This garden started as a new patio, then a pond as well, then the lawn sloped and they were sick of that; then the shrubs on the slope were all overgrown, and then the lawn round the back was too dry; then the woodland was leaning into the garden, then the Leylandii hedge had to go and lastly the driveway needed remedial work; but we want to be as eco-friendly as possible, use local materials, bring wildlife into the garden and do lots of gardening as a hobby. So we want lots of interesting plants.
This complex project can be summarised by:
So, if you want to know more, read on, but at least you now have a grasp of the elements of this project!
The first photo here is taken from the end of the lawn. Two things to notice are 1) this is the gradual slope, not even the steep part and 2) the shrubs, although colourful, seemed to conspire to make this rather interesting modern house look very suburban.
This is Colin Jewitt who owned Ladycross Quarry at the time, where all the stone for this project came from. The quarry is near Hexham in Northumberland. The stone is level-bedded with sheets of mica separating the sandstone into roughly 10mm deep layers. It is hand quarried and then sawn to required sizes. There are a few larger pieces, with fascinating geological histories: the piece chosen for the bottom of the waterfall was naturally weathered thousands of years ago into a shallow pool, which I made the most of!
We used up a seriously large amount of their stock of large stones, creating a new and interesting edge for the lawn, also used deliberately to hold in the soil that was added to level it off.
The shrubbery, 12m along, 8m down the steep slope, was planted with 'The Sainsbury's Seven', i.e. indestructible shrubs capable of flowering in neglected car park conditions. Under more optimal (!) conditions, they grew and grew... The outcome was an outer layer, like the skin of a tent, of leaves and flowers, whilst all within was bare and gloomy. Not only that, but the villain of the piece, Vinca major (NEVER use this plant, except in a container) had grown across the stems of all the shrubs and made a moist, airless environment ideal for disease growth. Coral spot was the big winner here!
So, most of these plants had to be cut back almost to their bases, keeping those that would benefit from this type of treatment, digging out those that wouldn't survive or were now unwanted such as Rosa rugosa, that thorny beast... Of course, now that air and light reached the soil below, seeds sprouted, so a way had to be found to mulch the slope.
The start of the build! The landscapers came with all sizes of excavators.
The steps were overgrown and too steep. They only led down to the bottom of the slope. To access the rest of the shrubbery, you had to climb in!
Just clearing the shrubbery took 5 days of 6 energetic people working!
The overhanging trees were pruned whilst the shrubbery was being cleared. The shredder was kept really busy!
The new steps had to be in keeping with the woodland feel. The timber was retained with steel rods and the treads discretely covered with chicken wire for slip resistance.
The drystone wall at the bottom needed re-laying
The slope was cleared(!) and a holly tapestry hedge planted
A new set of steps was created so the clients could walk down one side and up the other; a journey of excitement, to see how the new plants were progressing.
Scilla sibrica and Bergenia 'Baby Doll' front a spring woodland scene.
The turf was lifted on a dry day. It looked like chocolate rolls! It went to be composted as the quality wasn't suitable for re-laying
The shrubbery clearing overlapped with the build start. There were men everywhere! Anthony from Ireland was a roofing designer, just re-locating to the UK and used his muscles to help out ...
It really was difficult, building up the lawn level under such muddy conditions.
This young digger operator was so skilful! He was in charge of placing huge stones to form borders and retain the soil from washing down the hill. He would turn them over and place them with the greatest delicacy. He was later poached by a construction firm...
Laying the paving was a delicate job as these natural stone slabs were only as thick as bathroom tiles. They were laid on concrete that we had poured and levelled on-site, and then had to be laid on a mortar screen bed. In a garden situation they have to be laid to a slight slope to ensure drainage away from the house. Cold weather isn't helpful: It would have been much easier to lay with bare hands. Can you see the concentration in their body language?
We used dolomite to infill the slope. Lorry loads of it! New soil was to go on top and turf above that. Grass doesn't seem to mind a limey sub-base
It was a relief to cover up the mud...
I love the clean lines of this house. Owned by architects, the inside was clean and stylish. It was lucky that they were used to the transitional stage of "bomb site before beauty!"
At the very back of this image is a pair of industrious gardeners and a red tray of bulbs! We planted in late November; the effect of such late planting is that you have a late flowering, the bulbs revert to normal flowering times the following year.
You can see the beautiful new turf, not quite flat but far better than before. The build had moved to the front of the house, renovating and extending the drive
What a stunning view! I love this emerald lawn and the late autumn leaf backdrop
This is the freshly planted and mulched garden. A herbaceous border runs along the top of the slope. between the lawn and the gorgeous retaining stones. There were several layers of these stones and I planted bulbs into the gaps: scilla and winter aconite.
There are many items of beauty here: stunning flagstones; drifts of delicate yellow narcissi and perfect pots, made locally! Hebe and pansies are a great winter combination.
There's also a line-up for my next planting session
The atmosphere was designed to be peaceful and reflective woodland; I used a green and white theme to achieve this: Pulmonaria, Dicentra spectabilis and euphorbia.
The bench was another piece from Ladycross Quarry, weathered a million years ago when Northern England was warm and wet.
The waterfall was placed according to my directions, by the brilliant excavator operator. These stones were all hand-picked for suitability and then laid one-by-one, to form what was to look like a natural outcropping of stone that the brick wall was cut into. The pond liner extended out away from the pond, to create a bog garden and was pierced, just using a garden fork. Hard to see the beauty of the finished product at this stage; the mud had got everywhere!
The pond pump and filter were like sea creatures waiting for the tide to come in.
We had to hose everything down and then drain the pond a few times! After that I formed a second skin of cobbles to give a natural-looking bottom that was also wildlife-friendly.
We were running quite short of suitable stone at this point; we'd cleared the quarry!
This was our excellent lead contractor, Dean Readman from Hollytree Nursery, Hexham.
I'm afraid I had him spend hours perfecting the flow down the waterfall!
These are a pair of before & after pictures for the pond area. I always thought that this garden looked quite nice before I started, but it lacked any special identity and really made the house look suburban! This after picture is taken in the first spring. I had tucked little planting pockets into gaps in the stone and planted small ferns to add to the natural feel.
I loved building this waterfall and pond. Almost every stone laid here was chosen by me to go into that spot, including the cobbles and pebbles! I slipped a disc in the latter stages of this build (a sailing accident, not gardening!) and later filled in the pond surround pebbles leaning on a walking stick. I'm not the sort of person to give up!
From this 'before' picture, one can see the ordinariness of the outlook from this client's house. It's hard to see past the shade in the 'after' picture, but out the back there's a lovely little rock garden to look over whilst washing up, and step out of the kitchen and one walks out to something really special!