Garden re-design part 1: getting to know the garden

Garden Re-design

When you grow things, a part of you is always living at least one, or usually more, seasons in the future. A lot of the art of gardening is planning; whether it’s planting Spring-flowering bulbs in Autumn, sowing Summer-flowering annuals in late Winter, or planting bare root shrubs and trees that look like dead sticks, in the expectation of foliage the following year.

At this time of year, the excitement really starts to ramp up, as the dark days of January and February are perfect for planning the garden and ordering seeds and supplies. But it can be a bit difficult to know where to start.

I’m in the fortunate position this year of starting with practically a blank canvas. We moved into our current house last year, and- as with my first garden– I’ve given it a full cycle of the seasons without making too many changes so as to see what’s already in the garden, what’s doing well and what isn’t.

For example, about three weeks ago I looked out in a rare moment of being at home in the daylight and saw spots of white on the lawn. On going out to investigate I found several clumps of snowdrops. Such a lovely surprise!

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The snowdrops are in a part of the garden I intend to change, so I’m glad I know they are there and that I can dig them up and move them once they’ve flowered.

I’ve also been photographing the garden at different times of the day and the year; not attractive pictures, these are purely to give me an idea of the light and which parts of the garden get the most and the least sun, especially during summer.

At certain times of day a lot of shade is cast in the garden by the ugly garage that takes up a lot of garden space and will be coming down as part of building work to our house. Even without the garage, it’s clear that the far end of the garden gets more sun as it’s out of the shadow of the house. This is very useful to know when it comes to designing the layout and selecting plants.

The next thing I’ve done is look at the soil type, moisture and acidity, taking samples from different parts of the garden.

Type: My soil is fairly middle-of-the-road loam, definitely not clay or sand- it doesn’t stick together when squeezed or roll into a sausage, and it definitely isn’t as light as sand. This is pretty good, as most things will grow well in this type of soil.

Moisture: This varies throughout the garden. On the whole it’s again pretty good, not too wet and not too dry. The area in the shade of the garage is slightly wetter but not water-logged. The only real problem area is a section of the boundary down the north west side (the left as I look out at the garden from the patio) as this is under my neighbour’s cherry laurel hedge and is very dry indeed. Interestingly though, there is also a cherry laurel hedge running the length of the back of the garden, in this case on my side of the boundary, and the soil here is much better.

Acidity: The soil is alkaline, at 8 on the pH scale. This means that some of the plants that were in the garden when we moved in, such as a rhododendron an two azaleas, probably aren’t that happy here and might prefer life in a pot of ericaceous compost.

All of these factors have helped me build a basic picture of the conditions around the garden, in particular:

  • I need to find some plants that tolerate very dry soil in pretty much full sun for the boundary under the neighbour’s cherry laurel
  • I need to buy plants that are happy in alkaline soil, and consider digging up the acid lovers or accepting that they won’t perform as well where they are
  • The sun lovers need to go towards the far end of the garden with the more shade-tolerant plants generally closer to the house
  • I need to dig up and move the snowdrops once they’ve flowered
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