From a jungle to a garden

We're very lucky. When we bought our house just over 10 years ago, we bought one with a large plot and two gardens - one at the front, one at the back. From the start, we had a plan: the back garden would be for playing, and the side garden would be for growing.

The back garden quickly became a play area. When B was small, it had a slide at one end. As he grew bigger, the slide was replaced by a trampoline. K planted up the borders, and I kept the lawn tidy. There was a sunny patio where we could sit in warm weather. It all worked well.

The side garden was a different story. Fairly well maintained and mostly laid to lawn when we moved in, we dug some small vegetable beds and grew a few things. But it was a large area, and oddly-shaped too. As the years went by, the small veg beds were the only bit that we maintained. The rest of it slowly went to ruin, because neither of us had the time or the energy to get it under control and keep it that way.

As our jobs got busier, we had even less time, so even the veg beds started to fall into disuse.

Eventually, it looked like this:

It was an embarrassment when friends and family visited. Everyone said: "What an opportunity!" We agreed with them, and spent years in frustrated anguish that we couldn't turn it into a nice garden.

It soon became clear that we needed professional help. So I started phoning gardeners and landscapers. Several came round, hummed and hahhed, rubbed their bristly chins and muttered something about what a big job it would be.

"I know," I said. "That's why I'm calling in professionals. It's too big for me."

None of those gardeners or landscapers came up with anything like a solid quote for the work. The weeks and months dragged by.

Then, I can't remember how, we were given the phone number of a local builder who apparently did garden work too. We phoned him, and he popped round for a look. He was young, fit and strong, eager to work. He also said something about it being a big job, but his tone was different - he said it in a way that suggested he couldn't wait to get his teeth into it.

Then a week later, he popped a proposed design through our letterbox. Carefully drawn to scale, and hand-coloured. We knew instantly that this was what we wanted. It was perfect. Our young builder had a client.

He got to work quickly, and in a frenzy of effort dug out the whole garden. Literally, with a day or so, the whole thing was soil. It was amazing.

Because the whole plot slopes slightly, upwards into the apex of the triangle, we decided to build a new shed at the top and lay out the flatter area with large, sturdy vegetable beds. Six huge ones, two or three more smaller ones, and a long straight border by the fence. The greenhouse would stay put. Everything else would be paved.

Paving was quite a bold step for us, and expensive too. But it was essential. The previous years had shown that we simply weren't capable of maintaining a plot that was mostly made of plants. We needed something mostly made of stone, with holes through which we could allow plants to grow. So that's what we built.

Here's how things looked two or three weeks later:

There was still a lot to do, but we could see it taking shape. The veg beds provided a framework around for everything else. A stone scree helped level the plot and provide a base for the paving stones. Our front drive looked like a builder's yard, laden as it was with stone, fencing, timber and a large skip.

Gradually, the whole thing took shape:

Once the groundwork was done, the shed went up. It was custom-made to fit the odd space. Not triangular, but a rhombus.

Here's how it looks now, nearly two years later:

There's so much to love about this space now. It's a suntrap, so we can sit out with a cup of tea and a newspaper when the weather's right. And it's a proper grower's garden, producing loads of veg for us all year round. In the summer we enjoyed beans, courgettes, spuds and carrots. Even now, after a cold winter, we're enjoying parsley, broccoli and leeks. It's been the most productive year we've ever had.

Next time you're down our way, come and have a look. If there's no answer at the front door, it's probably because we're out in the garden.

Filed under: life
(9th April 2015)