Sunday 29 December 2013

Landscaping complete, let the growing commence

After finally deciding on the final layout for my back garden and sourcing a landscaper to do the hard landscaping work, I now have a new look! First the 'before':

March 2013: when we moved in (the plants/compost bins from previous house)

October 2013: 1st borders dug and planted in summer, prior to landscaping work

Now the 'after':
December 2013: Landscaping complete

I'm really pleased with the new design. When I say design, I really mean permaculture design, as it designed within that context. That means for me, the function of the space, comes first, rather than trying to make it immediately beautiful. I wrote more about how I came to making decisions on the final layout early November. Here is some area's of the new layout in more detail.

Looking towards the conservatory, on the left is part of the shady border, at the bottom (next to the shale) the new Cornus bed, and I've extended the herb border (with obelisk) to take a bit more advantage of the light
Cornus, Herb & Strawberry borders

I'm planning on growing French beans, and peas, up the obelisk, with my Aster to go in the middle of the obelisk. The Aster is autumn flowering, so my idea is that by the time the beans and peas are finished, I can remove them and let the aster have more space. It will be interesting to see if that works like I see it in my head! For the moment I've also added Crocus Pulchellus and Iris Reticulara J.S. Dijt around the outside of the obelisk. Closest to the conservatory is the Strawberry border where I've planted Crocus Sativus for autumn flowering and harvesting.

Then come the new long vegetable beds. Soil will be going into these beds early January. To the right is the rest of the shady border, where I've also planted the Morello Cherry - not easy to see just yet!

Long vegetable beds

I decided to turn all the paths into the area to shale rather than grass. Mowing around the vegetable beds is annoying, I know from previous experience (!) and I also wanted to keep mowing maintenance to a minimum. I think as vegetables and plants in the borders grow, it should be less in your face as it is now.

At the back behind the garage, is the new retaining wall. This is to stop the soil from falling up against the garage, and also allow access to store some garden items out of the way until needed. An area has been paved in readiness for when I can afford to put in a large rainwater collection tank. The garage roof is a really large area and currently has guttering and downpipes with the water just washing away.

Retaining wall and paths to compost bins and future water tank

This is also where the compost bins are situated. The new path means no more getting muddy when walking household scraps to the compost bins. Yay. The soil area next to the compost bins is where the Greengage is being planted.

Next up is the new pergola. It's small, as I don't have a lot of space, and a simple bespoke style as none of the pergola kits that you can get would have fitted in. I'll be growing a dessert grape vine up the pergola and the idea is that over time it will create a better sense of personal space, instead of just seeing the neighbours conservatory. It will also be nice to sit under it in spring to autumn. I'm thinking about adding some fragrant clematis or other climber to help add to it's attraction as a place to rest.


To the right of the pergola, the Damson will be placed, along with bluebells and pulmonaria to grow underneath it.

I did a lot of thinking about whether to keep some grass or not. During the summer, this area gets more shade than the rest of the garden and I found myself sitting there reading and relaxing. That decided it, I should keep some grass in the garden. Over time I'll probably add more spring bulbs into the grass to add further colour.
Grass area, for sitting and reading upon  :-)

There was a lot of angst (for me) and discussion with Nick, my landscaper, over the placing of the stepping stones. We need to be able to get from the conservatory to the drive way, and to the side garage door (behind the herb border) without getting wet or muddy. I didn't want to lay a full path of shale as in the other areas of the garden, as I felt this would start taking over too much. So the paving stones are the compromise. I think they stand out a bit at the moment, but should embed themselves in over time. And as plants in the borders are added and grow, they should be less noticeable.

The Cornus Border now has the cornus planted! I'm very fond of the dark red cornus stems so went for the darker stemmed Cornus alba 'Kesselringii' in the middle, with the light red Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' on each side of it.

Cornus border

They have been under planted with Crocus Cream Beauty, which I thought would be a nice contrast to the red stems of the cornus, and Muscari Latifolium.

