Goodbye Bog Garden

The better side of the Bog Garden - still not that great
The better side of the Bog Garden – still not that great

I had a lie in last Sunday morning, an unusual event recently but well overdue.  The only problem is that it meant my mind was wandering around (I had been woken by my mad cat demanding to be let out at 6am so was wide awake!).  I started thinking about Bog Garden which really isn’t very boggy and is one of those parts of the garden that I walk past averting my eyes.

The bog garden was originally created to solve the problem of the pond which itself was created in the large hole left by a very large inherited conifer.  The pond was alright to start with but people always under-estimate how much work is involved in maintaining a pond and I do believe  that in order to have a good and healthy wildlife pond you need one of a good size not the small one I had.  So the pond was filled in, with the liner punctured first to improve drainage.  The idea was that this would provide the ideal conditions for my Ligularia and other plants which had been around the pond.

The bog garden from the shady end - in need of work
The bog garden from the shady end – in need of work

It turns out that this was not the case.  I suspect I was over enthusiastic in puncturing the liner since the bog garden has never been that boggy.  The Ligularia in particularly looks great in spring until the slugs attack but it soon declines and is obviously suffering from a lack of moisture, this was even the case last year when it was very wet.  I have decided to take the approach I took with the Cottage border and to remove everything apart from the shrubs.  Some plants I will discard, such as the Ligularia and Rodgersia, and other I will pot up until I can decide where they will go.

I need to have a more cohesive approach to the border and this, as well as the lack of moisture, has caused a real headache.  I have until now treated the border as two  separate borders, an approach that was destined to fail.  On the far side is the bog garden and on the side nearest the house is a drier area with a large Prunus incisa ‘kojo-no-mai’.  I have some Phlox and Monarda in this area but they look a little lost so they will be lifted and probably incorporated into the Big Border.  The whole border is very shady with only the far corner nearest the shed in any sort of sun.  So I have decided that this is going to become an extension of the ‘woodland/shade border’.  I think the planting will be predominantly ferns, hostas, primulas and maybe meconopsis if I can get them established but I need to do some research to find the right varieties for the deeper shade and for the drier areas.

Woodland slope - also in need of an overhaul
Woodland slope – also in need of an overhaul

Then there is the slope behind this bed.  It is quite a small slope behind the bed but gets higher the nearer the shed you go.  At the shed end I have my asters which need sorting out.  They were bunched up here when the shed project started but now I can see which one is what I can reorganise for a better effect.  The lower bit of the slope is much shadier and I want to clear this and use it for more of my woodland bulbs and smaller plants.  As this is one of my areas of growing interest making extra space for these plants is a real boon and makes me very happy.

It has taken me a while but I have finally realised that I can’t have everything and anything that I take a fancy to.  Not only do I not have the space but also I don’t have the right conditions for everything.  Therefore, I am focussing on my real passions and not whims and amazingly, instead  of feeling like I am being denied something, I feel liberated and able to really focus on my burgeoning passions. And I love a project to get my teeth into!

The Bog Garden

Ligularia dentata 'Britt Marie Crawford'
Ligularia dentata 'Britt Marie Crawford'

I have illusions of grandeur and have created what I like to call the bog garden all of which makes me sound like I am auditioning to play Miranda Hart’s mother.  The reason for this grandiose pretension is that I grew to dislike my wildlife pond with vengeance.

The pond has been in for about 7 years ever since we pulled down a ridiculously huge conifer which we inherited with the house and were left with a large gaping hole and nothing to fill it in with.  This is definitely not the way to go about making a pond.  The location was wrong – half way up a sloping garden and it was virtually under the branches of a large prunus tree.  Now I know that some people say siting your pond under a tree is good as the shade helps control algae but you have to have the patience of the saint to keep scoping all the leaves out and the title of this blog is purely aspirational.  The first couple of years it was alright not great but I hoped it would be.  However, it deteriorated.  Somehow I managed to kill off three waterlilies, the net I tried to throw over the pond to stop leaves falling in failed and it just started to clog up more and more.  I have spent hours fishing leaves out, scoping gloop out and raking duckweed out.  The only thing that was good about the pond were the frogs.

