Tuesday 9 April 2013

Out damn Leylandii

The first task in the new garden was to get the Leylandii hedge at the back end of the garden removed.

As mentioned in my previous post, I'm not fond of Leylandii and dislike the way they stop other plants from growing under them. They are a lot of work if you want to keep them from growing out of control, and they seem to suck the light, and life, out of the garden.

The Leylandii hedge is at the East end of of the garden. The previous owners planted them as the fence behind was a metal fence and the neighbours could see straight into our garden. However, since the previous owners planted them, the neighbours have put up an additional wooden fence - I think to hide the Leylandii - so that immediate issue was resolved.

I wanted to get the hedge removed quickly as I know it takes time for soil that Leylandii has been growing in, to start to heal. Leylandii is acidic and depletes the soil of the nutrients, making it poor soil for growing fruiting trees or vegetables in. As I'm planning on putting in semi-dwarfing fruit trees in during the coming autumn I need time to get working on improving the soil.

I was fortunate to come across a good tree surgeon, Jon Gibson, who could do the work, and quickly. And wow, was it quick!

Jon already on a good start

Assistant Zack starts taking the branches away

Nearly there...

ta da!
Not only was it gone, but I gained about another metre in the length of my garden! And I now have a perfect place for putting in a large rainwater harvester to make the most of the water that falls on the large garage roof.
Zack then dug out all the remaining tree stumps

I was literally rubbing my hands in glee to see the Leylandii begone

I've now got more space and sense of light in my garden:

I was almost completely pleased. However...

The below picture was taken just before 10am and you can see the shadow the neighbours Leylandii is casting over the garden.

I wasn't too worried about this when we decided to buy the house, as we worked out that it would only cast shade for about 1 hour a day. However, despite this, I secretly harboured hopes that I might be able to convince the neighbour to at least reduce it's height, if not remove it all together. 1 hour of sunlight is pretty important given recent weather trends...

So I was delighted when I saw someone speaking to Jon at the front where he was shredding my Leylandii. Maybe this was my neighbour asking about his tree. Would you believe it - it was! I found out a little later that the neighbour wanted the whole thing gone. Out damn Leylandii! And to answer my dreams, it happened two days later!

Jon getting up to the tippy top

I feel like I'm a rather lucky Gwenhwyfar to get my way so quickly, and without even trying! I'm a completely and utterly pleased bunyip, I have to say.

Of course, the garden looks even barer now, but that is just whilst it is developing. Now that the Leylandii has gone and I see how much more space and light I have, I realise I have room to put my compost bins over at the back where they will get more sun. Originally they were going to have to go alongside the neighbours fence on the right, but being shaded would have meant a much slower composting process. The new position, once I've had the space cleared of rubbish and weeds, will be a much better place for the compost bins. They will get more sun and speed up the composting process, and will be out of the way behind the garage - though of course will be easily accessible by the path I'll put in.

I do need to think about how best to deal with the space between the metal fence, which is the technical end of our boundary, and the new fence the neighbour has put up. It's kind of 'dead space' since I cannot actually push my boundary back. Maybe a simple wildlife habitat, which would be beneficial to the wildlife and both our gardens? It would need to be easy to 'dismantle' if the neighbour suddenly decides to push their fence back to the proper boundary. Another idea to muse upon.

Now that the damn Leylandii has gone I can get started on the next phase. That will be getting the area cleared of rubbish and start sowing green manure to heal the soil, and to start drawing up a base map.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

The new garden: a blank canvas

Now that a majority of the boxes have been unpacked and we can now effectively cook in the kitchen, I thought it was time to introduce the new garden here in Sheffield...

Front garden

Back garden

As you can see, they are almost a blank canvas. I'm very excited!

Front garden
The front garden is west-facing, so will get the late morning/lunchtime and afternoon/evening sun all year around. In the short term, i.e. over the next few months, the main change I will make is reducing the size of the hedge and removing the dead small tree in the middle of the lawn. Whilst the hedge does give some privacy, it's actually too tall and also, frankly, boring. And apart from the fact that a square lawn is yawningly boring, I also see that it could be a useful growing space for a mix of edibles and perennials. And I also need to find a way of dealing with the rubbish and recycling bins, a design that is both functional and attractive.

I have some ideas of how I might develop the space. One is to remove the hedge altogether and putting in some step-over apple espaliers in its place. This would retain the structure of the border between the street and neighbours house, but also give flowers for bees, fruit for eating, and allow plenty of light in all year around.

