Alison Stewart‘Progress’ at Sherbrooke

Summer is almost at an end in Britain and it seems a good time to take stock of progress at Sherbrooke, my 1.25 acre garden in the west of Scotland. Looking back at my previous posts on GardenDrum, I see, last November, a despondent account of work unfinished and plans thwarted, accompanied by pictures of rubble, mud and debris.

Rubble and rubbish at the top of the drive Nov 2011

Well, things are now quite a lot better though it’s more a case of lower expectations than real progress. I have had to accept the difficulty of getting any major works done at all, let alone promptly and properly, with everything cleaned up afterwards. It might be possible if we were living there, but from a three-hour distance it doesn’t seem to be. So anything that I can’t do myself, or with help from Jim D (now 78 – how long can we keep him?) is, at least for now, not on the agenda.

Rubble gone – now I just need to get rid of that bit of gravel

The most important achievement is a vast reduction in mess. Jim and I have gradually barrowed the rubble up to the ruin, where it is safely out of sight, and have used the better stones for a new dry-stone retaining wall on the east slope. So far I haven’t managed to get rid of the large blue bag of gravel at the top of the drive. It weighs a ton so we can’t move it and the so-called “gravel” that remains inside could be more accurately described as pulverised road metal. Maybe I could gradually use it up to patch puddles in the drive.

Sequioadendron stump at top of drive Nov 2011

After four solid months of hassling and two breakdowns of the stump grinder (that’s the machine, not the man, though I think the man was pretty close to it too!), I have at last got rid of the stumps from the felled trees.




Garden bed at top of drive, August 2012

So the garden bed at the top of the drive is ready for planting and I hope to be able to do that this autumn. My pretty smokebush (Cotinus coggyria ‘Dusky Maiden’) and Japanese maple (Acer ‘Phoenix’) can be freed from the pots they have been languishing in since April and I will have fun choosing a hybrid Rhododendron to plant on the site of the felled Sequioadendron.


East slope March 2012

The east slope, which I planted in the spring, is coming along reasonably well, though I don’t think I have really got it right. Not surprising, I suppose, as the planting plan, such as it was, was a pretty spur-of-the-moment affair. More haste less speed, probably. On the plus side, everything has grown, and the things that were supposed to flower have flowered.

East slope, early September


The hydrangeas have done particularly well. On the minus side, the garden bed as a whole still looks a bit sparse and so far lacks impact, and there are one or two things that I think are finding it too wet. I’ll take stock again in the spring when I see how it all gets through the winter. (Predictably, Jim D has completely given up on strimming the grass so it only gets done when we have time to do it ourselves – which we hadn’t when I took the picture.)

The Rhododendron ponticum stumps have gone from the drive and I am gradually working my way through the debris with the wonderful shredder my husband gave me for my birthday. (Well, Beth Chatto’s husband gave her several tons of manure so a shredder by comparison seems positively romantic!). I’ve filled in the holes with topsoil and sown the patches with grass seed. The stump of Henry the conifer, on the other side of the drive, has been ground out but I can’t decide what, if anything, to replace him with. It will have to be something shallow-rooted because I’ve discovered that the remains of the stump are only about 20cm below the surface and my chances of getting it ground out any further are somewhat less than zero.

Rhodie debris on carriage drive Nov 2011

The tatty avenue of mixed yew and Rhododendron that used to line the old carriage drive has also gone. I think the answer to the question of what to do with that space is probably “nothing”.

I’ve cleared up the chippings and re-shaped the edges of the drive. We can now see out to the open water from the kitchen window so I think it would be a shame to do anything that would block that view again.

The only major mess remaining is the site of the fallen willow in front of the garage. I think the stump has properly gone but it’s a bit hard to tell underneath the huge mound of woodchips. Sorting out that area is on the agenda for the winter months.

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6 thoughts on “‘Progress’ at Sherbrooke

  1. This is all too familiar to me – the journey of building paradise. It’s never as glamourous as the lifestyle programs portray. There are far more challenges than there are successes, but the beauty is, no one can take what you achieve away from you.

    It’s oh-so slow but oh-so necessary too. I love your drystone retaining wall and flowering plants.

    If you visit my blog at and click on the label “Bushland Project” about half way down the page is a post called “Building Paradise”. This was the revelation moment for me, that what we were embarking on was never going to be a simple process. But still, the thought of paradise beckons, doesn’t it?

    I think Sherbrooke is looking better each year.

    • Many thanks to Chris, Helen and narf7 for your encouraging comments. It is so easy to get disheartened and – yes – you are right that the thing to do is celebrate the small steps forward and try not to dwell on the (sometimes bigger!) steps backwards. And thanks for the various ideas for what to do with the bag of “gravel”. They’d all be great if it was actually gravel but it is more like gravel dust (half a bag of it – I think we were robbed!). Any suggestions?

      • Apologies for not replying sooner. Gravel dust is something we don’t mind using as backfill for our retaining walls (especially as a compacted base), or you can use it if you want to lay a plinth or paver for potted plants to sit on even ground.

        We found it handy when placing our garden wishing well outside, as we needed a sturdy base to sit it on. We used sand and crusher dust (as we refer to it) to lay the paver bricks on top. When it was all done, the wishing well had the perfect base to sit on.

        • Many thanks Chris (very belatedly). In fact Jim managed to “disappear” the bag of gravel dust some time during the autumn so I can’t take advantage of your excellent suggestions. Wonder what he did with it?? (Maybe it’s making a base for a wishing well in his garden…)

  2. I think we often underestimate how much we’ve done when progress is slow because the changes are so incremental but, as you’ve noticed, comparing old photos with new vistas is heartening. I too love your walls!
    And there’s something very satisfying about tidying an area and making it ready, isn’t there? It’s as if you’re removing the clutter and revealing the basic bones and structure.

    I used small rocks in behind my retaining walls as I built them to improve drainage – maybe that’s an option for your bag of gravel?

  3. Another renovation post! I love them…they give me hope that our 4 acres of neglected mess might actually come to fruition one day and start cycling like we want them to. I have learned the hard way that baby steps are often the most persistent and the kind that reward you with real change. We are constantly overwhelmed by where to start… what to do! We keep coming up against having to do something before we can tackle what we want to do and as we work, everything that we did before is marching on to needing to be done all over again! Can’t you use that gravel for a french drain anywhere wet and boggy? I don’t suggest getting Jim D to dig it if you want to see him for the forseeable future though! ;). Steve and I are mature age peniless horticultural student hippies who are putting into practice what we learn. Its amazing how much we are able to use! Recycling, reusing, repurposing and thinking outside the box have become our new mantra’s and encouraging as much nature to do things for us as we can in the process. Those cycles again! We decided to use permaculture principals to turn our property into an edible forest for the future whether we are here or not to enjoy the process. At least we can feel like we are doing something positive with our lot 🙂 Cheers for a lovely post and a very refreshing look at what is possible when renovating a larger garden 🙂

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