I also planted more bulbs over the last few days in the Shady Border, including Fritillaria Melagris and Uva Vulpis, Crocus Sieberi Firefly, Scilla Nutans (or Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Bluebells seem to have two names) and Anemone Blanda Blue and Nemorosa. In the Herb Border I've also added Allium Atropurpureum. I'll be adding more hardy perennials, some of which are already on order from the Hardy Plant Society, and shrubs to the flower borders in future.

Overview of garden from study window

It's wonderful to have the hard landscaping complete. I now feel I can really focus on the growing in the coming year.

* * * * *

I've done a landscaping photo essay, giving a quick overview of each stage of the process. My landscaper was Nick Howlett of Howlett Garden Services, with the assistance of his sons Harry and Ben. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Nick's services. As much as I tried to incorporate everything I wanted into my design, and as much as the landscaper can then plan for the work, things will always crop up that are unexpected, or that need to be reconsidered once work starts.

Landscaper Nick Howlett, with his sons Harry (left) and Ben (right).

I was very impressed with the thought Nick paid to his work. Whether it was working out the best way to build the retaining wall so it suited the site (which had all kinds of levels going any which way), to thinking to add the little details to the top of the pergola, Nick thought through everything carefully and the work was finished to a most pleasing attention to detail. Once I've saved up some more funds, I'll be getting Nick and his sons to work on my front garden re-design!

Landscaping photo essay

Landscaping photo essay

For the really keen(!), as much as for my future reference, this is a photo essay giving a step-by-step guide to how the landscaping was done.

Removing the old grass

Rotovating the soil which was heavily compacted, heavy clay

Raking in sand to improve drainage

Digging out soil from the garage wall

Adding paving stones for future water collection tank

Laying out flower bed borders

New turf in

Building starts on the retaining wall, using sleepers

Working out retaining wall and the levels

Creating path to compost bins and water tank area

Laying shale path to compost area

Measuring and laying out raised vegetable beds, taking in ground level changes

The first kitchen garden path going down

Work starts on bespoke pergola

The rest of the kitchen garden paths are laid

Working out the place for the stepping stones to the driveway and garage door

Landscaping work complete

Landscaping work done by Howlett Garden Services, Sheffield, who I thoroughly recommend. For fuller recommendation, see post (scroll to bottom): Landscaping complete, let the growing commence.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Winter light on sculpture: a winter visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Kevin & I decided to make the most of the amazingly beautiful winter weather today and enjoy it, because tomorrow the bad weather hits again. We have been meaning to visit Yorkshire Sculpture Park since we moved to Sheffield and it turned out that visiting in the middle winter is a most excellent idea.

Below are some photos from that part of the park we visited today. I forgot my camera so these pictures were all taken with my phone camera. Some of them haven't turned out too badly and I think show that Yorkshire Sculpture Park is well worth a visit.

Molecule Man, Joanthan Borofsky

Wonderful detail against the blue winter sky

The Family of Man, Barbara Hepworth. Born in nearby Wakefield.

The Family of Man, detail. I loved the texture of the surface and the
way the light moved over and around it.

Nature is of course, an artwork in itself

The Ha Ha, Ha Ha bridge. Ha ha! By Brian Fell

Sculptures are fun too! (forgot to get the artist name, sorry)

There was also a lovely plant-themed art and poetry installation in a greenhouse by Alec Finlay called Propagator. This was fun, but also each poem was quite evocative of the plant it was describing.

i.e. Thrift:

Milk Thistle

Valerian and Honesty

I probably would have added the plants themselves, but I guess that might take away from the poetry since it's also about the context in which the plants grow. Clearly I'm not an artist.

Inside one of the galleries was striking print-making art by Angie Lewin, such as the piece below on driftwood. We really loved the way she captured the 'living deadness of plants' (as I call it) and would have loved to take a couple of prints home. Maybe one day...