I could build some raised beds to create borders and to help define the space. I have a vague idea of using a mix of perennials, for permanent structure, plus vegetables to make the most of the warmer afternoon sun. And the front of the house is clearly useful for growing vertically, though I do have a desire to plant a wisteria to grow up it for the beauty and scent, and a place that once developed, that birdies might nest in!

Like my front garden in Oxford, I want to continue with the idea of having a front garden that is attractive and at least partially edible.

Back garden
This has an east-facing aspect towards the house, but the side of the garage is south-facing. The side next to the neighbours fence is going to be shadier all year around.

The garage itself has lots of potential. For a start, we are hoping to do a partial conversion, taking out the current south-facing wall and putting in a glass wall. This will make the garage, which will also be my shed, immediately lighter, and importantly, act as a greenhouse space as well. The garage roof is large and not overshadowed, so should be great for rainwater collection. The space behind the garage will take quite a decent sized rainwater tank.

I'm also thinking that building cold frames alongside the south-facing (glass) wall will also be a way of maximising the sun the garden gets. Because shade from the neighbours fence will reach to the middle of the garden in Spring and Autumn, and probably a quarter of it in the summer months (I'll need to observe this carefully over the coming months), I need to make the most of the area that is south-facing. I'm thinking cold frames. Adaptable cold frames where I can remove the lids during the warm summer months, (maybe to sit behind the frames against the glass wall of the 'greenhouse', so the where to store the lids problem is also solved) but have them on during late Autumn and Winter, and as a space to start of seedlings in early Spring.

The 'elephant in the garden' is the Leylandii hedge. No fear, that's on my side of the fence (I wouldn't have bought the house if it wasn't) and it is coming out. In fact, coming out right now (a post about that another day)! I've already found a tree guy to take them all out - 15 trees in all. Leylandii are awful for so many reasons, anti-social, or lots of work so they aren't anti-social, they block out light utterly, nothing grows under them. And they are hideous. Before we put in an offer on the house I read up on how to return nutrition and health to the soil post-Leylandii. Apparently sowing green manure once it's all out will help the restoration process, along with adding compost. So the sooner I get them out the sooner the soil can start healing. And I have much nicer trees planned for that space. Fruit trees! Quince, greengage, damson... Still need to look into root stocks and varieties, but I have plenty of time since the soil needs improving and fruit trees aren't to go in until later autumn.

The shadier fence side might be good for 'woodland' plants, as well as being a place for the compost bins, plus being north-facing, maybe a Morello Cherry?! I also need to think about plants for bees and other insects, and how to also make the gardens attractive to birds and other wildlife. The awful clothes line will go (why don't people put in retractable clothes lines?!) And to make sure there are places in which I can sit and relax, with a book or friends.

And then there is the front of the garage. All that concrete! Yet it also is a great potential growing space whilst also being a way to easily access the garage/greenhouse with our bicycles. We are thinking of bricking it up and putting in a wide door, since we don't need it as a garage. We don't have a car and even if we did, the inside garage space is too important as a gardening shed to let a car in it! And bricking it up would give more vertical wall space that could have plants growing up it.

So where next?
This is all very vague at this stage. Before I get too carried away with jumping in and designing, I need to go back to Permaculture basics. So the first act, other than getting rid of the Leylandii at the back and reducing the height of the hedge at the front, is to undertake observation of the gardens over the coming months. How the light moves across them, where the frost pockets are, how the changing levels effect drainage; there is a slope in the back garden that means it is higher at the back and lower next to the conservatory/house, etc. Where will be the best place for the bird feeders, hedgehog boxes etc (zone 5)? I also need to do a base map of the whole outdoor space (front, side and back) so I have practical plans and measurements from which the designing process can be based and built upon.

The Leylandii is already on it's way out...

In the short-term, because I cannot bare NOT growing, I'm going to grow at least salads, strawberries, and some other veg and flowers in pots. I can also use the vegetables and flowers in pots to move them around the garden to see how the light and changing seasons effect the growing of the same plant in different spaces.

These are smaller gardens than the ones I had in Oxford, and for the time being, I won't be getting an allotment. I'm actually quite excited by this though, as the challenge is to see how I can grow food, flowers and a have a place for wildlife, within a, I think, typically sized urban garden. And of course, to make it an attractive and welcoming space for all of us: Kevin, Merlyn, friends, food, flowers, wildlife, and I.

Welcome to my Sheffield garden.