Tag: landscaping

Cottage Garden Project Update: October 2016

So here we are at the end of October and, being realistic, at the end of the season for work on the back garden.

It’s been a strange old month, hasn’t it? If, on the first of October, I’d seen an accurate weather forecast for the next four weeks, I might have been tempted to go ahead and order a load of hard landscaping materials, push ahead with getting the trellises in and the patio laid, with the balustrade railings installed to boot. But with the constant threat (if not a promise) of the weather turning wet, windy and a lot more Autumnal at any moment, it didn’t seem worth the risk of getting bogged down mid-job. Plus, laying stone and putting timber in place now would just mean a winter’s worth of lifespan-shortening weathering before we could actually start to use and appreciate any of it. Best to leave it all until Spring.

What I did get on with was digging out the base for the patio area. It’s quite a large area, 3 x 3.7m, with cut-off corners, but then we’re planning on investing in a couple of sun-loungers, so we’ll need the space eventually. Since this shot was taken, I’ve been busy with short lengths of bamboo cane, marked to 10, 12.5 and 15 cm depths, which I’m levelling in to mark out a slight gradient for the M.O.T. limestone sub-base:

October 2016 patio base dug
Dug out, subsequently re-levelled, and to be filled with three tonne of MOT limestone in due course.

You can probably just make out some of the dark-coloured muck – ground up tarmac, or some sort of clinker by the looks of things – that someone, sometime, thought would make a good garden soil, at the back of the house. I’ve been able to usefully re-distribute most of it though, by digging out the usable top-soil from where the main path is going to run (see September’s update for a more overhead plan-view) and back-filling with the useless muck.

This, then, is where we’re up to at the end of the digging year.

October 2016 back garden
It’s starting to take shape, if not actually take form…
October 2016 back garden
Work very much still in progress across the back of the house.

We’ve achieved the following check-list tick-offs to-date:

  • Install new greenhouse and shed.
  • Remove old crazy-paving style concrete patio.
  • Dig, bastard trench, back-fill large planting bed alongside shed.
  • Dig the fig-pit, line with concrete slab and tile, back-fill a third with smooth stones.
  • Dig out main path, back-fill with sand / tarmac grounds.
  • Dig post-holes for trellis panels, front (18″) and back (36″).
  • Dig out area for patio sub-base.

Not too shabby. We’ve also bought, but not yet planted, a few choice specimens: Eupatorium maculatum (for height in one of the beds), Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’ (a rather lovely variegated ivy for the low trellis), Dryopteris affinis ‘Crispa Gracilis’ (lovely, compact, thick-leaved fern) and a pair of rather handsome Miscanthus (ornamental grass, can’t remember the name off-hand).

Although the project hasn’t moved on as far as I’d hoped, that’s partly due to my focus on the RHS Level 2 exams earlier in the year, but mostly down to the soil (or lack of it) conditions. Having encountered nothing but builders’ sand in large parts of the area that I’m turning into planting beds, so having to mix that in with top-soil from elsewhere as I go, all whilst bastard trenching the old lawn – removing perennial weed root by hand in the process – and breaking through a sub-surface pan of compacted clay and silt (see my July update for more on the soil) to boot… well, the job has taken a whole lot longer than digging a similar-sized section on the allotment would have done.

So it goes. I was hoping to have the hard landscaping done and be moving on to initial planting by now, but I’ll have all that to look forward to next Spring. I’ve got a second set of RHS Level 2 exams to focus on between now and early February, then I’ll see what the weather is doing and start making plans for more progress.

Here’s one final, panorama-mode shot of the whole back garden. It’s a bit blurry in the middle (I must have swung the phone around a bit too fast) but you get the gist. When I do a panorama-shot at the end of next year it will look very different indeed, I can promise you that. As I say, I’m hugely looking forward to cracking on with it all in the Spring.

October 2016 back garden panorama
The view across the back, in panorama-mode.

