For me, the garden is an extension of the house.
And it’s my favourite room.
When we moved in, the back garden was a blank canvas. The top decking was there, a little broken shed, and the rest was sloping grass all the way to the end. What it lacked in plants, it made up for in potential.
We did a fair amount of planning. And by that, I mean time spent thinking about how we’d use the space. It’s fair to say two years on, things are constantly changing in the garden – plants frequently get moved to spots they prefer or to avoid being trampled by the dog. But the way we use the garden, and therefore the way we broke it up into separate spaces hasn’t changed. In my mind through doing so we added five extra rooms to our house:
Room one: The top decking area with seating. This is where we sit with wine in the evening, or where we entertain friends.
Room two: The big flower beds and the gravel path. We’ve popped a couple of little chairs here as I like to sit with my coffee by the flowers (simple things!).
Room three: The patio, where the table and chairs are for when we eat outside.
Room four: The lawn and flower beds.
Room five: Affectionately called the bottom of the garden, this is probably where I spend most of my time! There are lots of areas to this bit – the greenhouse, the pond, the shed, but mainly the chickens. Their coop and run are here, and they’re left to free range this area all day.
So here’s how it looked when we moved in, two and a half years ago:
Essentially it’s long, thin and it wasn’t very attractive.
It’s hard to get a sense from those photos, but the whole garden sloped downwards and to one side. Once we decided on the separate spaces a major job was to level it.
It’s at this point I confess the landscaping was nothing to do with me. Other than making coffee/bringing beer when necessary. We absolutely wouldn’t have been able to create our garden without Tom’s dad, Bill (if you’re reading this Bill, you’re a legend).
With Tom, he worked to move earth from the bottom of the garden to the top, and then built a wall so we had two levels. We wanted to have huge flower beds at the top of the garden – so when you sat up there they were the main focus. But we also wanted to obscure the view to the lawn, to make the garden feel bigger. So
we (Tom and Bill) put up a trellis, so you had to look through to see the lawn. Despite sectioning it off, this instantly made the space bigger.
Steps run down to a patio where the table and chairs are, before the lawn.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve never been a huge fan of a lawn (there, I said it). But the garden is a shared space, and it’s Dylan our dog’s garden too. Plus the chickens like the grass, and it’s a fun place for children to play. Oh, and it’s quite good for sunbathing and picnics. So on reflection it’s not that bad really!
Down the side of the garden was some very unpleasing concrete that couldn’t be moved as it was the retaining wall for next door’s garden. So Bill (hero) spent time building raised beds down the side of the garden to enclose the concrete, which allowed us to grow things. A lot of the wood was either bought cheaply from the reclamation yard or salvaged in the same rescue mission as the allotment wood. This left side has caused us many challenges as it’s the side of the garden in the most shade, but more on that another time! We planted lots of herbs around the eating area – focusing on scent where you’re relaxing. Rosemary, lavender and thyme to name a few.
On the right hand side
we (Tom and Bill) built another bed, which you can see through the arch in the trellis. Getting turf was a very exciting day – it’s amazing what a bit of green can do. At last, something I can say I helped with – laying turf. Sort of.
When this area was done, we moved on to the bottom of the garden. Once again a lot of landscaping had to be done – more praise for Bill. I had decided to section off this area with a picket fence. I wanted the chickens to be out and about all day but wanted a clear area so a) they wouldn’t eat young plants we’d just put in and b) so we could separate the dog and chickens. This turned out to be a very good decision.
We really wanted a pond to attract wildlife, and so the bottom of the garden was destined to have many different sections. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, a pond and chickens? The pond is covered with netting, but more importantly has a small picket fence around it to stop chickens (and children) falling in! (Tom built the picket fence from more reclaimed wood – don’t ask him about it, because he’ll go on for ages).
I’d done lots of research into keeping chickens and had decided to get an Omlet Eglu and run which we bought second-hand.
The chickens needed protection from foxes, so we planned the area next to a path running through the bottom section – making it secure from foxes trying to dig up the run. Bill then paved an area for a greenhouse, and we laid gravel in a section for a bench to sit down the bottom.
At this point we got very lucky. Next door were getting rid of their shed, so in the spirit of saving money and upcycling, Tom and Bill moved the shed across. This later became the chickens’ winter home when they were moved in during avian flu lockdown – I’ll explain more on that another day.
Bill built some storage boxes and compost bins from pallets, and we covered the rest of the ground with woodchip for the chickens to scratch around in.
We put up shelves for pots of herbs, strung up fairy lights and planted flowers. We hung decorations and ultimately made our garden a home.
To save money, we grew so many flowers from seed – there was no space in the greenhouse at all last year! We planted flowers for vivid colour. Rudbeckia, zinnias, sunflowers, sweet peas, verbena, dahlias, cosmos – it always astounds me how quickly plants grow. The top beds went from soil to bursting with colour in a few months. We’re now growing climbers up the fences and planting for interest over winter.
The garden is always changing, and we’re constantly looking to improve it. As I write this, we spent the afternoon putting bulbs in for spring colour. Bill is once again busy making a tool shed, and plants are moving around based on what we learnt last year. But more of that in another post…
ps HUGE thanks also go to Marina for her constant help and gardening advice – we couldn’t have done it without you!