I remember the first time I walked through what would become the Cottage Garden on a bleak January afternoon. It was hard to get a sense of the gardens size. Overgrown with shrubs and trees and split over two terraces, access to parts of the garden had become almost impossible. I remember spending a morning wrestling a huge box privet shrub to access the upper terrace, at the centre of which was an ugly concrete block compost bin and a small dilapidated greenhouse.
Over the past three years, we’ve slowly cleared out trees and shrubs that were either dead or in the way. The greenhouse was beyond repair and was removed. Despite being desperate to start the landscaping, it was pointless until a large chunk of the garden was removed to make way for an extension to our house.
The plan for new flower garden was to keep an island that would sit between the lower and upper lawn terrace. A copper beech, several camellias and rhododendrons, and two rather lovely acers would remain in the island, and would be joined by lush leafy planting reminiscent of SE Asia. New borders that incorporate an existing apple and magnolia tree would be dug around three sides of the garden.
Digging the new beds started during the Coronavirus lockdown which gave a great sense of purpose and distraction. That being said, it was still tough work. The beds to the southern end of the garden first needed turf removing before digging the soil with a ton of mushroom compost. If I’d have had access to a rotavator I’d have used one!
The beds at the north end of the garden were covered in sub-soil left there by the diggers who excavated our foundations. It’s heavy clay and mud stone (slate like mud) which when the sun dries it, turns as hard as concrete. It’s been dug, top soil added, dug again, mushroom compost worked in. When plants are added there will be a good helping of compost going in too. It’ll take a few years of work and conditioning to get these beds up to a decent standard. In the mean time I’ve planted lots of shrub roses which like the clay. There will also be plenty of plants which tolerate or appreciate poor soil.