And here, for the convenience of any interested readers, are the rest of this year’s Cottage Garden Project updates:
January | March | May | July | August | September

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Cottage Garden Project Update: September 2016

The weather was kind in September – until the last few days’ worth of persistent, soaking rain, that is – so I’ve been taking the opportunity to push ahead with the hard digging phase of the landscaping.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a bit of a slog: weedy turf to remove (hand-picking the perennial roots out as I go) and then set aside until I’ve been able to clear the top-soil (varying in depth from about two to eight inches) and sand (mixing it together for an improved overall consistency), before breaking through the sub-surface pan by hand (and foot: standing on a fork and working it back and forth has proven the best method). Then the turf has been re-laid, broken into chunks and arranged in a rough mosaic, upside-down, at the bottom of the newly-dug section, with the sandy soil mix (or sand with added soil) piled back on top.

I’ve made good progress though: the shed bed is now dug over and shaped, ready for the addition of plenty of organic matter in the Spring, before we start any serious planting (although one or two plants may live in there over winter, nursery-bed style). I’ve also dug out a couple of the path sections and back-filled with a mass of sand, ready for a layer of weed membrane and, eventually, gravel on top.

I also dug a good-sized sump at the far end of the path, where the down-spout from the shed spews its rainwater. About eighteen inches deep, filled in with all the rougher chunks of stone and brick I’ve removed from the shed bed, all well stamped down and topped with a layer of finer gravel. As it happened, the mid-September storm hit a few hours after I’d finished it, turning sump into pond… but only temporarily, so I think it seems to be working.

I’ve dug a trio three-foot post-holes as well – they were fun, I found a sub-layer of solid clay about eighteen inches down, which had to be carved out with a hand trowel – on the off-chance that the weather clears again long enough for me to get posts in and a couple of six-foot trellis panels fixed up, although I’m not sure that’s going to be possible before the onset of Autumn’s wet season (as opposed to Summer’s wet season…)

Here’s an out-of-the-bedroom-window pic of how things are coming along, overlaid with a general outline to show how we’re intending to divide up the space:

September 2016 Cottage Garden Project progress
The general outline – click for a much larger version.

All in all though, I’m pleased with how much I’ve been able to get done so far, considering the ground conditions I’ve been working with. One more path section to dig out and sand in, up the centre of the grassy area. And then the larger bed to dig out once conditions improve again towards Spring. That should be a little easier; there’s a much deeper layer of topsoil to work with, so less juggling of soil / sand mixes etc. to slow me down.

Still to do in addition to that: installing the aforementioned six foot trellis panels, another, shorter trellis panel at the near end, a wooden arch across the path and an Indian stone seating platform nearer the house; edging the beds with split-log chestnut hurdles (we’re fetching those from a chap in York); digging compost / manure in to the main beds and mulching with composted bark; gravelling the paths, and then, the good bit: planting up. Jo and I are definitely looking forward to that, although it’s not going to happen this year as we’d originally hoped. So it goes. Slow and steady wins the race.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Cottage Garden Project Update: May 2016

Cottage Garden Project update May 2016
Very different to the last time we posted a pic…

At last! After a few months of not much to report, we have something to talk about on the Cottage Garden Project front.

Planning

Jo (project lead, chief plantswoman) and I (general dogsbody, occasional suggestions) have spent a fair bit of time chatting ideas back and forth and have come to a general consensus. We know what the general shape of the garden will be, thanks to the advice we got from Joan Mulvenna back in January: a seating area near the house, with a gravel section between the house and shed, and a gravel path leading from the seating area down to the utility area behind the shed.

The path will bisect the garden and create two distinct planting areas: on one side, nearer the fence-line, where sunshine is at something of a premium, we’re going to establish a cool, relaxing, shade-friendly planting scheme. Lots of woodland plants in the shadiest parts of the garden and then traditional cottage garden style, with lots of height, soft frothy foliage, and flower colours in shades of soft pastel, whites etc.

On the other side, we’ll up the energy and tempo a bit, with some stronger (but not too bright) colours and more sun-loving plants, as that side of the garden will get a lot more of the daylight, particularly in the heat of a summer’s afternoon (if the hotter days of this month are anything to go by). We’ll also have a few linking plants or base tones, to provide a bit of coherence, and a quite literal link in the form of an arch across the path with mixed climbers meeting and subtly mingling the two colour schemes.

The gravel area outside the back door will be for potted plants: dwarf fruit trees, herbs, flowers, shrubs, bulbs, you name it.

