Monday, 7 November 2016

Garden makeover ~ state house unit / semi-detached

Having a garden is essential to me, so when I look at a place as a prospective resident this is an important consideration, especially with regard to landscaping.  

In the last couple of places I've lived I've been fortunate in having permission to do pretty much what I liked.  In the place before that the contract specified "No landscaping", which was fine as I knew that from the start.  In the place where I live at present I discovered belatedly that the owners notion of the joys of having a keen gardener as a tenant did not include what I had in mind at all, and the resulting misunderstanding has resulted in an impasse.  Hence my advice to other gardeners who are tenants is to check, check and re-check and if in any doubt to get an understanding about that written down as part of the tenancy agreement. 

In this enforced hiatus I have been looking back on gardens I've created in the past and drawing together a record of those achievements. 

It's possible to make a big difference to an undeveloped property if one has some kind of creative vision to follow and an interest in putting in the work to make it a reality.  It need not be costly or difficult, but it does require quite a lot of effort over a period of months or years.  One-week garden makeovers don't interest me.  The joy I derive from gardening is of a slowly evolving project each part of which suggests other parts with the whole developing naturally over time, often in ways one could not have foreseen.

In this article I want to share what I achieved in the grounds of a former state housing unit.  That property had been purchased along with neighbouring units by a private owner who then rented it to me.  The place felt comfortable but had no garden established at all other than an uneven lawn and some overgrown shrubs on one boundary.  I had very little money but quite a few plants in pots which I had brought with me. 

When I first looked at the place I could see the potential but needed an assurance that I could develop the garden before deciding to take on the tenancy.  I asked the landlord if this would be permitted.  "Go for your life" he responded, and pointed out a considerable mound of topsoil out the back which I would be free to make use of.  And so I moved in and set to work.

I show photographs relating to one area at a time which I hope makes progress easier to follow.

At the time that this first photograph of the front yard was taken I had already done a great deal:


Gone was the half-round timber garden framework; the ground where I wanted to put my borders proved to be stony and the only tool I had which was effective was the sharp pick end of my trusty grubber which I applied enthusiastically; a load of manure had been spread; and the first of many loads of topsoil had been barrowed onto it.  In the corner I placed my first plant, a native toe toe, which gave me joy every time I looked at it.  It turned out to be rather too large in habit for that corner and I eventually removed it, but in the meantime I enjoyed it to the full!  That black mark on the right hand of the fence was used engine oil, which a thoughtless former tenant had dumped on the spot.  A kindly friend sanded the stain off the woodwork and I dug out a great deal of contaminated earth.  My garden was on its way!

I do like gardens to be mounded up from the edges, and the ready supply of topsoil enabled me to achieve this:


Here is the same corner at a later stage:


And a little along to the right proved to be a good position for my irises:


Underneath the front of the unit the garden was also coming along.  Here it is early on:


And here it is after a year or so:


I loved that hebe, and the neighbouring white Japanese anemone looked great with it:


Just inside the gate was a damp shady area.  The lawn there didn't do well so I put in a mounded bed.  Pavers added into its edge gave push chairs (and people) room to get in the gate and turn.  I spread topsoil on the lawn at the side of the path to make it level with it and therefore safer.


That corner garden took a while to get established.  I added in a border under the hedge at the right and filled it with spring bulbs.  Having a good entranceway lifts the tone of a place when you come in the gate...


... and is easy on the eye from any angle:


A later project came with the installation of a small round garden in the front lawn.  I created this to provide suitable placement for a long wished-for birdbath.  Not being about to afford to buy one I set out to make my own, the details of which you can find here:
Although that particular birdbath had a brief lifespan due to accident it was a successful project and I look forward to making another at some stage.  That article is one of my most popular so if you are keen on making one it could be worth a look.

Making the shape for the round garden was the easy bit, but even that took a lot of work.  Here I am getting going on it.  It got bigger as I worked!


Thinking that the birdbath could stand on some kind of little cairn I sourced some stones from a farm quite some distance away.  However, instead of buidling the cairn I placing the stones in a circle with the earth mounded up inside it.  There's my hypertufa birdbath:


It wasn't long before I became dissatisfied with the circle, realising that the rocks were somewhat out of place in that there were no others in the garden.  I rearranged them as you can see below.  By that time the birdbath had suffered a demise, having been tripped over and broken, but the lampshade I had used as the mould for it served well enough in its place.  Later I added stones into the birdbath to make it shallower:


Here is the little garden from ground level:


I was never entirely satisfied with this little plot but learnt a lot and enjoyed the process.  That's what gardening is all about - for me, anyway, and in keeping with the philosophy of nothing venture, nothing win.  I particularly love working with rocks and always have done.

The garden went through many phases, some of them successful and others not.  The photograph below shows that the garden had become untidy and the tomato vines disorderly.  The tomatoes had not had a sufficiently long hot period in which to finish ripening so I decided to see if I could transplant them into pots...


... and place them in the garage which was warm and dry and got some sun.  It is not a process that I would recommend or repeat as it was far too difficult - bits of vine trailing in all directions, and although it may have resulted in a little more ripening than otherwise the fact that I can't remember tells its own story!
  

The area outside the front gate was one I started early on.  Frontages set the tone of a place and a barren frontage suggests a degree of deprivation.  How much better to be welcomed to an area that is well planted and attractive.  By the time this photograph was taken I had filled in the existing boxed area with topsoil and manure and put in some young plants:


In the fullness of time those plants became well established and I added a rose bush.  How much better it is!  The area is a lot softer and looks as if someone cares about it, which was quite right!


