Plans are afoot

Beth Chatto's gravel garden

Beth Chatto’s gravel garden

My garden for the last 9 years or so has become my identity to many people particularly as I have been a serial blogger on the subject.  Even recently at work people have started to ask about my blog and I’ve heard the expression “Helen writes a gardening blog you know” more and more.  Something in me twitched at this.  I have always hated being pigeon-holed and railed against it.  But I also think I twitched as I felt guilty for not blogging much and because I have hardly been in the garden properly for some 6 weeks or maybe longer – a niggle of guilt has been eating away at me. I’m not so worried about the blog as I know my lack of interest is because with a new demanding job I am too tired to spend more time looking at a PC when I get home.  This assumption is backed up by my desire to blog today when I am on leave – I obviously need some sort of vehicle for my mental output.

 

As for the garden it has troubled me that I can’t get interested in it. I have struggled since the new neighbours cut down their new overgrown garden and left me with little privacy. I have also come to realise that my creative side needs projects to keep it interested and whilst there is plenty of maintenance needed which I enjoy most of the time I really need a project to get me properly engaged.  Having dug up the front lawn earlier this year and replanted the space I have been left wondering what to do.  I have even spent time looking at new houses but again my heart wasn’t in moving as I do like living here.

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Then something changed, it wasn’t a light bulb moment or any sort of revelation and I actually suspect that because I had had a quite week at work allowing me to catch up properly before a week’s leave that my head had cleared and allowed me space to think about the garden.  In addition I was home alone last week and found myself wandering around the garden with my morning cuppa  which led to pondering.

And you guess right a new project has come about and I am a happy bunny, itching to get going and suddenly enthused to tidy up and regain control of a garden which seems to have embraced its neglect far too quickly for my liking.

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I want to sort out the Big Border.  It has never been quite right since I created it and I have struggled to work out why it isn’t right and what I should do with it.  To give you some background the Big Border was created when I lifted the back lawn.  This was partly because a large shed/workshop was going in part of the garden and I needed to re-house the plants, partly because I think lawn is a waste of time in a small garden and partly because the garden slopes so much that cutting the lawn was hard work.  This latter reason also explains why I have struggled with how to plant the Big Border that was created.  As my fellow sloping gardeners will know, and there are a few of them out there in the blogasphere – check out Rusty Duck, a sloping garden can be a real challenge.  No only do you get weary lugging things up and down the garden but you realise that you see the plants differently to in a flat garden.  So if your garden slopes up from the house as mine does and you choose to plant tall plants, as I have a habit of doing, you find yourself looking at leggy stems.

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I am sure that there are clever garden designers out there who would dismiss my frustrations and in no time at all create something magical with tall plants.  However, I am a simple amateur gardener whose plant knowledge has been on a steep learning curve over the last 9 years and whilst I know far more about plants than I did when I planted the border initially some 4 years ago, I am still learning by trial and error – mainly error!  In addition my tastes have changed a lot in recent years.  This was brought home to me back in June on a garden visiting trip when I found my yearning for something more exciting than roses, alliums and geraniums – I wanted something with movement; something different; something with textures, foliage; something that wasn’t an English Country Garden.

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So when I was wandering round the garden last week, cuppa in hand, pondering the Big Border I started to ask myself what I wanted and I went back to beginnings with asking what plants do I like – ferns (no too sunny), bulbs (yes), actually tiny bulbs (more troublesome).  I knew I didn’t want a rock garden as I loath them, they are so depressing with all that grey stone but there was a germ of an idea here.  How to create a space for my little bulbs and alpines without creating a rockery and how to merge it into a bigger border.  I faffed around on the internet, messaged my virtual friend at the Scottish Rock Garden Society who shared some photographic ideas; I pondered and spent time standing and staring at the border.  Then the creative juices started to peculate and slowly the ideas started to drip through.

Firstly, the long thin border along the top of the wall (opposite side of the path) which houses my roses, which I adore, would be beefed up with the removal of the disappointing geraniums and the addition of perennial herbs such as sage and lavender giving all year round substance.  Then I would accept the fact that there was bright light to the Big Border now and the slope gave good drainage, but in warm dry weather, could cause the plants problems, and I would plant the space with plants that actually enjoy this environment – what a novel idea!

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For the astute of you who will have been looking at the photos on this post you will have twigged that they give a clue to the inspiration behind my idea – Beth Chatto’s gravel garden which I visited in June and was the highlight of the trip for me.  Now I know that I can’t replicate this as I have considerably more rain that Beth and my soil is clay based so more fertile but I want to use the approach she has taken and select plants that will enjoy the more exposed site and which are crucially not that tall.  The focus will be on foliage strong plants to give interest all year so I plan to use bergenias (I have many in the front garden that need a new home), grasses (I fancy another Stipa gigantea), things like agastache, agapanthus, lots of bulbs for throughout the year, agave, etc.

My disappointing border

My disappointing border

I am excited by the prospect and there is already a programme of clearing and relocation planned which will not only free up the space but will help with producing a screen along the exposed boundary line.  Of course being August and warm and dry I will have to wait until the weather cools but in the meantime I am thrilled that I am finally rediscovering the garden.

 

18 thoughts on “Plans are afoot

    • Hi DD
      I have a tatrapanex elsewhere in the garden. I don’t want a too exotic look in this border and I don’t want a lot of height.

  1. I hadn’t thought about the fact that with a slope rising away from you that you could end up looking at the leggy parts of plants, but it seems obvious now you say it! And yes, seeing those photo’s of Beth’s Gravel Garden did give a hint on where you might be looking. I think this sounds like a really interesting approach to take to your Big Border. Sounds like you have a project – enjoy!

  2. A “cuppa,” a little time away, a forgotten inspiration, and a fresh eye. All that you need to re-imagine your beautiful garden. Looking forward to seeing it develop.

  3. Having visited Beth’s garden I know how inspirational it is. I agree lawn is overrated in a small garden. If you can half match Beth’s gravel garden it will look wonderful. You are always welcome to come and see if I have any plants that meet your new plan(and have a cup of coffee).

  4. So pleased that you’ve got the bit between your teeth again! In my bid to avoid a garden full of dumplings I think I’ve gone too far the other way and ended up with too many tall things too. A slope presents many challenges and I do know exactly what you mean about looking at legs. Plant heights are more critical and it’s the thing I struggle with the most. Well, apart from avoiding falling off the hill and breaking bones..
    Thank you so much for the link🙂

  5. Interesting, Helen, and coincidental. On the latest Fling in Minneapolis, one of the gardens included scree beds, like areas of Beth Chatto’s garden, that I’ve been meaning to blog about — and even thinking about for parts of my garden. There must be something in the Helenosphere! I look forward to seeing how you go.

  6. Anything with sexy agaves has my vote! I’ve never seen Chatto’s garden, but your pics of it are inspiring. I hope to see it one day! Have fun with your garden changes.

  7. If I may offer a word of advice. Very small bulbs (anything less than say 9 inches tall) get lost in a border. Even in early spring, when there is nothing else on show, a small clump doesn’t really make an impression. Think snowdrops – a whole sheet of them is impressive; half a dozen dotted around is less so.

    • Hi AP
      Yes I know but I am weary of the pots and I believe the bulbs will do better in the soil. It’s really a last chance salon for them rather than buying new bulbs

  8. I love having a project to work on and have several areas of my garden that need tweaking this fall. It’s exciting when your project comes with plenty of inspiration. That makes it all more fun.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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