Iris siberica
Iris siberica

But there comes a time when you have to bite the bullet and admit defeat and that time came this summer.  The pond was getting more and more congested and the lack of rain didn’t help with moisture loving perennials sitting high and dry and wilting.  I also got a cat who I have since discovered is a real hunter and is quite partial to chasing frogs.  The turning point was when I visited a Westonbury Garden out in Herefordshire which is entirely based around water and they had a wonderful bog garden.  The thought process started and is often the case much planning was done in the early hours.

I dithered about it mainly due to the prospect of emptying out the pond and all the foul-smelling gloop I would have to encounter.  Luckily I went to visit Karen and she suggested that I just pierce some holes in the liner and let the water drain out, this would also give the frogs and other wildlife time to make new accommodation plans.    What an excellent plan and why didn’t I think of that – the garden blogging world is so helpful.

Darmera peltata
Darmera peltata

I returned and started piercing holes, the water drained, the mud emerged, more holes were pierced.  The pond plants, with the exception of a tall grass, were composted and I started work on the plants around the edge.  We had to build up one side to take account of the fall of the land and luckily all this soil went quite a way to filling the pond up.  I cut back the liner so it only covered the bottom deep section of the pond.  All the old compost from pots and grow bags were emptied in last week and then the planting commenced.

The pond in February before everything grew up
The pond in February before everything grew up

I had wonderful planting plans in my head using all the plants from around the pond and the moisture loving plants from the surrounding border.  However, my night-time planning sessions hadn’t really worked out that the quantity of plants was in excess of the space available.  By the time I had hauled the large clump of Ligularia across to a new damper location, added a quarter of the Rheum tubers, the tall unknown grass thing rescued from the pond and a vast fern the space was getting full.  Also added was a King Fern, some Iris siberica, a Dermera peltata, and some Marsh Marigold.  Some Foxgloves and bulbs were planted where the new border becomes drier.

The new bog garden looking very bare
The new bog garden looking very bare

In my head it will look wonderous, lush and full.  Whether or not this will be the case only a growing season will tell.  I really struggled to imagine how it would look when none of the plants had leaves on making it hard to see how the different foliage would work together.  I also have loads of Candelabra Primula seedlings to add as a sort of glue to the planting.  So we shall wait and see and I will report back next year I promise even if it is rubbish!

In other news I have signed up to take the 10 week English Landscape Garden course at Oxford University.  It starts at the end of January and hopefully will entertain me while the weather is too cold for gardening.  I should have more time by then as it is my last monthly local radio slot this weekend.  I am only on for 15 minutes maximum but I have really enjoyed it this year especially seeing behind the scenes.  Also my twice weekly posts for Yell.com Know How pages will stop at the end of February.  I have found these challenging at times as I have written the posts for 3 years now and it has got to the point where I find myself repeating things which I suppose is only to be expected in gardening.  I have enjoyed the weekly discipline of writing posts to deadline and I have learnt loads through all the research I have done.  But as they say all good things have to come to and end.

Update: the radio want me to continue for the foreseeable which is fab.

Projects underway

With the arrival of some much needed rain over the last few weeks my son and I have finally started on some of the projects I had planned for the garden.  I must admit I am lucky to have a very practical son to  help me out with my plans.

Last weekend he cleared the top corner of the  garden and took away 6 years of twigs, branches and other woody detritus.  Being a scout leader he did have a bit of an ulterior motive as he wanted it for the scout firework night bonfire.  Now before the wildlife fans get upset I still have a couple of rotting logs tucked away for invertebrates and we gave everything a good shake to give insects a chance to escape to a new woody pile we have created elsewhere.  You can see that I have a horrid concrete based fence which I can’t remove as its shared with the neighbour behind who likes it!  The tree roots also make it hard to dig the soil here so my son has used some scaffolding board we had left over and created a bit of a raised bed.  We have filled this with the decomposing turf stack I created when I lifted some of the lawn for the woodland border.  I am really thrilled with this new bed especially as I wasn’t expecting him to complete it in one day.  I am planning on planting a couple of shrubs here and maybe a tall grass.  I particularly fancy Hydrangea serrata ‘Shichidanka’ as I  think the pretty small pink flowers will light up this corner.

Having felt very tired yesterday and fiddled around with pots I decided today that I needed to start tackling the pond/bog garden project.  The sun was shining and temperatures were around 17C which is bizarre for November.  As I have mentioned before I have struggled with the pond for a couple of years, it just doesn’t work and whilst I  like seeing ponds elsewhere I don’t think I am keen enough on pond plants to struggle with one.  This year it has been particularly awful with low levels of water due to the dry season and my moisture loving  plants in the border around the pond really struggled.  Therefore I decided to utilise the failing pond to create a bog  garden to give the rheum and ligularia a better chance.

