I suppose one lesson I have learnt from gardening is that life is easier when you have the right tool for the job. For example a group of easily bribed mates with shovels and picks can do in a day what a digger can do in thirty minutes. When you construct a garden for a client all the costs are covered but when working on your own garden you can fall into the trap of wanting to do everything for free. This often involves lots of hard labour on your behalf, but one thing that I have been forced to consider as I get older is that damaged bodies can also be expensive. There comes a point in any job when you have to cut your losses and bring in the big guns.
When you have small garden you can get used to dramatic changes occurring after a day’s work but in larger gardens things can sometimes move frustratingly slow. I have always felt that a garden which evolves slowly ultimately has more character. By walking and working in an area the gardener gets to know it and is better able to capitalize on the best use of space. I am a true believer that by observing the lines of movement through a site, an appropriate design will present itself.
Traipsing around rural Europe I fell in love with the smallholdings and farms that I saw, there seemed to be a real harmony between the gardener and the garden. They are built through necessity and aren’t preoccupied with style. Their beauty is a happy by-product of their function, with the emphasis on family, productivity and relaxation.
Normally when I approach a new garden I try to be as sympathetic to the existing site or the previous gardener’s vision as I possibly can. I do not subscribe to the scorched earth policy of coming in and ripping everything out for the sake of it. In the case of my new garden it soon became very apparent that a thorough cleanout would be required . Both the types of plants and their positions where erratic to say the least. They were comprised of spider infested junipers interplanted with dead or dying conifers and fruit trees that were planted so close, one day they would have made an effective hedge.
To say the garden looked like a tip when we first arrived would be unkind so I would probably prefer to describe it as aesthetically challenged. There is a construction in the front yard that makes me ask the question does a pile of rocks constitute a dry stone wall? The rest of the front is a collection of weeds, pine bark, black plastic and compacted road base. The fence was falling down and there seemed to be an unusually large amount of concrete that served no purpose. There were few plants that where redeemable and of those that were, most needed help desperately. When it came to weeds most of the usual suspects where there like cotoneaster, common fennel and clover as well as twitch that was so thick you could be forgiven for thinking that someone had tried growing it commercially. There were also two structures, one a rickety treated pine pergola which rather disconcertingly swayed in the wind and the other was the leaning tower of Pisa of steel hexagonal bird houses. The slab it sat on was laid on a thirty degree angle, my guess is that it was to complimented the natural slope but the other theory is that the creator of such a wonder had just not been bothered to dig it out level.
Normally when I begin to design a garden I take into account aspect and conditions, what it will be used for and of course the budget of both money and time. Every so often though, you walk into a space and a design just jumps out and seems to fit.
The idea behind this design is to try to utilise as much of the onsite materials as possible for the hard scaping and the building of structures , with the exception of the ripped up concrete and old treated pine. There is a place I used to hang out at as a kid called Knock Lofty where there are seasonal ponds which fill up during the wet periods and dry out over the hot. They are teeming with insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and the occasional thirsty marsupial. This, I suppose, was my vision for the front yard – a couple of small seasonal ponds and to only use plants and materials of local providence. The path up the eastern side of the house will host the bush foods area bordered by three native peppers which will lead on to three olives that will overhang the path . The western side which is dark and wet will be planted with ferns and bamboo and will also host the mushroom farm. The intention is to extend the area outside the backdoor and terrace the area above it to create entertaining areas. The eastern side will be a lawn area with a garden seat and will be ringed by trees and shrubs. The western side will be have a pizza oven and a paved area and will be planted out with a collection of different herbs.
Maybe not surprisingly I have devoted a large part of my garden to the growing of vegetables and berries, roughly a third. A tall pencil cypress dominates the area that I had set for the future vegetable patch. I originally intended to remove it but Joi had different ideas. She has made me realise that it adds too much character to the garden as well as to the entire hillside, so it stays.
I am opting for a Persian rotation system with nine large beds and three smaller beds for trials of different vegetables, techniques and general tomfoolery. A range of berry crops will occupy about a third of the patch and will be covered by a simple wooden structure to allow me to net and train them. An espaliered fence will sit on top of the retaining wall and act to frame and protect the patch. I am training two crab apples into cordons so I can form them in to an arch over the entrance to the patch and six pears to make an arbour over where the gate to the orchard will be. There will also be a bench seat nestled in a hedge of red and white currants, two compost bays made of old hardwood sleepers from my sisters place and an old steel bath that served as a pond for the previous owner will be turned into the worm farm. There will also be three beds of rhubarb, asparagus and globe artichoke in between them. The orchard is up the back and boasts two decent sized apples, two plums, a peach and a beautiful but sick old apricot. This area will also include a hammock, a chicken run and a potting shed.
The reserve outside the back gate I had planned to plant out in the same manner as the front, as a endemic plant community. The plan has changed recently because of the fact that I can’t bear to waste plants, so now the area is a refuge for the plants that were not suited to my garden plan and which were able to be transplanted. The garden was finally a blank canvas. The rubbish was all removed, the pine structure taken down and the bird cage cross shed moved to a levelled position. Nearly all the plants have received some form of attention, being pruned, transplanted or completely removed. The time had come to have to some fun!
Next time – The Once and Future Patch