Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Garden As Found

It's the end of June, and my garden should be a vision of abundant loveliness, with vegetables coming along, splashes of colour and scent wafting from shrubs and flowers. Oh well, give it a few years; for now, it's not quite a blank slate in need of some work!

This house was home to the same family since it was built 60 years or so ago. I was told there used to be a greenhouse, two sheds, vegetables, roses and other plants, with some trees at the bottom of the garden. Now, there's a rather shaky shed on a concrete plinth, overgrown lilac and some other plants at the end of a gravel bed. Why a gravel bed, I wonder? I hope it doesn't hide another concrete pad, but in the meantime, it's a good standing area for the pots I brought with me, as well as some I've inherited with the house. There is a weathered concrete path, which would originally have run alongside the washing line, and a 'lawn', where the original flower and vegetable beds have been invaded by grasses and wildflowers. The privet hedges on either side may be as old as the house, and take up about 10% of the width of the garden. The trees were taken down, but by the feel of the uneven ground, probably not out. There seem to be roots and ground-down stumps in the poor soil. Likewise, I can see a couple of dead-looking stumps and bare patches in what were flower beds near the house. Some roses have started to regrow, but a few look like Rosa glauca rootstocks, the graft having been cut away when scalping the 'lawn' (done twice this year before I moved in!).

The front garden is just a square of grass and wildflowers bounded by a wall, under which runs the gas pipe.  There is a rose growing up one side of the porch, which I have been asked to keep as a memorial to the mother of the family whose house it was.  I've no idea at the moment what the rose is; it's a climber with small clusters of deep carmine pink flowers and no scent. Not one I would have chosen, and in need of some TLC. I expect I'll track down its name at some point.

I know I should be getting the house in order first, but can't resist going out to potter and explore. I built my swing seat on the patio and like to sit out and plan my next job with a cup of something, while gazing at the waving sea of grasses, where I've left the 'lawn' uncut, to see what comes up. There are at least a couple of different plants with strap-shaped leaves, but I can't tell what they are without flowers. At first, I thought some were Crocosmia; I could dig one up and see if I have a corm on the bottom end. There are the leaves of some Geranium, two types of pinks, self-seeded evening primrose, Californian poppy and forget-me-not. The patio is edged by a low block wall, which doesn't manage to hold back some Campanula garganica (or one of the other similar species). My Mum calls it 'garden thug' because it spreads prolifically, but I can think of other far more thuggish things that are in the garden and up with which I will not put. These include brambles (oh no, not more!), plum suckers, privet seedlings, nettles, bindweed, ragwort and creeping and spear plume thistle, the latter presumably from the horses' fields at the back, where I can see a couple of thistle flower heads peeping over the back fence, which is about 6 feet tall!

I'm impatient to plant, but really need to attend to the boundaries. I can think of much nicer things to grow than privet and would like to dissuade the cats from wandering into the neighbours' gardens, especially Greebo, who will happily scent mark anything he thinks should be his territory. Between the expense and nesting birds, it will be a while before I can do anything about replacing the hedges with fences. Even though, and possibly because, it's a small garden, the design and any hard landscaping needs to be done before making 'permanent' plantings of shrubs and perennials, and positioning vegetable beds (hopefully also a greenhouse and soft fruit). My big rotary clothes line leans drunkenly this way and that in its temporary position, the soil spear only in half way because of some buried concrete.

I can't cope without compost bins, so you can imagine my delight to receive two for free! They are only black plastic and have been hidden away at the back of the garden, behind the shed.  Still, hurrah for Pembrokeshire County Council!

Leafing through some of my gardening books, I read that you should start the design by taking measurements and making notes on 'the garden as found', in other words, as it is, before you do anything else to it. What a lovely phrase, as if you've just stumbled upon a secret garden, and there it is, in all its glory, whether bare and unmade, or overgrown and neglected. First find your garden, then take time to find out about its basic characteristics; type of soil, pH, damp areas or dry, patterns of light and shade.

So, I shall content myself for the time being with sowing some annuals and growing some vegetables in temporary beds and pots, in the hope that they might be productive before the end of the season, while recording my new garden, as found.

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