The transformation of a garden: Part 1

I think it is time I introduced you to our front garden. Bear with me while I set the scene. Perhaps make yourself a cup of tea… Most of the photos you’ll see aren’t pretty. They were taken to record the work and before this blog existed but they’ll help you to work out what I mean.

When we moved here at the tail end of the summer in 2012 all our time was taken up with settling the children into new schools, making new friends, getting to know the area properly and the house. Oh, the house. It needed SO much doing to it to make it into the family home that we knew it could be. To be honest, we’re still not there. Time and money are the two things in short supply; isn’t that always the way? By the time we’ve finished, the children will probably have all left home! Anyway, it’s more than perfectly fine now and, while there are still jobs to do indoors, we try to spend as much time as possible in the garden. Last spring we set ourselves a mighty challenge by signing up for the village summer garden safari. There was far too much to do to get the whole garden in a fit state for visitors so all our efforts were concentrated on the back garden and the top terrace just in the front of the house. You can read about that herehere and here if you’re interested.

This year, it’s the turn of the front garden. Our house sits roughly in the middle of a plot which slopes from a road to the rear down to another road in front. It’s mostly terraced in front of the house and the retaining walls were probably built when the house was (in 1890); quite a few of them have seen better days. One of the steepest walls immediately to the front of the house collapsed during the first winter we were here and so we had steel-reinforced retaining walls built in 2014. Up until that point, I’d had dreams of the house sliding into the sea. I had many nightmares while the building work was going on and that was a recurring one!

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The finished reinforced retaining walls, coated in a self-coloured render (no painting required!).

The level in front of the house ended up being a couple of meters deeper than before, giving us a decent area of lawn and a border which we planted up with lavender – a simple, formal look with no tall plants to interrupt the sea view. There are lovely brick steps down to the bottom of the garden covered in Erigeron karvinskianus  and I can testify to the toughness of this gorgeous little plant as it survived the heavy boots of builders and clods of chalky mud for months on end but is now back to looking as good as ever.

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The bare patch at the bottom of the garden is now a ‘wildflower patch’ and also home to our trampoline.

We’ve been peering over the new walls down to the garden below since they were built. Occasionally we’d venture down there to hack at some brambles, attempt to clear ivy and trim the boundary hedges. We did try to clear the bottom level last spring that had been badly compacted by diggers and we sowed a chalk grassland mix of wildflowers. It provided some interest but it wasn’t as eye-catching as I’d hoped it would be. Preparing the ground and clearing the weeds for that was a mammoth task and we didn’t manage to get all the grass out. That seems to be the hardest task wherever we are in the garden – clearing weeds and invasive plants.

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A few weeks ago we took a deep breath and decided to clear all the plants from the next two levels down. These included a large palm (unknown variety), a mature, leggy Cotinus coggygria, a couple of phormiums (one huge), a yukka, a sad, badly pruned weeping cherry, a tatty Choisya Aztec Pearl, several self-seeded (insert expletive of your choice) sycamores and LOADS of ivy, brambles, hypericum, Japanese anemones, and other assorted weeds. We used a chainsaw, an axe, a pick-axe, a regular saw, forks (and bent one), a huge, heavy metal spike (which is great for getting under stubborn plants), loppers and shears. If we had a blow-torch, we’d have used that too. Several days of destruction, two bonfires and much heavy digging later and we’ve almost cleared these levels. There’s still digging to do to work through the soil to rid the beds of pernicious roots but it’ll have to wait until we have another spare day or two. And there are a few dry-stone walls to rebuild… Oh, and I haven’t told you about the pond yet. More of that in Part 2.

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My mother-in-law, working hard.

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It’s the village Spring Show this Saturday and I’ll be helping out. David will be entering the ‘3 white bread rolls’ class and I’ve got to rustle up a few entries myself (mixed daffs/narcissi and some spring flowers, plus a jar of marmalade –luckily there are a few jars left). My youngest and middle child are both entering the ‘Victoria Sponge, Junior Adult’ class. There’s a crisp £20 note at stake for the winner. I’m glad I’ll be busy at the village hall while they’re baking and I hope someone else wins otherwise there could be a lot of sulking here as neither child is particularly gracious in defeat. Have a lovely weekend.

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35 thoughts on “The transformation of a garden: Part 1

  1. It was lovely to see your garden. I lovely that flat top lawn with lavender. Very classy!
    Time and money, time and money ; that’s the constant refrain around here too. You seem to be making much more progress than I am.
    Looking forward to watching the progress.
    Lynda.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We have a similar terraced back garden with retaining walls that have seen better days. That’s where the similarity ends, Richard and I are not keen gardeners and in the 11 years we have been here, nothing much has happened and sadly, there is no sea view either. You are amazing, all that back breaking work will be so worth it. I am looking forward to seeing your progress. Good luck with your show entries, may your marmalade win. x

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  3. I really enjoyed seeing your front garden, Sam. It’s very different from the lots where I live now, but I am from the east coast and saw a lot more like yours there, especially in Massachusetts where I went to college. I like the way you had everything terraced. I have a small amount of terracing in my front yard too, just two levels worth. My house is set back from the street on a very small hill, which I like because I feel like I’m a little insulated from street noise and traffic. I would love to share my front yard on my blog because we work very hard with it but I’m shy because I’m afraid it will make it easier to find me. Maybe that’s silly and I should just do it. Thanks for sharing your garden, it was very interesting for me.