Today I started on the far side of the pond.  Lifting the plants which are now residing in the new border above until their new home is sorted.  I have cut back the liner to help with drainage and I have shovelled the soil from the back border into the middle of the pond.  I haven’t had much of an idea of what the end product will look like until today.  I had one of those eureka moment when I decided that instead of running a path through the middle of the bed it will now go  round the back in front of the dry stone wall.  There is a firm base here and all I will  have to do is to add some chipped bark whereas the first plan would mean a lot of work to create a stable base.

I’m also pleased with this decision as it means that the wall will be on view instead of hidden behind the tall ferns etc.  The slope at this point has been problematic as it has been difficult to access, I knew it was a bad idea when we did it, so I have tended to ignore it to some extent.    Over the last year I have been working on giving this bit of the slope a spring feel by planting lots of snowdrop bulbs, primulas and white perennial honesty.  Now that I can get to the bed better I will be able to see the bulbs up close and then in late spring I will re-jig it and plant some geraniums I have to add some summer colour.

Next week or when my achy body and the weather permits I need to clear the other side and cut  back the liner there too.  There is a huge rheum in here which I need to wrestle out of the ground and I suspect this will be all I actually manage in one go.  The rheum is now going in the middle of the bed, the soggiest bit.  I then have to sort out the levels which are currently all wrong and fill up the rest of the pond.  Then its a case of moving the ligularia, darmera and other plants I have rescued in to their new home.  Next year hopefully my trays of candelabra primulas will have bulked up enough to be planted out  and I am also going to add some irises – sibricia and robusta.

Oh and I planted some raspberries and a blackberry at the allotment.

So that was my weekend – how was yours?!

End of Month – October 2011

The garden is looking shabby and unloved at the end of this month and my excuse is that it is autumn but if I am honest it has looked a bit like this  for most of the year.  However, the tide of indecision is  turning as I  am slowly but surely moving forward with my plans.  Although  this has resulted in some lost sleep as I wake up in the early hours and then can’t get to sleep as I am mentally moving plants around.

Above is what I call the gravel border and I said in last month’s post that I was going to put the new pond here.  Change of plan – keeping the border and we are going to create a seating area.  This will mean that there will be no pond in the garden as I am filling the existing pond in to make a bog garden.  However, it turns out  that the rescue cat I got 6 months ago is a real hunter and I can’t bear seeing her walking along with a frog hanging out of her mouth so if I whilst I am removing a habitat I feel that I am also encouraging the frogs to use  neighbours pond and avoid my cat.

As you can see I have made no progress in the last week with sorting out the old pond but I haven’t been lazy.  I have been working hard at the allotment tidying up ready for the winter and I have been working on sorting out the new cottage garden border.   There has been much plant moving and although the border (below) look quite bare at the moment there is a lot  in there but it is all cut back and tidied.  Now we have had  some good rain I will give it a good autumn mulch and then sit back and hope the tulip and allium bulbs I have planted look fab in the summer.

I have some apple trees on order to use for step over apples along the wall edge as I think this will add some much-needed structure.  It may be that I widen this border but I will wait a year before doing so so I can concentrate and complete all the other projects.

I’ve planted lots of Erythroniums and dwarf Narcissus in the woodland border  so again fingers crossed that something resembling the pictures in my head will appear in the spring.

I am though pleased with the top of the garden.  I have finally turned the corner here and although it looks quite bare at the moment it is very full but the plants are quite small.  The three bamboos I planted in the spring have started to send up new shoots and hopefully next year will be tall enough to screen my neighbours.  In front of them is a mixture of shrubs to add some depth and, along with the vine and flowering quince, and to break up the bleakness of the fence.  While I wait for the shrubs to fill out I have filled the gaps with blood-red wallflowers and a mixture of red tulips kept over from last year.  The border gets a lot of sun so I have also added an edging of bearded irises.  Again it looks wonderful in my imagination!

Having avoided the pond by doing the cottage border I am now distracted by the potential of a new area my eldest son has cleared for me.  The top corner was full of branches and other twigs etc collected over the last six years.  My son has taken all this to the scout hut where he is a leader ready for bonfire night.  He and his friend have also cut down some of the lower branches of the trees and tidied up the stumps where my neighbour has butchered the tree from his side.  Now hopefully there are no more branches overhanging the fence which he can reach.  The ground slopes a lot in this corner so we are going to put across a raised bed, as we did across the other side of the back of the garden.  I am then going to plant it up with Hydrangeas and some form of large, tall grass to give some privacy and height and movement.  I can then use the stones from around the old pond to finish off the border in front of the tree and sort out the planting here with more woodland plants.

A final  view of my cottage border.  I have moved an Abelia from the front garden to add some substance to the corner of the border.  I am really glad I did this especially as I dithered about it for ages but my instinct kept telling me that this was what was needed and I  think it was right.

So I have been busy but I have such ambitious and multiple projects that I suppose to me it doesn’t look like I have made much progress but writing this post as showed me that I have.

End of Month View July 2011 – All Change

Changes are a foot in my garden or they will be in a month or two when the weather is more conducive to moving things and digging.

I have been struggling for some time, in fact at least 6 months if not a year, to really engage with my garden.  I have planted things and tidied but I have felt I was gardening for the sake of it and from a distance.  As any one who reads this blog regularly will know I have also felt the same about blogging etc and it has been suggested to me that I was gardened out.  I had even lost interest in visiting gardens and the RHS Tatton Flower show,  which I enjoyed, didn’t reignite my passion.  If I am honest I think I have been avoiding or ignoring the garden and putting all my energies for some time probably 18 months or so in blogging, meeting people, going to gardens and shows.  I have my theories why this is but I won’t bore you on them.

Anyway, I have had a week off with my eldest son and it has revitalised my interest.  One of his objectives this week was to put up a bike  store so he could get the bikes out of the garage and make more room for his wood-working (he is a trainee cabinet maker).  I think you will agree that the bike store (above) looks quite  smart and he has done a good job especially as he did it all on his own. This has always been an awkward area of the patio so its good for find a use for it.  I will now tidy up the planter at the end and put some climbers across the fence.

As I mentioned a few posts back I visited Westonperry Mill Water Gardens earlier in the week on a whim and it really helped get my act together and focus my thoughts.  I came home full of ideas about our awful pond but as ever when you have wonderful plans in your head when you look at the actual site they are quite difficult  if not impossible to achieve.  However, my eldest, who I think is quite interested in gardening and design, listened to my ramblings and confused ideas.  We looked at the pond which has never worked since it went in about 6 years  ago and agreed something drastic had to be done.  My pond is a lesson is how  not to build a pond.  The first lesson is just because you have a large crater from removing a ridiculously large conifer it doesn’t mean this is the ideal place to put  a pond especially when your garden then slopes down from the pond.  After all when did you last  see a pond  half way down a hill.  To get  the  water levels we had  to build up one side and it is really like having a pond in a bunker.  There are a whole host of other problems but I will save those for another post.

We agreed that there was a strong possibility that the pond  had a leak and that plants such as my Rodgersia and Ligularia which had been stunning a couple of years ago where looking quite  limp and pathetic and so weren’t benefitting from any  overspill as they had in the past (they should be evident in the photo above  of the border in front of the pond but they aren’t).  In my dejected state I muttered about filling the pond in and having a bog garden instead.  My son understood my reasoning but was disappointed that we wouldn’t have a wildlife pond as our  garden is teeming with frogs.  Then it occurred to us  that the best place for a pond would be in one of the few flat areas of the garden to the right of the current pond where a collapsing old shed had stood and where I had been trying to create a border for some years.  This is the border that features at the top of  this year’s End of Month Views (see top photo and third photo).  It is slowly improving but I don’t think it is jelling properly. We decided that we could clear this bed and put in a sort of egg shape pond/pool.  To overcome the problem we had with the pond liner showing  with the other pond we plan to do very shallow sides  and cover  them with pebbles and cobbles.  The planting around it will be low – hostas, primulas etc.  The old pond will be emptied, the liner punctured  and then filled in to make a bog  garden.  Result – I am quite  excited and have already sown some Primula seeds for the new pond.