Screen shot from Angie Lewin: A Natural Line section of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park website

This post only a small sample of what you can see at the sculpture park. We didn't get to see much of it because with ME I get tired very quickly, despite frequent rests and hot chocolates.

There is still lots to see, not in the least sculptures by Henry Moore and Antony Gormley, and the current exhibition: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest + Other Stories, that we must get to before it ends on 2nd February 2014. We plan to visit again and again, taking in a different area of the park each time. I also suspect that visiting throughout the year in different seasons, will cast a different light on the sculptures.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is now on our 'must show' list of places to take friends to when they visit us in Sheffield.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Gardening with ME

This post, although in the context of gardening, is a bit more personal as it is about my health and may not be what you expect from Gwenfar's Garden per se. For me, it was important to think through and write. I'll get back to writing directly about gardening next time :)

* * * * *
Back in the summer, after months of tests (and so many tests...) and waiting, I was formally diagnosed with ME. In many ways the diagnosis was a relief as it finally gave some explanation for how unwell I’ve been feeling for the couple of years. In fact it also explains why I was struggling so much with my lottie last year when I was still living in Oxford.

ME is Myalgic Encephalopathy is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Every person with ME may experience variations of the predominant symptoms (listed here), the ones I get are: extreme fatigue after physical or mental activity, ongoing muscle pain throughout the body, brain fog, that is, problems with concentration and short-term memory loss, and problems with (ironically) sleep.

These symptoms have a massive impact on day-to-day activities and I'm fortunate that our move to Sheffield means I don't need to undertake paid work for at least the next year or so. I also have the moderate, rather than severe form of ME which means I'm not confined to bed most of the time, just some of the time.

The diagnosis has both positive and negative impacts. Positively, it gives me an explanation and a starting point for working out how to get well again. It gives me a named illness rather than thinking it was all in my head; it’s good to know there is actually something wrong with me and that I was not just being lazy or not trying hard enough. It also means I know that with time, I should get better again.

On the negative side, it’s made me realise that I’m still trying to do too much which can only make the symptoms and illness worse. Of all the psychological problems that arise from having ME, trying to get my mind to stop wanting to ‘do things’ all the time is the most difficult. And even more difficult is when it comes to having to reduce doing something I love very, very much. Gardening.

Thankfully, I don't need to give up gardening. In fact the specialist I saw said it is important for people with ME to try and continue if they can, to do things they love as although this can bring on fatigue, it also gives positive benefits such as an emotional sense of well-being, which is also important if I want to get over ME. But it does mean that I do need to change how, and how much, I garden.

For now, no more all weekend in the garden for me. No more even half days. Rather, to start with, if I am to manage it right, I might be able to garden at the most, for a couple of hours a week. But as giving up gardening is not an option (what would be the point in living?), I'm holding on tight and am going to try and stay pretty damn positive about the two hours a week I can spend gardening!

At least I am able to do some gardening, even if only 30 minutes a day. Some people with ME couldn’t do this much. But it is hard as I want to do so much more. I’m probably not the only gardener that has looked at what I have done, and seen all the things I haven’t done. So changing this mindset is going to be difficult. I’m going to have to focus on what I have done and feel good about that and not berate myself for what still needs doing in the garden. I have to learn how to garden differently. Like with everything else you do with ME, I have to pace myself. (Pacing is a key treatment for people with ME and one I am already finding is helping me.)

I've been giving a lot of thought over the last few months on how I might change the way I garden. One of the benefits of moving to a house with a smaller garden here in Sheffield, is that I have less space in which to garden. Conversely, one of the motivations behind the new design for my back garden is to try and maximise growing space for fruit, vegetables and perennials, but limit how much work I need to do in order to do this. It is why I decided to spend my whole garden budget on getting in a Landscaper to do the work. Getting the hard landscaping done all at once, including building the vegetable beds, means that the really hard work that I simply am unable to undertake, is handed over to someone with the knowledge and physical ability to do the work. When he finishes (hopefully by mid-December), the main tasks left for me will be the actual growing. Which I have to admit, is the best bit anyway!