That’s the general plan, anyhow. First, there’s the not-so-small matter of:

Landscaping

The big decision we’ve taken here is that, rather than bringing someone in, I’m going to do the bulk of the hard landscaping myself. Two reasons for doing so: firstly, so save on the cost of hiring a landscaper, meaning we have more budget available for the materials we want to use. Secondly, it will be good practice for me. My long-term goal is to move to a career in horticulture, and hopefully this sort of project will provide the sort of experience that a potential employer might find relevant.

The first big step forward was taken on Bank Holiday Monday, when the old garage was demolished and the ugly-ass concrete crazy paving patio lifted and removed…

May 2016 - The old garage
Before: concrete monstrosity.
May 2016 patio area
Before: ugly-ass concrete crazy paving

…revealing a lot of builders’ sand, rife with roots from the neighbours’ trees (ripping those out is a quick addition to the job list) and a concrete plinth, ready for the delivery of our new super-shed:

May 2016 garage gone
After: lots of builders’ sand and tree root
May 2016 - garage demolished
After: garage gone, ready for shed

We’ve also started researching and/or ordering materials for the landscaping: Indian sandstone for the seating platform plus assorted steps and stepping stones, a balustrade railing to surround it, a few tonnes of gravel for the pathways, trellis panels, and an arch for the planting area.

We’ve also had a think about the path and bed edging. We were going to use plain gravel board, but decided that would end up looking rather dull and utilitarian. Instead, we searched around a bit and found a supplier of something a lot more attractive and (hopefully) hard-wearing. More on that in a future update.

The actual work is going to have to wait though. I have Level Two RHS exams to prep for in mid-June, so nothing will be occurring until they’re done and dusted. Then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get cracking.

Floral Display

Everything is in a state of flux at the moment, with plants in pots being moved here, thither and yon to get them out of the way of the outgoing garage and incoming shed, so there’s nothing much in the way of a permanent display. We’ll have some photos to show once we actually start getting something in the ground.

Right, that’s it for this month. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to nip outside and see how the construction of new shed is coming along…

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Cottage Garden Project Update: March 2016

Things are still pretty quiet on the cottage garden project front. We’ve been making progress on planning the hard landscaping – which is going to involve a couple of trellises, one or two arches, plenty of board for path-edging and about four tonnes of gravel – and have successfully researched and identified our new shed. That’s the one major change to the old plan since the last update: rather than knock down the old, leaky, asbestos-roofed garage and replace it with a brick-built structure, we’re going to invest in a 4.8m x 2.4m heavy-duty, prefab shed from local specialist supplier Cocklestorm.

In the meantime the pots that we brought with us from the old house and the baskets that Jo planted up last Autumn, have been putting out splashes of Spring colour: irises, snowdrops, hellebores, cyclamen, narcissus, winter pansies, primroses, euphorbia and wallflowers have all been making a contribution to cheering the place up. We’ve also enjoyed a neighbour’s blossoming cherry on one side and t’other neighbour’s white (and only slightly pink) rhodedendron on the other. (Click on the thumbnails below if you’d like to see a larger pic)

Down in the greenhouse, Jo has been pushing ahead with sowing this year’s selection of annuals, some of which will feature in the new cottage garden, others which will be used to brighten up Plot #59. So far, she’s sown (deep breath): sweet peas, French marigold, Osteospermum (a.k.a. daisybush), Didiscus (a.k.a. lace-flower), sweet scabious, viola, sunflower, Gaillardia (a.k.a. blanket flower), Rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan, Tagetes, oriental poppy, evening primrose, Zinnia and snapdragon. And there are plenty more to come.

Jo has a few general rules when choosing her flowers, the first few of which are: 1) they have to be as bee-friendly as possible, 2) and the bugs, and 3) no pink (Jo doesn’t really do pink). Based on the above, and having seen the rest of her to-be-grown list, I know we’re going to have one of the most colourful, bee-attractive plots on the whole allotment site by the middle of Summer, guaranteed.

And I’ve done my bit on the decorative front by potting up our five handsome dahlia tubers to grow on in the greenhouse until the ground is warm enough to plant them out. I’m happy to say that four of them seem to be sprouting nicely, so fingers crossed for a good summer display.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail