Garden August 2001 article
cobbled circle in August 2001, with Buxus Sempervirens in terracotta
pots around the edge.
My home garden,
a Belfast town garden, is located 1.5 miles from the city centre
and measures approximately 40 foot square.
I moved to the
house in November 1993. The house was one of a number built in the
1920's for managers of the "Lagan Vale Estate Brick and Terra
Cotta Works Limited", a company that owned the land behind
the gardens of the properties. This land was one of the sources
for the clay from which Belfast red bricks were made, and hence
the soil in the garden is also a natural heavy clay. I have improved
this over the years by incorporating home made compost and home
made leaf mould.
The back garden
faces south east, and gets sun for most of the day. When I moved
in it was almost a horticultural blank canvas. It comprised a lawn,
which sloped downwards away from the house, bisected by a straight
concrete path that ran from top to bottom. There were two old fruit
trees (a pear and an apple) planted three feet apart in the bottom
left hand corner and a small bed of roses to the left of the concrete
path. Privet hedges provided boundaries at the bottom and on the
left hand side, and a three foot high wire fence which had fallen
down divided the garden from the neighbouring garden on the right
In order to
establish if the garden had any hidden bulbs or perennials, and
also because the house required a lot of work, the garden was left
virtually undisturbed for almost a year. Before moving to this house
I had lived in a terrace house with a backyard and so I took with
me to the new house the "potted " garden which I had cultivated
there. Many of these plants remained in their pots for the first
year, although some were heeled in at the bottom of the garden (as
a temporary measure) as they outgrew their pots.
across the garden from the top left hand corner in July 2001, with
the cobbled circle just visible.
The style of
gardening which I have been interested in for many years is that
which attempts to mimic nature in its planting. The planting is
designed to look natural or, as I prefer to say, it is "planned
to look unplanned". This "planned unplanned" approach
also contrasts the natural planting style against the planned formal
hard landscaping of the garden. I have developed the garden over
the last seven years in this style, and it continues to evolve.
with the garden for most of a year, I decided to get rid of the
old apple tree which was being smothered by the much larger and
more stately pear tree. I am unsure when this pear tree was originally
planted, but it is sufficiently gnarled to give the impression that
it may have been the first thing planted in the 1920's garden. The
space occupied by the apple tree became a paved seating area using
reclaimed concrete slabs. The spaces between the slabs were filled
with a gravel to encourage self seeding by grasses and perennials.
This seating area is now shaded by the pear tree. Directly beneath
the pear tree is the only remaining part of the original lawn, measuring
about six foot square. This small patch of lawn is abundant with
snowdrops in early February, followed by snake's head fritillaries
in April and May. During the summer, the grass is cut weekly using
a push mower, but no weed killer is applied. As a result the lawn
is not "bowling green" standard, but then daisies and
clover seem to like it.
shaded seating area in August 2001.
The area behind the seating
area was planted with shuttlecock ferns (Matteuccia struthiopterus),
harts tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium), hardy geraniums (Geranium
Phaeum "Mourning Widow", Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo',
Geranium endresii "Wargarve pink", ), Alchemilla Mollis,
Helleborus corsicus, Helleborus orientalis, Feverfew (Tanacetum
parthenium and Tanacetum parthenium 'plenum') and wild violets.
Hawkweed (Pilosella aurantica) has colonised the gravel between
the paving slabs.
concrete slab path was re-laid to sweep diagonally from the top
right hand corner of the garden to the bottom left hand corner.
It passes, on the right hand side, a cobbled circle, nine feet in
diameter with eight box balls in terra cotta pots around the circumference.
This cobbled circle was laid three years ago to replace a circular
The rest of
the original lawn was dug over and replaced with a "planned
unplanned" planting of herbaceous perennials and grasses with
a backbone of shrubs. Two of the grasses are Stipa tenuissima and
Stipa gigantea, while the herbaceous perennials include Solidago
(Golden Rod), Cephelaria Gigantea (Giant Scabious), Verbascum Chaixii
Album, Verbascum Olympicum, Linaria purpurea and Geranium maderense.
The broken wire fence on the right hand side was replaced with a
six foot high panelled fence.
diagonally down the garden from the top right hand corner.
The garden is
now sufficiently mature to reflect the style that I had wanted.
It is also a haven for wildlife including at least four frogs (although
there is no pond), and a host of bees, hoverflies and butterflies
(mainly small tortoise shell) in summer. In the recent RSPB national
birdwatch day in February 2002, blue tits, great tits, coal tits,
robin, greenfinches, chaffinch and male and female blackbirds, were
recorded over the one hour survey time.
In winter the
foliage of the perennials melts away to reveal the starkness of
the hard landscaping against evergreen shrubs such as Leucathoe
"Rainbow" and the box balls in pots. Striking verticals
are also provided in winter by the seed heads and stems of Anenome
japonica, verbascums, the giant scabious, perennial sunflowers and
grasses. This contrast of seed heads and evergreens in winter against
the hard landscaping is particularly pleasing. In summer, the planting
is dominant but in winter the hard landscaping slowly and surely
regains the spotlight.
dense planting does inhibit weed growth in summer, this is by no
means a labour free garden. In spring about half a day per week
is spent tidying the garden, removing weed seedlings and moving
plants. Any loss of planting as a result of winter weather is also
an opportunity to rethink the planting design with a fresh mind
and to shuffle the planting partners or introduce new plants. Any
plants which have self seeded and are in the wrong place are lifted
and either moved to a more appropriate position or potted up and
given to friends.
The garden is
also probably now at a stage where a critical eye is required to
seriously edit the planting for the first time. For example, the
hawkweed has moved so prolifically between the paving slabs in the
shaded seating area that I will have to curtail its spread this
spring. This will restore some order to the area and prevent it
from looking merely overgrown. That is perhaps one of the secrets
of this type of planting. Yes, the planting is supposed to look
natural and the success is in managing the planting scheme rather
than rigidly controlling it. Plants must be let self seed and move
around, but there is a fine line between preserving this natural
style of planting, and having a garden that just looks neglected.
Recognising that crossover point is all important, and now is the
time for me to step in.
will tell you that a garden is never completed. As well as the ongoing
work of editing the current planting, I intend to get rid of a large
old shed this spring and create a further seating area in its place.
This area will be approximately ten foot by five foot and as it
faces south it will have sun all day. It will be a contrast to the
shaded seating area. A plain rendered and painted block wall will
be built as a backdrop to this new seating area and to create privacy.
from the current year (2002) in the garden will be posted to the
web site in autumn. In the meantime, the following photographs show
planting combinations in different areas of the garden over the
past three years.
under Cotinus Coggygria 'Royal Purple' with Skimmia Japonica 'Rubella'
in the background. (March 2000).
'Gertrude Jekyll' with Alchemilla Mollis and Geranium maderense
in the background. (July 1999).
Cotinus Coggygria 'Royal
Purple' with Alchemilla Mollis, both bordering the cobbled circle.
maderense with the blue flowers and silvered buds of Catananche
caerulea in the foreground, part of the planting scheme at the top
of the garden (July 1999)
aurantica ("Hawkweed") with Lilium pyrenaicum subsp. Ponticum
("Turks Cap Lily"). This planting is part of the scheme
in the bottom right hand corner of the garden.
(Golden Rod) provides a background to Cephelaria Gigantea (Giant
Scabious), Verbascum Chaixii Album, Verbascum Olympicum, Echinops'
Arctic Glow', Echinops 'Blue Glow' and Rosa Graham Thomas, in the
top left hand corner of the garden. (August 2001).