And it's those tasks that I have work out how to do differently. I've decided that I need to break down every gardening task into lots and lots of micro-tasks or sub-tasks. This might seem really obvious to others reading this, but to me, I'm used to having a task and doing the whole thing all at once. To not stop until it is finished, over several hours or a weekend if need be.

For example, one big task I have at the moment is to finish planting the bulbs. In the past I would have spent one weekend in Autumn or Winter planting several hundred bulbs. I cannot do that now. If I did, well it would be unlikely I would be able to finish without collapsing and even if I did finish, I would then have to spend the next two to three weeks in bed recovering. So instead, the whole task of 'planting bulbs' is going to be divided into several sub-tasks that I'll do over a few weeks.

On one day I'll spend one hour planting, say, the bulbs just in the herb border. And that hour won't be 10am-11am. It will be 10am-12pm, gardening for 15 minutes, resting for 15 minutes, then gardening for another 15 minutes, resting, etc. The idea is not only to break the larger 'planting bulbs' task up into smaller tasks, but when I'm doing it, to do it slowly, with lots of breaks, (preventative rests the specialist called it) so that I don't exhaust myself. At the end of the two hours, the sub-task will be completed, giving me a sense of achievement, I will have enjoyed myself doing it, and most importantly, I won't be exhausted from having undertaken the task. And I'll do the same when I come to plant the next lot of bulbs, maybe in a few days or a week's time.

Ahh, but how are you going to make yourself stop and take that 15 minutes break? Believe it or not, I'm going to set an alarm. My mobile has a useful alarm that is also very quickly (within seconds) quite annoying. I place it in another part of the garden so that I am forced to have to stop what I'm doing, and to get up to go and turn it off. And that action of course 'reminds me' that I have to take a break and pace myself.

I practised this the other day when I was doing a bit of clearing in order for the garden to be ready for when my landscape man comes to start work. I had some plants that needed cutting down and dug up, so I broke each one into a 'sub-task'. I did some gardening, alarm, rested, did some more etc. And I was pleasantly surprised by two things. One, I got all the work I wanted to get done over the period of two hours, and two, I enjoyed myself and wasn't exhausted at the end. Success!

Having a positive experience is helping me think about how I will manage other gardening tasks, such as sowing seeds. Sowing seeds may not be physically the hardest job. But what you don't realise until you have ME is how exhausting it can be using 'mental energy' (the brain thinking process stuff!). And sowing seeds requires quite a bit of mental energy. You have to think about mixing your compost right for specific seeds, carefully sow them as per their individual requirements, etc. So again I have to break things down. I used to sow masses of seeds all in one day. Now I'll break them down into sub-tasks and do them over a few days, say one hour at a time that is further broken down into task, break, task, break.

What's occurred to me as I've been thinking about how to garden with ME, is how much sense pacing yourself makes, whether you have ME or not. It's about changing your behaviour from a kind of all or nothing, boom and bust cycle, to one in which you manage your daily life in a way that doesn't exhaust you and in which you can achieve the things that you want to without running yourself into the ground.

Of course, pacing appears easy but it isn't. Behaviour change is really really hard. Until now, I've always worked on a task until it's complete, whether gardening or in paid work. I pushed myself regardless and then crashed later. It's possibly one of the reasons I now have ME (my theory anyway). For me it is psychologically very difficult to start something then stop part way through and walk away and pick it up another day. This is why, for me, breaking down my gardening tasks into to sub-tasks that I can complete over a period of time, is really important. Each sub-task is an 'achievement' that I have completed and can tick off my to do list. This addresses my psychological needs (a sense of achievement), practical needs (completing tasks) and it is a physically healthier way to work whilst I have ME; and I can see it generally makes sense to continue to use when I become well again.

At the end of the day it's quite simple really. I have ME. I don't want to give up gardening. So here's me, gardening with ME.

