Creating a garden - Our initial mistakes and how to avoid them.
We had found a house and with it came a garden, a garden much larger than the postage stamp we had in London. Thoughts of renovating the house were one thing, a fun endeavor, one we had both undertaken a number of times before. But outside space, with no knowledge of plant life, wildlife, or growing any kind of vegetables, and a busy business schedule, how should two Londoners go about creating a garden? Where should we start? We had lots of ideas but were daunted by our lack of knowledge and time. But with so much enthusiasm and a desire to get stuck in this is where we feel we made our first mistake.
Give your garden time to evolve
We agreed that the garden had to work with what we wanted from the house, an unpretentious dwelling and outdoor space that was part useable for outdoor entertaining, part decorative and part productive. Planning, planting, plotting and potting. Choosing plants and designing the space. We were desperate to start.
The thing we later learned from our over-enthusiastic approach was that a garden needs to evolve over time. Our get stuck in approach would get us nowhere without a plan and some help.
The weeds were monumental and the brambles across the orchard had girths that could only be likened to small trees. We set to, to remove all identified weeds, only to realise no sooner had we cut them down that they reappeared with vigour. We were weeding the same patch over and over again and not spending time on any other part of the garden. It started to become demoralising. We needed a different approach.
The overgrown fig has become a great feature in our new vegetable garden
Be thoughtful about what you are throwing away
Distinguishing between weed and plants was a challenge, other than the obvious nettles and brambles. What to keep? What to leave? What to give away? We started digging with earnest encouraging dog-walking passers-by to help themselves to our discarded plants. We had little experience with plant identification and became mindful that some prize specimen were potentially being wrenched from the ground. It wasn’t at all easy, and we sometimes got it wrong. However looking back and seeing what we have kept, much of it miraculously and thankfully must have been weed.
It wasn’t all plants and foliage that came out of the soil. Every slice into the ground bought out swathes of Somerset Ham Stone. Some large some small. Leftover from old barns and stables and some choice ‘dressed’ examples we believe from an old Medieval manor that once stood where there is now a field. We saved them all and have used them on various projects since. We created an enormous mountain of stone that frustratingly moved around the garden with us as we developed each area, and eventually found a resting place at the end of the orchard, where one day we will use those final few stones to restore the barn.
The end of our barn is slowly taking shape but is still a work in progress
Don’t rush into buying plants
Because we thought we knew what we wanted, those plants deemed surplus to requirements were now dug out and rehoused with neighbours, or in the green bin. We then began spending money enthusiastically on buying new plants. It’s embarrassing and annoying to admit that we didn’t make the time to research or nurture what we already had, what we could take cuttings from and what we could look at growing from seed. We were in such a rush to get going. We headed off and bought what we liked without a real plan.
We bought some wonderful plants, some that we have incorporated into the garden and others that have unfortunately fallen by the wayside. They were not at all in keeping with what we have finally designed. We were eager to get it finished. We could have handled this differently.
Watching the garden come to life has been very rewarding
Be honest with yourself about how you will maintain your garden
Like many gardeners, our plants have become an extension of the family. We treat them with respect and care. Talk to them, as many do, encouraging them to grow. Feed them, prune them and protect them. For all these reasons the garden is a wonderful place to indulge yourself.
Maintaining this wonderful oasis we realise one should never overcomplicate and never stretch your ability to take care of your space, whether that be maintained by oneself or by others. If the aim of a gardener be a garden that is always presentable, high maintenance will always disappoint. A director I once worked for had a saying – under promise and over deliver. The same to a certain extent could be applied here.
We thought very little about ease of maintenance. As we retire to the terrace, G&T in hand after a day of digging and mowing, we realise that it’s a real workout for young or old. We may have to simplify our creation, increase our fitness or employ more hands….
The moral of the story – Don’t rush. Seek help and knowledge and you shall conquer.
With our garden overwhelming us, as well as the weeds, we realised we were a) starting at the wrong end of the process - planting plants and trees without a plan and b) we needed more hands. Involving others has made such a difference to our understanding of gardening and the world around us. It was the best thing we ever did. Our learnings are vast, they have given us a head start that without we would still be hacking at brambles and buying the most inappropriate plants. They have taught us so much that we are grateful for. Our gardening adventure can now begin.
We discovered a path under decades of earth and concrete slabs
Read 'Worth The Wait'