Sylvia Clare’s Column – May 2014

Published: July 31, 2022

New Garden Projects (May 2014)

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The new Gateway from the Veg Garden

May is a good time to get working on re-designing those areas of the garden which still need attention. The cold is no longer a problem for laying dry mix paths and their setting , and this year especially the ground is still soft and workable, easily enriched and filled so that plants can get their roots down and get away.

When we bought this property in 2000 it was almost uninhabitably derelict and the garden was overrun with brambles nettles and bindweed. We had a need to dump lots of rubble and made many temporary plans for the garden whilst still concentrating on the house essentials, although we also had a wedding to hold in our garden. So I put a lot of effort into conquering the main part of the garden which was mainly overgrown grass with a lot of weeds, thus not such a difficult area to tackle. That was the basis of our circle garden and is the central focus of everything, although rooms have grown up which are quite separate from each other now.

We have four projects on the go this year, some were started last year in fact as they all took some planning. The first and simplest was to provide a path to the chicken shack (our little shed which houses chicken feed and bee keeping supplies) which would not turn into a mud slide in very wet weather, and result in death defying feats just to check and feed the chickens daily. This was comparatively easy since we still have a few piles of rubble left and some random bricks and old paving slabs which we bought in bulk cheaply soon after arrival in order to make temporary paths until we sorted out the final layout. Many of our paths have been constructed of these random materials into rather quirky haphazard designs which seem to suit the character of our garden well. This is now complete. Hooray. One down, three to go.

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New Wisteria Planted and View Across the Valley

The second project is to put a gate and plant clambering supports across the entrance into our veg. garden to make a clear distinction between the visitor/mindfulness practice areas and our own working areas. Simple but as we thought about it, it increased into something much bigger, into sorting a whole problem area in fact. In the veg and orchard area, apart from our family food supplies there is an apiary of 6 beehives, currently very active, and flight paths must be recognised. Some children staying here tend to take exploration a little too far for their own possible safety and comfort, in spite of verbal warnings. Although very rare, we have had people help themselves to our veg too; I prefer to be generous. So we opted for a wisteria and clematis clad gateway. But first we had to clear the previously dark corner, overshadowed by a huge spreading bay tree, and ‘underplanted' by piles of aforementioned rubble and accumulated clutter, not a pretty spot in total and yet through the raggedy hedging we have lovely views across the water meadow to the fields on the far side of the valley, so worth capturing. First of all we cleared the rubble and used it for the base to lay a small patio, using old reclaimed terracotta tiles and bricks. Then we used some old logs for making a raised border and planted that with woodlanders, including ferns, hellebore seedlings, foxgloves and primroses, , pulmonaria, aconitum and possibly a few violets still to be added. I am sure other items will find their way in. So far so good, looking in one direction. One seat faces the blank wall of the compost bins, a utilitarian construction of blocks in a lovely dull shade of grey. I painted them white and planted some dogwood elegantissima; self-rooted layers; one of my favourites for its lovely variegated leaves in summer plus rich autumn leaf colour, plus winter red stems, great against the now white rough wall and creating a mid-height screen with diffusing element. I have also ordered a red-barked birch tree to gradually replace some more of the shade we lost when removing aforementioned bay tree*, although the straggly hedge trees are still in place, providing shade, until we are ready to reorganise, apart from pruning a gap to open up the view we want to capture from this viewing point. We found two lovely wisteria, both in fat bud so we knew both that, and what they would look like when flowering at our favourite local nursery. My husband set about building a two way pergola type structure to accommodate these beauties. This stage is almost complete and we can now tackle the honey suckle hedge which just has turned into an overgrown mess with bindweed competing healthily with the honeysuckles for light and space to flower, and encroaching into the veg garden on the other side. This was another temporary solution that did not work quite as hoped, and now needs addressing. Funny how one project leads into yet others, but we intend on taking the pergola style constructions up this slope and use light open trellis style fencing and rope to support the two wisterias along here too.

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Stored Blocks and Other Forms of Chaos

The other projects we are tackling? We have a court yard project also under way, with some trellising and planting holes already made and the beginnings of removal of a slab of concrete which was used as a ramp when it was still a coach and stable yard. This project almost made it onto Monty Don's new design problem solving programme coming up later in the year but they couldn't find another suitable garden nearby to partner us with for filming economies.

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Stage 2 of Transformation

The fourth project is a new decent sized shed which will act as a potting shed and tool workroom for various members of the family, by agreement on who has it when. These latter two I will describe in more detail as they make more progress. For now I am very pleased with our new little lookout spot in which I can sit with a mid-morning cuppa and enjoy the space we inhabit before getting on with the next bit of work to do, invariably head down and bottom up, not able to see much except what is immediately in front of me. Do I garden for those moments of relaxation or for the work itself? Both I think play an important part in my life as a deeply soul satisfying act of creativity and working with nature, being in touch with the source of all life, being in the moment with the wildlife all around me and growing food which I know is healthy and nutritious for our bodies. I feel blessed.

*Bay grows like a weed in our garden and in many parts of the island, and whilst a culinary desirable in the kitchen, becomes a complete dominating nuisance that appears to be virtually un-killable. We have previously had roots dug out by bulldozers, only for them to reappear some years later from odd bits of root left behind; we have painted stumps with root killers, we have now found that cutting them down, allowing them to slightly shoot and spraying with path clear or other systemic weed killer, and drilling down into the edges of the main multi stemmed bole and filling with spirits of salts seems to work. If anyone knows of a better way do get in touch but so far this seems to be working. Fingers crossed. I do keep them clipped and trained where I can but we had about 10 of them dominating the garden when we arrived and are happy to have 3-4. My husband has made some lovely barley twisted standards from seedlings we still find everywhere, but overall I prefer not to have any more of them.

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.