Three years ago we moved to our retirement house in Garstang. In many ways it was ideal and had been recently done up.
Here is a photo we took when we bought the house.
The front garden was ghastly with all this golden gravel! There were three cypress type trees which faced the axe. However there was a fine camelia (not sinensis), two prolific forsythia and a few other things. At the back half was down to slate and the rest was a poor lawn, which is easily water-logged.
This aerial view from Google shows what we have. It was taken this time last year, after I removed the golden gravel and put in suitable stepping stones. When I removed the gravel I found that the soil was the most glutinous clay on earth.
I was faced with several serious challenges;
- Glutinous, soggy, water-logged clay back and front
- Tiny gardens back and front.
- A large concreted drive leading to the garage which meant dead space for plants.
We decided to have a wildlife garden and grow some vegetables and herbs. Three years ago wildlife was almost absent. I had never been in a garden so devoid of birds, butterflies, bees or insects.
In the first year (2013) I planted ivy round the base of the walls at the back and front, and four honeysuckle at the back. We also had a few things in containers and grew some runner beans. In 2014 the shrubs I had propagated from our vicarage were just big enough to plant and so in went some buddleia (globosa and davidii) in the front and back.; cotoneaster to hide the compost bin; rhubarb : a frame round the 10ft trunk of a cypress to grow up honeysuckle and ivy; along with more containers; and also pallets to give vertical flower beds. I planted some bulbs.
Come Autumn 2014 I started the worst job which was removing all the gravel. I bagged it up and it went to a good home. Finally I got down to the membrane and then found the glutinous clay. For a time I regretted removing the gravel. The soil needed much work which is on-going. I put in a bag of fine gravel and then some limestone, which apparently made no difference. (It stills gets sand when I find a stray sandbag by the road side.) I have dug in some compost, put on manure and grass-cuttings (some from a neighbour), and trivial amounts of coffee grounds and egg-shells. It is still glutinous clay and liable to flood but it must be improving.
in 2015 I planted loads of hebe, some lavetera, berberis darwinii, mock orange and perennials like michaelmas and oxe-eye daises, various primulas, sedum, and various other plants. Our criteria are first, insect and bird friendly, colourful and, at times, edible. It is not restrictive at all and I followed the old guidelines for wildlife gardening, which I had followed since 1980. If you want to get further ideas look at the RSPB website under wildlife gardening and make your own choice. I put in a tiny pond and acquired plants including water ranunculus from Fylde ditches before they were cleared out. I also salvaged some Purple loosestrife, which is both a beautiful flower and has an exotic sex-life.
The garden looked good in 2015 though many plants were still tiny. Insects were incredibly numerous with loads of bees, hoverflies and an increasing number of birds.
And so to 2016. During the winter both back and front garden were under water but I lost very few plants. My few forgetmenots had spread like made and now at the end of April, all plants are shooting up.
So what is there?
At the back the grass is awful, but the honeysuckle is thriving and the ivy about to take off. I recently bought a small rowan and the aubretia and rhubarb are doing well.
The compost bin and water butts. The cotoneaster now almost provide a screen and there are two cotoneaster horizontalis which are going vertical up the pallet.They will soon be in flower and swarming with insects and then produce red berries in the autumn.
My new rowan in flower and a bug-hotel, with honeysuckle nearby.
A corner with an old pot-stand entwined with ivy and honeysuckle and a buddleia globosa about to flower for the first time.
Going through from the back to the front is a bit of a mess. The pallets are now ready for plants, the four pots are tiny self-propagated margareta and a tiny bay leaf. The honeysuckle is now in leaf and will flower for the second year.
I always am propagating something. Here are some diverse hebes, with two bagged by a neighbour. They are easy to grow and propagate and excellent for insects.
Our herb garden, which is often grazed by grandchildren. There are some strawberries on the pallets and another honeysuckle in the corner. The pallet screens the bins.
Looking the other way to gate are shrubs in containers. Some are lavender, but more hebe, a berberis and viburnum opulus, along with half-planted pallets. (We need to get about 40 annuals ASAP for the pallets.)
A close-up of the same. The berberis flowered this year but not the viburnam
A view down to the gate. The larger plants are three year old hebes, but the rest are younger. On the fence is an orange honeysuckle and the smaller pots mostly contain young lavender.
The front of the house with lavendar, hebe,buddleia, hydrangea in pots. The tiny pond with the camelia behind. Other plants just beginning to show. There is a tiny bit of golden gravel to sort out. By the pond are two Purple Loosestrife, which are beautiful and have an exotic sex-life described by Charles Darwin.
The same from the drive. At the front are primula, daffs, sedum hebe and an Appalachian Kalmia. behind the stones is a line of hebe and behind that larger shrubs. In the centre you can see a pinkish flower as a Cuckoo flower invited itself into the garden – and very welcome.
The front nearer the road. Against the fence between the two forsythia are a buddleia globosa and a yellow rose both a few feet high and spindly, but this year will alter that. The perennials in the foreground are coming to life and only six inches high.
Right at the front is a raised area which had three cypress-type things, which were removed. This gave room for shrubs and plants. Note the frame round the old cypress trunk with more honeysuckle and ivy.
The end of April is not the best time to show this, as many plants have just come out of a dormant phase. However in a few weeks, there will be considerable green growth and then flowers. With a horrible april insects are few, but soon they will arrive in plenty and variety.
Recently there have been more birds, mostly the common ones but a sparrowhawk paid a visit.
So after three years of a little intermittent work, I think this year will see the garden grow well and encourage a wider variety of species into the garden. It has not been much work or expense, but it shows what can be dome with limited space and appalling soil.
So now I await the birds, bees and insects and, hopefully, hedgehogs and frogs.
Here’s a link to the RSPB on wildlife gardening;
RSPB also do a book on wildlife gardening.