to developing and maintaining your garden? Be honest with yourself. Remember that lawns need mowing on a weekly basis in summer, and weeds grow all year round - in fact any gardener will tell you that weeds grow more rapidly than most cultivated plants. So if you've a limited amount of time and just want somewhere pleasant to enjoy a glass of wine while chatting with friends on warm evenings, a patio garden might present a more practical choice than a high-maintenance design. You want to enjoy your outdoor space, not view it as an on-going burden.
Planning a Garden
Maximise the space available to you by drawing up a plan. There's no need to purchase a fancy computer program to do this - though if that's your wish, then go ahead! A sheet of paper and a few coloured pencils will do the job adequately. List the things your garden will need, such as a shed, garage, greenhouse, somewhere for the kids to kick a ball around, rabbit hutch or dog kennel, duck pond, path, compost bins, washing lines etc. Incorporate these items into your design. You'll probably have to sketch it several times before you get it right. Visit your local library for design ideas if you're unsure where to start.
Don't try to do it all at one go! Unlike TV makeover programmes, you're unlikley to have an army of paid muscle to do all the hard work for you. Also, if you've moved to an established garden, wait a full year before changing anything. Make notes of which plants already grow there, including bulbs which only put in an appearence during the appropriate season. A good gardener needs to learn patience. Meanwhile, observe which are the sunny and shady parts of your garden, and start off a compost bin or two. There's no such thing as too much fresh compost in any garden!
Your choice of plants will depend heavily on your local environmental conditions and your budget. Smaller plants cost less, so if they do fail to thrive you've lost less. Swap plants with other gardeners. Scatter poppy and other wildflower seeds for an easy and economical start to a colourful garden.
Map of Adele's Garden!
Slowly, Slowly the Garden Takes Shape!
Seven Years Later...
Gardening in a Small Space
My first garden was tiny. All it consisted of was a paved rear yard, surrounded on all sides by towering brick walls - but inspired by the late Geoff Hamilton, I set about creating a colourful oasis right in the heart of Liverpool city centre. And I named my home after the garden: Flowerpot Cottage.
There's no need to spend a fortune on fancy plant pots. Wait for your local garden centre to have an end-of-season sale, or buy plain ones and decorate them yourself. Put a few crocks in the base of the pots for drainage, then fill up with potting soil and you're ready to plant.
Set your plant pots in groups, never in regimented rows. A few hanging baskets quickly brighten dull brick walls. Tomatoes and strawberries grow well in hanging baskets. Many culinary herbs grow well in pots. Make use of any outdoor window ledges - a cascade of vivid nasturtiums can look gorgeous growing in a window box, and they'll give you many seeds for next year too.
Ten Years Later...
A Beautiful Tangle of Clematis, Roses and Passion Flowers
For healthy plants you need healthy soil, and this means that the soil in your garden needs feeding with fresh, nutrient laden compost.
After the initial expense of a compost bin - and it's well worth shopping around for bargains - you need not pay a penny more. Recycle kitchen scraps, vegetable peelings and garden trimmings, including lawn trimmings and fallen leaves. Food scraps and meat will attract flies, maggots and scavengers, so are best avoided unless your circumstances and environment can accommodate this.
Drop peelings and trimmings, etc., inside your compost bin, and all you need do then is wait. Decomposition times vary, largely depending on temperature inside the bin. You can buy chemicals to speed up the process but I avoid this as even though my garden's not 100% organic it's fairly close. Human urine can also speed the decomposition process.
Night soil, as it was once politely termed, fuelled many a country vegetable garden. If this seems far too earthy for you, visit your local stables and ask if you can have some manure. Let it stand for full a year before spreading round your garden, otherwise it will be too harsh for your plants.
Bees Love Wildflowers
Spuds and Raspberries
Food from Your Garden!
Many books are dedicated to the subject of growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. Waiting lists for allotments are apparently very long, and many people simply don't have enough garden space or time to dedicate themselves to growing much of their own food.
However, many herbs will grow in pots - and if you set these close by the kitchen door you'll be much more likely to make good use of them. They don't need special care, and the more you harvest them the better they'll grow.
If space is a premium, try growing tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets. This also makes it harder for garden pests to eat them - such as my West Highland Terrier, Ygraine, who demonstrated a healthy appetite for our strawberry crop...! Hedgehogs stripped the raspberry canes of all the ripe fruit within reach, also. And that doesn't even allow for the damage caused by slugs, snails, birds and woodlice.
Birds and Amphibians
Attracting Wildlife into your Garden
Hedgehogs, foxes, bats, frogs, toads, dragonflies and damselflies, moths and butterflies and a wide variety of birds regularly visit my garden. Some are permanent residents, and making them feel at home is easier than you might imagine.
If you offer water, food and shelter they'll find their own way to you readily enough.
If an elaborate water feature is outside of your budget, try sinking an old baby bath or washing-up bowl to soil level. Add a few bricks so amphibians can climb out again easily, then surround with a few leafy plants and a small pile of twigs, or half-sink a few old plant pots to make toad caves. Don't be too tidy in the garden; all kinds of creatures make their homes beneath fallen leaves and peeled-away tree bark.
Ornamental feeding tables can look lovely, but birds are just as happy with a bag of peanuts or grass seeds hanging from a tree branch or tall fence. Squirrels tend to help themselves to the contents any bird feeder, so some are made (in theory, at least) squirrel-proof. On the other hand, squirrels can bring entertainment to a garden too.
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© 2009 Adele Cosgrove-Bray