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    1. I hadn’t really thought about someone identifying where we live. If anyone was that interested and turned up I’d be amazed! But I suspect my blog isn’t nearly as widely read as yours is 🙂 I’m really pleased you found it interesting. I’d love to see/read about your front yard if you ever decide to blog about it.

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  4. oh my your garden is gorgeous, I love your lavender / lawn terrace, but I can see there is such a lot of work. We took out one GIANT phormium last week and it nearly killed me.

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  5. Coming from the fllatland of Essex, the thought of terraces and steep slopes fills me with dread. What a mammouth task you have but I’m willing to bet that in your mind you can already see the space a few years hence, looking beautiful.
    Maybe the Victoria sponges will both be so spectacular that they’ll win joint first.

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    1. I do have a plan in my head, Anne. Translating it into reality may be a challenge… There were six Victoria sponges entered into the show and my 14-yr-old won the £20. My daughter was actually very grown-up about it and he ended up giving her £5 for helping him earlier. I shouldn’t have doubted them.

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  6. You’ve been working hard. How nice to live up high like that, even if it makes the front garden a bit tricky. I shall enjoy seeing your progress. Terraced gardens can look particularly stunning. Good luck to you all in the village show. CJ xx

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    1. Thanks CJ. I was exhausted on Saturday evening after a very long day and haven’t managed to summon up the strength to get back to digging again just yet.

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  7. You have a great location, I’m sure you’ll make a lovely family garden to go with the house. Lots of work, but then a garden always is hard work to get started even more so on a steeply sloping site; ah and then of course there is your views of the sea, how wonderful.

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  8. I would be totally overwhelmed facing such a mammoth task! I greatly admire your skills and perseverance, and all your hard work. Good luck at the show! I do love a Village show competition! X

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    1. Thank you Penny. There’s a Spring Show and a Late Summer Show in our village, both well-attended with some great characters and very experienced gardeners. It’s lovely to be part of it.

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  9. one of the monster plants we got the garden service to remove, was a car-sized lavender bush which was blocking the door to the garage that the tenants didn’t use.
    Now our lavenders are all LITTLE ones as I harvest seedlings to go into appropriate gaps.

    I look forward to your next instalment of armchair gardening ;~)

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  10. I can see why you had nightmares of the house tumbling into the sea. That’s one steep bank. But it makes for such a gorgeous view. I sympathize with your land clearing heroics, since we are going through something similar here. My back is finally starting to protest a little after shoveling this week.

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    1. Your land-clearing heroics are on a much grander scale than ours! It’s great that we get to see each other’s efforts. I’m giving the digging a rest for a few days after my back started niggling so I sympathise.

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  11. It’s really evident from these photos how much of a task you had in front of you, and how much you’ve done. That’s some seriously backbreaking work there, not just a little light gardening! I am impressed by your gardening knowledge. It’s not my forte and I go at things with great enthusiasm for about a day then am easily distracted by something else. Good luck with the rest of the works.

    Also – that sea view!

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  12. I have found that generally the price to pay for houses with good views, is they usually have steep gardens. You are doing a great restoration job, when it is all terraced and planted it is going to look very impressive.

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  13. Oh Sam, what a task. The wall is such a strong feature to set-off any new planting. Imagine architectural plants (NOT phormium) casting their shadows against it. I also love the shape and position of your pond. Have you been to Standen, the Arts and Crafts house owned by the NT? It used to be one of our favourite destinations with lovely woodland walks and various ponds, including a bathing pond and a secret pond which you reach via a meandering walk. There is also a very productive kitchen garden and orchard and a lawn edged with lavender…

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    1. Any time you’re down this way and have some time to kill, come and see it. It’d be lovely to meet you. I’ve not been to Standen – have just googled it and, wow, it looks fabulous. We’ll definitely have to go there, thank you for the recommendation.

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  14. It’s always fun to see images of developing gardens. That looks a lot of hard work but I’m sure you will reap so many rewards when your plans are realised. I have also found that if some ideas don’t work out as planned it is always an opportunity to try something else -there is always another lovely plant to buy waiting in the wings! I had always assumed the view of the sea was from the back of your house. Sarah x

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  15. An amazing accomplishment. I love the terracing. It gives your garden so much character. I also like what you show of the water feature and all the stone work. A very different landscape than the flatland around here.

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