For those passing through the gate it was seen from this angle:


The suitablility of plants for an area is something I have learnt by trial and error.  The bed in which I planted these shasta daisies, well manured, proved to be far too narrow for them; they took off with considerable vigour in their new home.  They were beautiful, but each year I needed to nip in early to tie them up, and each year I seemed to be a little bit too late to do it effectively!


Gradually I worked my way around the grounds developing different areas little by little.  The area between the back of the house and the garage was handy for storing my extra potted plants as it was sheltered and easy to water.  It hadn't always been like that.  When I moved in it looked like this:


The landlord put in a fence to divide the grounds of one unit from the other.  He liked building fences and was good at it.  I was doubtful about the value of that particular division initially but ended up agreeing that it was helpful.  It provided good shelter.  The narrow border against  the house to the right was well established by the time I took an interest in the remaining in-between plot.  You can see my extra plants sitting in there in their pots.  I decided I wanted to plant most of them:


Gardening always requires quite a bit of moving things around.  Before I added in additional topsoil I had to lift all those pots out:


A stack of spare cobbles out the back provided a source of stepping stones so that weeding and access was easy and clean.  Due to the narrow area I had to put the plants in fairly straight lines, something I usually avoid, but the different structure of neighbouring plants would provide the variation I wanted as they grew:


And so it proved to be:


As they put on more growth everything became more dense.  There was a lot going on in there!  It became one of my favourite parts of the garden.  Just passing, which I did often, was a source of pleasure and refreshment:


The one remaining part of the garden I have yet to talk about was actually the largest and, as is so often the case with large areas, treatment of it was more challenging than the smaller ones.

Whereas the front garden of the property was rather boxed in with fences and even a gate that latched, the back was completely open to a roughly shingled drive which followed one boundary and then curved around behind it providing access to other flats.  The part of the drive adjoining the front garden was both fenced and hedged, but the back was not, and our landlord was keen to put up a fence.  Fences have their place, but I did not want one in that position where it would have created deep shadow and a sense of enclosure.  I thought this could be better handled through the planting of a border.  However, it was a considerable length, about 50 feet all told, and would be a big job to establish.  I put it off and put it off until one day I got seriously ticked off by a neighbour's visitors backing onto 'my' lawn to turn their car, quite unnecessarily.  It was understandable though, as there was nothing to show that anyone valued it particularly.

This early photo shows just how open that area was when I first moved in.  That's our washing line at the left.  The view across to the neighbours' back yard was all very well while those particular tenants were there and kept it tidy...


... but after they moved it became unkempt.  At that point my landlord fulfilled his wish to put in a fence along that boundary.  You can see ugly tyre marks on my lawn, the result of a late night incursion by a local idiot. 


Soon after this incident I decided to level that stretch of lawn.  An energetic sister gave me a hand.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time as every time I walked across it its uneveness annoyed me.  I had no clear idea of how much work it would take or how much soil would be needed but just got stuck into it!  I had thought that it felt much more uneven than it looked, but apprearances can be deceptive: it was far more uneven than it looked, and after emptying thirty barrowloads onto it we gave up counting!  That seemingly endless mound of topsoil out the back was a great resource:


Digging and carting all those barrowloads was solid work, but raking the fresh topsoil evenly across it seemed to take more effort, perhaps because we were tiring by then!  It was great to have someone to help.

Before we spread the topsoil the old strip of carpet that had formed a path from the back door to the clothesline had been removed.  I was glad to see it go as it was unsuitable and shabby.  My work in the garden inspired our landlord to put in a proper paved path in its place.  It was at a different angle and smartened up the place considerably!

I had thought about that border for a long time.  Early work on it was every bit as arduous as I expected:


I could not have done it without my trusty grubber:


Once I got the strip dug over and seedlings planted the difference it made was considerable: 


That difference grew along with the plants.  Although not visible in this photo I had planted carefully spaced shrubs and grasses as regular intervals which would show up more as they grew.  At this stage the most visible show is of flowers, mostly marigolds, which self-seed easily.  I had also tidied up the outer curve of the lawn by cutting it back with the spade:


Here the border is getting a little more height:


As is common in rented accommodation there came a time when we realised we needed to move and the slow process of selecting and potting up those plants I wished to take began once more.  There were rather a lot, but the garden was still full and I left it in top-notch tidiness.  We had been there three and a half years.

I took these final photographs on the morning of our removal.  Look how beautifully those grasses have filled out and the hebe shrubs growing up nicely, all their leaves defined by frost!  You can see a few of our removal boxes lined up at the left.  


I really loved that garden, and the back border, which had been so tough to get started, had become a favourite part of it, a crowning achievement.  The repeating pattern of planting shows up best from this view outside the back door:


Those big grasses are carex, the seedlings of which had come from an earlier streamside garden in another city.  They get very big and tall.  Although they are best suited to a wet situation they did very well in this much drier spot.

How much had that garden cost me?  Not counting the cost of vegetable seedlings, which I consider part of housekeeping expenses, perhaps $100, most of which was supplied by the landlord for the purchase of a small number of shrubs.  The rest of the plants came from earlier gardens and from friends, family and neighbours.  Gardeners are among the most generous people I know, partly because plants by their nature grow and multiply, but also because gardeners enjoy sharing what they grow.  It's a great way to share. 

And so I was off to my next home where I created a new garden on a hillside near a beach.  I'll write about that another time. 

If you enjoyed this article you might like to look at my other gardening articles.  They can be found via the link below:
A look at a very different garden I landscaped, this time for someone else, can be found here:

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