Friday 29 November 2013

Isn't it lovely...

This post is dedicated to Anne Wareham (Twitter: @AnneWareham). Tongue most definitely in cheek. Well, almost. :-p

* * * * *
The other day, Anne Wareham asked on Twitter "Would twitter survive a ban on the word 'lovely'?". My response was: Noooooooooooooo.

Lovely is used to describe a lot of gardens. At lot of the time. And I believe Anne feels it is used rather too much and that it has become ubiquitous with nice. Something you say when you haven't bothered to either give it more thought or because you don't want to offend anyone. You say: you have a lovely (nice) garden. You think: that was a boring garden.

I hold up my hands to the fact I do use the word lovely a lot. Hence my Noooooooooooooo in response to Anne's question. To me it conveys a sense of warmth and gentle pleasure. But I do see that it can be a by-word for nice and that I could be a bit more creative with my descriptions of the gardens I visit.

A few years ago I worked as Assistant Editor for Gender & Development Journal. This included both editing submissions and researching and writing articles myself. At this time, my best friend was my Thesaurus and I always had it just near my keyboard. I was forever using it to try and expand the ways in which something might be expressed, often finding a better word that the initial one I wrote. It made for better writing and was fun too; sometimes I would go off on tangents exploring words and getting ideas for more creative ways of conveying meaning within a sentence.

With that in mind, I've decided to take Anne up on her challenge to "try and find better ways of putting it". It being the word lovely. So to start this enterprise, I thought I would list here all the words I found under the entry lovely in my thesaurus:

LOVELY (adjective)
beautiful     pretty     as pretty as a picture     attractive     good looking     appealing     handsome     adorable     exquisite     sweet     personable     charming     enchanting     engaging     bewitching     winsome     seductive     gorgeous     alluring     ravishing     glamorous     bonny     tasty     knockout     stunning     smashing     drop-dead gorgeous     fit     cute     foxy     beauteous     comely     fair     sightly     pulchritudinous     scenic     picturesque     pleasing     easy on the eye     magnificent     stunning     splendid     delightful     very pleasant     very nice     very agreeable     marvellous     wonderful     sublime     superb     fine
magical     enchanting     captivating     terrific     fabulous     fab     heavenly     divine     amazing     glorious

From each of these words you can go off on tangents to find other related and perhaps more suitable words to convey the word lovely when describing a garden. Sadly pulchritudinous* doesn't have it's own entry in my thesaurus.

The lovely enchanting Orchard Plats at Bryan's Ground

I'm looking forward to visiting a drop-dead gorgeous and a foxy garden. Mmmmm, some derivations of lovely might not be so appropriate...

*Look out for this word appearing in a post**, but don't ask me to pronounce it!
**That is, if I visit a garden that can indeed be described as pulchritudinous.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Decision time: the final layout for the back garden

Since moving into our Sheffield home over 7 months ago, I've been observing how the sunlight and shade moves over my back garden, photographing it and thinking about the final layout for the design of the back garden.

How the garden looked when we moved in

The garden is East-facing, which means the left side, next to the garage, is South-facing and gets light all year around. The right side, North-facing, gets no direct sunlight between October and March, and different amounts of sunlight between April and September. The back end (West-facing) gains the afternoon sun to varying degrees all year around, and the conservatory end (house, East-facing) gets morning to mid-afternoon sun (again to varying degrees) all year around. In respect of the shade throughout the garden during any part of the year, this is light shade. This means the taller plants are, the less likely they will be fully shaded unless they are quite close and low down next to the right-side fence. This is an important point, which I'll explain further below when I get to the new vegetable beds.

My aim is to have a small kitchen garden, along with borders for perennials and herbs and a couple of fruit trees, within the above aspect constraints. So my observation and thinking was around how I could achieve this, maximising what I can grow in a small urban garden.