The boys and I have also  decided that the mini-meadow is not working at all.  It  is actually harder to cut round this area than to just cut  it all due to the slope.  The grass variety we have is obviously too strong as we mainly have lush grass just bent over, partly due to the cat hiding in it.  So it is going probably when I have finished this post.  Instead I am going to try having spring bulbs here.  I am currently reading Keith  Wiley’s  Wild Side and feel inspired to try some dwarf narcissus and other bulbs in this area.  Its worth a try and you never know it might look OK.

One of the few bits of the garden that I am increasingly pleased with is the slope.  It is beginning to fill out well, although the Salvias are just too big for it and dominate so they are coming out in the Autumn and will be moved to the long border in front of the fence to help break it up while the bamboos establish  themselves. The Salvias might not look too big in the photo but I have removed lots of their huge leaves which were smothering other plants.

The new woodland border is looking much as it has since it was planted.  I need to add some plants and move plants but I need to wait until we have had some serious  rain before I do  this.  However, I have covered the border in a thick mulch of homemade compost.  I know you should wait for the soil to be damp before you do this to help preserve moisture but I had a huge amount of compost to find a home for.  Due to my neglect of the garden for a long period of time the two compost bins at the top of the garden have been ignored.  They have been overflowing so much  that a pile as big  again has formed to one side of them.  I have managed to not see them for some time but now with new plans a foot and my garden mojo back I am itching to get on with things.  As I can’t move plants etc yet I decided that I should have a good tidy up of the garden but before I could do this I needed to sort the compost corner out.  So yesterday I emptied one of the bins.  It was only the top couple of inches which hadn’t rotted down.  The rest (equivalent to a whole bin’s worth) I dug out, sieved (yes sieved!) and put the fine stuff on the new bed and the woody stuff on the top path or as a mulch along the top border.  We then filled the bin with the unrotted stuff and the top couple of inches from the other bin.  I have started to do the same with the second bin but it got too hot and I have run out of energy  but I shall be back to it next weekend as it is already making the garden look so much better.

So  there is my garden at the end of July.   Please feel free to join in this meme in any way  you choose and post a link to your post in the comments box  below so others can find your  post.

Easter Project update

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Finally made some progress on this area today – unfortunately it doesnt look like my original plan for a Bog Garden is going to work.  I had planned to cure the drainage problem by digging a big hole in the corner, filling it with gravel and topping off with compost and then planting bog plants in it.  However, as I started to dig the hole it rapidly filled up with water – presumably draining from the surrounding gardens.  We are on the side of a hill so this is hardly surprising.  Alternatively it could be a spring as we live on the side of the Malvern Hills which is riddled with springs – but I think not.  I now have a dilemma of whether to follow plan A – though I think this wont help the water that floods the patio when it rains or make the hole bigger and treat it as a natural pond (albeit small). The trouble it that I dont know until it rains heavily whether the current hole will help with drainage nor do I know whether it will dry out in the summer.  So I have decided to leave it be for a while and see what happens to the water level.  The trellis is new and is for me to grow my sweet peas up and to disguise the bins which are to the right of the photo.  I cant really plant into the ground here as there is only a thin scraping of soil before I hit thick clay with lumps of granite so I am planning to gravel the area to the right of the hole and have a seating area with troughs for the sweet peas.

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While I was waiting for my parents to arrive this morning (the trellis gang) I decided to relocate this Eucalyptus, which was originally, planted in a planter on the patio but was too close to the house.  I am really pleased as it has lifted this corner of the garden.  I also planted a variegated Hellebore, 2 Ranunclus ‘Brazen Hussey’ and some Primulas.  This corner is another problem area (there are so many) as it is under my neighbours Sycamore trees and it is a constant battle with their roots, the trees that is!

Easter project

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This Easter I am hoping to finally sort out th draining on my patio.  I moved here 4 years ago and have had to cope with the flooding on the patio everytime we have heavy rain.  My soil is thick clay and for some reason I seem to get all the water from mine and my neighbours garden running into the corner of my patio.  I have had a quote for putting in drains etc but it was £600+, if I had that sort of money to spare I would get a decent patio.

Anyway whilst reading an article in the RHS magazine about climate change, I noticed an article about bog gardens and how they can help with surface water.  So my plan is to dig out the clay and replace it with gravel and good soil etc and to plant it with plants that dont mind getting their feet wet.  Hopefully this part of the garden which I have blanked out for the last 4 year will become a welcome feature.  Who knows – watch this space