I am not trying to compete with those brilliant people who run gardening programmes both in the press and on television, but as I have remodelled and rebuilt gardens on at least six different occasions I would like to pass on some of the problems I had to deal with and the solutions that I found. One of the biggest misconceptions by people new to gardening and possibly starting from scratch, is they forget that trees can grow and grow. How often have you seen a garden totally enshrouded in shadow, because the trees were never pruned or kept within bounds, and had arrived at a point where it would cost a fortune to bring them under control. I only have to look out of the bedroom window to see trees between houses where the actual space is only 12 feet wide, and the trees, growing in clay, will ultimately cause settlement; and in gardens where they have grown so large that any idea of planning has long since been lost.
The first garden I had was little bigger than an allotment, and so, instead of filling it with perennials, I used old glazed cupboard doors, built cold frames and brought on annuals – cheap, interesting, allowing experimentation, regular weeding, and not a great deal of work.
We moved into a house standing on a quarter acre of land, with copious flowerbeds containing specimen plants. As time went on, as our lives grew more complicated it became necessary to reduce the work. In consequence I replaced some of the beds with lawns, decorative paved areas, and beds of mixed shrubs, that would form a stepped background, not grow too large and whose foliage would be complementary and seasonal. I cannot stress that a good deal of research was necessary both in the selection of the shrubs, and the plantsmen selling them, as the latter are often as ignorant as the purchaser, and it is a disaster if you plant a complicated bed with shrubs not to the habit you had expected.
In what amounts to the last garden we have designed, we started with a virtually clean slate. The predecessors were only interested in sunbathing and so the rear garden was purely an oil tank sitting on a patch of grass. Both of us suffer from arthritis, I cannot pick things up off the ground – even money on the floor of a supermarket. So we designed our garden with very few beds along the periphery, which we trellised with shaped trellis to support climbers of every sort. This meant that we were able to plant a selection of seasonable shrubs and perennials, as well, at intervals in the rose beds, such that weeding using long handled tools was easy. Needless to say the trellis suitably masked the oil tank.
I found later it was a struggle, with all that was contained in a small garden shed, to keep it tidy enough that one could easily take and replace the long handled tools. With the result I built a lockable annex to the side of the shed, out of 6 foot by 8 inch fencing planks, one plank deep, and in there stored the long handled equipment successfully. In addition we found during the winter months that Sophie could not see the plants in the garden, due to the high level of the kitchen window. I therefore made suitable brackets attached to the trellis supports, which now hold, safely against the gales, bowls of winter pansies, snugly held within the framework of the brackets, at a height that she can see from the kitchen. We have colour all the year round, through annuals, perennials and shrubs in pots which are easy for us to maintain.