4th April, my leylandii gone but neighbours large leylandii is still there and casting a shadow

The first thing I did was get the leylandii removed from along the back fence removed. Luckily,the large leylandii in the neighbours house behind us was removed a week later and this immediately let more light into the garden. From then on I photographed how the garden looked at different times of day over the following months. By June-July I had got the initial layout decided, the first borders dug out and some plants were getting established, including one vegetable bed.

6th May, all leylandii removed and more light

11:06am, 5th July, with initial beds laid out.
You can see how much sun the garden gets at the height of summer

Now it is November, coming up to 8 months since we moved in. After all these months of observation during different seasons I now have a strong idea of how to make the most of my small urban garden. I realise that permaculture practise advises you to make your observations over a year rather than 7-8 months. However, we viewed the house and garden in November of 2012 and saw it a couple of times during December 2012 and January 2013, so I have a pretty good idea of how much the light will change over the late Autumn, Winter and early Spring periods. I also admit that I'm desperately feeling the need to get the rest of the beds down so I am ready next Spring for the start of the vegetable growing season!

Vegetable border next to the garage, 30cms high, getting direct sun all year around.
Currently containing a mix of garlic and autumn-winter broad beans.

So I have been pondering how to make the most of the small space and its varying sunshine and shade. Of prime importance is having a kitchen garden, everything else comes after that. Deciding how to layout the remaining vegetable beds came first. It is clear that the South & West facing parts of the garden get the most sun for the longest period of time, at ground level. The ground level issue is important, as I discovered if I stood in a 'shady' section when it was sunny in mid-October, it was only shady for the first 30cms. So, if I build up my vegetable beds to be at least 30cms high, the vegetable beds will get sun for a longer period of time, from earlier March and into late October, not just April to September. Those few extra weeks can make a difference when you are growing vegetables!

So I'm going to build the raised beds, using Link-a-bords again, to 45cms high (3 levels). The advantage of building them up to this height is:
a) getting more light (and warmth) onto the beds for a longer period of time;
b) because the soil is acidic, you need a decent depth to add in lots of compost for growing vegetables, which need alkaline soil;
c) it's means less leaning and therefore is better for my back.

I've also (roughly) calculated that because of the way the light moves around the garden, the higher beds shouldn't particularly impact on either the shady border, which gets morning to lunchtime light from the East. And the South-facing beds next to the garage should be further enough away (the path between them will be c. 70-80cms) to not be shaded during the cooler months. Shade in the summer months is not an issue as the sun is so high in the sky.

The Shady Border just starting to develop, c. 6 weeks after planting

Using all this information, I've been using Shoot Gardening's garden planner to help plot out the design to scale. I've been using the planner for a few months now and am finding it quite useful for an amateur gardener/permaculture designer such as myself. It's allowed me to plot out the base map to scale, so including the house/conservatory, garage, driveway & fences, then adding in and playing around with where to size and place beds, compost bins, water butts, pergola etc. You can see more detail on the base map and initial layout in my post from June 2013. For the final layout, I first came up with:

I then plotted this out with stakes and string to get an idea of how how it would 'feel', viz:

Whilst this plan basically works, I was slightly bugged that from the conservatory doors, there would be a direct view from the doors to the back fence, i.e. nothing breaking up the view to give you a sense wanting to explore different areas of the garden. And whilst I don't have much space to really create 'garden rooms' given my criteria, I would like the path you view and walk to wind a little bit(!). However, thinking of natural ley lines, I don't want to create something too windy that would end up being a pain to walk along day-to-day. I will be adding stepping stones as a path in the grass from the conservatory doors to the driveway, and up to the kitchen garden area, which will have plum slate paths. It's the latter that is more important from a natural ley lines perspective, as I don't want too much fuss getting from the house to the compost bins on a regular basis.

So I slightly revised the design and came up with, I think (...) the final layout...

This gives me a slightly skewed view from the house (not a direct line to the back of the garden as one of the veg beds will act as a slight barrier. But it also gives me a fairly direct path from the house up to the compost bins. It has meant I've had to sacrifice a little bit off the herb bed extension, where I wanted to place more sun-loving perennials. I'll just to have to grow more part-shade loving plants - what a shame...!

The grass area, which gets a bit more shade in the summer than the rest of the garden, when you want to sit outside, is next to the house. This makes it easy to access to use, as is the herb border for picking herbs fresh for cooking. I originally thought of putting chairs and tables under the pergola but realised that it would be too hot in summer to sit there, and also, being further from the house we might not end up using it so much. So instead I will put a chair under the pergola, where I also plan on adding a grape vine to grow over it next year. I will obtain some chairs and tables for the grass area, that can be folded away when they aren't needed or for when you want to sit on the grass.

New layout: the herb border extension will come out a bit more,
but I cannot put the stakes in concrete!
Overall, I'm hoping that it will be both functional and attractive.

I believe this layout maximises the use of the areas that get the most sun for the kitchen garden, and gives me plenty to play with in terms of adding perennials, bulbs and other flowers and shrubs. I have already planted a couple of smaller trees, Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' and Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' in the shady border. The only 'larger' trees I'm adding to the garden are fruit trees, specifically Greengage 'Denniston's Superb', Damson Shropshire Prune and Morello Cherry. I'm also placing Quince Leskovacz in the front garden.

Veg beds against the large South-facing garage wall.

I haven't forgotten that there is all that vertical South-facing space that is the garage wall! The reason for spacing the veg beds out out rather than making one long bed, is that I plan on needing access to the garage wall; I'm going to turn it into a kind of greenhouse space. I'm still working through the exact details (shelving, supports, glass or clear plastic for greenhouse warmth etc), but I knew I wanted to make the most of this warm space, hence planned the paths and access from the start.

Finally, before anyone says "what about all that space at the the back fence", well unfortunately, it's not that simple. When we got the leylandii removed upon moving in, we found we had not one but two back fences, and a massive immovable block of concrete wedged in between them. We eventually found out that a stupid contractor used by the previous owners of the house had a large amount of concrete in it's liquid form left over from when he had finished the driveway. And guess what he did with it. Argh!

Two fences and a large block of concrete. Insert swear words...

The neighbours living behind our house obviously decided to put up a new fence, the old fence being steel railings which mean everyone could see into each others garden and conservatory. The concrete block was actually on their side of the fence and they decided not to bother with it and just build the new fence in front of it. Well, that's one solution, but it means that I now have about 30cms of their land on my side of their fence.

Back fence with temporary planting, to be replaced by a pergola with grapevine

I took advice from the council and spoke to the neighbour, and what I need to do is not put anything permanent on their land. The neighbour isn't particularly worried about it, but you never know who may buy the house in the future and I don't want a 30cm boundary dispute in the future! So I'm building my pergola within the border where the steel railing fence was, and sowing wildflowers and adding some perennials into the 'neighbours land'. These plants can be easily removed if need be in the future. Once the pergola is up, that should both define the boundaries clearly, and once the grapevine gets growing, it should hopefully mean that it creates a screen between our garden and the neighbours, so we both have more privacy and aren't constantly looking into each others garden and conservatories.

View of the proposed new layout looking back towards the conservatory

So, decision made, that's the plan! Now, the work... After some angst I finally have found a landscape man to do the, well, landscaping. All the grass is coming up, grit etc will be added for aeration, before putting down the membrane then slate paths in the kitchen garden, and new turf for the grass area. He is also going to add in railway sleepers both as a small retaining wall and to create a step or two up to the pergola and compost areas, and he is going to build the simple pergola to my specifications. Subject to the weather holding, work starts in December.

I'm very excited.

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This blog is probably rather heavy on detail regarding the light and shade issue and how to place things, and I'm not sure it will be of interest to many people. Writing it has been really useful to me as I can recheck all my thinking and see how I came to the decisions I've made. If it is useful for other people, or you see something I've missed that you can tell me about, even better!