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Beth Pipe is our guest blogger who is embarking on an exciting overhaul of her garden at home. We're working with Beth to help guide the transition from keen amateur to seasoned professional........more of Beth's work can be found by clicking on the link below:

About killing things in your garden... These past few weeks I’ve come to realise that good gardening is as much about killing things as it is about keeping things alive. Work and other commitments meant we were away for much of April and we returned to a garden that was green in all the wrong places.

Eventually I set aside a day to try and put things right, but quickly realised it was going to take a lot longer than that.

Our main enemy in the weed department are sycamore saplings – there are hundreds of them and I know from previous experience that they are resistant to anything and everything I pour on them, the only option is to get down on my knees and pluck them one at a time out of the gravel. It took a good few hours to clear them and I swear that by the time I’d reached the end they’d already started to grow again back at the beginning.

Other things that needed killing were the sticky weed and bind weed. Sticky weed at least has the decency to come away pretty easily in large clumps and doesn’t seem to root too deeply, but bind weed is a pain in the neck. Unwrapping its vice like grip without doing any further damage to the poor plant underneath used up a lot of patience. And it’s not like it has the decency to stop growing once you’ve removed it, pretty much every day for the past few weeks I’ve been untangling it from one part of the garden or another. I

n the interests of wildlife gardening and extreme laziness, some weeds have been redesignated as plants for the time being – wild garlic, wild strawberries, bracken and yellow poppies for starters. They brighten up the garden and the bracken looks rather lovely amid the limestone rocks recreating a fell in miniature. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. And then there are the plants that become weeds. 

I’m afraid I don’t know the name for it but we have a spreading plant in one corner of the garden that I do battle with each year. It looks a little like a bramble but the leaves are really shiny and although it has a prickly looking stem it’s actually not prickly at all plus it grows at a rate that puts the sycamore saplings to shame. As well as killing things intentionally there has been some collateral damage this month. 

One carefully planted new shrub from Abi and Toms accidentally got removed in a burst of over ambitious weeding. I’ve put it back but I’m not entirely sure it’s forgiven me just yet. And then there are the hydrangea type plants which I have enthusiastically pruned. Maybe too enthusiastically, only time will tell. Away from all the carnage there has been a lot of planting too – foxgloves and poppies to name just 2 of the plants I can remember the names of. They have all been carefully planted and, having learned my lesson, clearly labelled. The fire candle doesn’t know how close it came to meeting its maker... It’s great to see all of the plants doing so well – the giant rhubarb is going great guns shooting up beanstalk fashion from the bottom corner of the garden and is clearly inspiring the Rudbekia opposite which appears to be trying to keep up. (Yes I did just crib the name “Rudbekia” from Tom’s list.) It’s fantastic working with Tom who has given us the confidence and inspiration to finally tackle the garden properly. 

All the hard work removing the huge bushes at the start of this project has made a massive difference to the light and space. The only thing we haven’t yet tackled is the vegetable patch but one thing at a time; mind you, even without our intervention it appears to be growing a fine crop of spuds. It’s the next big thing on our list and I hope the next instalment will bring photos of it finally being built. Watch this space!  

Spring has sprung!

It’s been a while, but since the mass clear out there’s not been an awful lot I could do to the garden over the winter apart from nip out to give it the occasional stir. All the leaves were cleared, all the weeds were dug and all the bushes that needed to be hoiked out have been hoiked out. Well, most of them; the problem is some of them have really deep roots, so I’m thinking I might keep them as a sort of artistic garden feature.

Then there’s the old apple tree. Tom told us it wasn’t a healthy specimen – it’s all warped and bent over and it is in a bit of an odd place, so the plan was to chop it down and replace it with a pear tree in a slightly different spot, but each time we approach it with the chainsaw it just looks at us forlornly and we haven’t had the heart to do it yet. I’m beginning to think I may not be cut out for this gardening malarkey.

So with lighter evenings and dryer days we ventured outside and, with the help of Tom, began planning what plants to put where. He had loads of brilliant ideas and sent over a list which I duly Googled – I spent a very pleasant hour or so looking at pictures of flowers muttering “oh, so that’s what that one’s called” and wondering how anyone ever found enough time to give them all names.

The time had come to venture to Halecat and buy the first load. I have long had a dislike for garden centres mainly because I think most of them are miss-named. To me a garden centre should be what Halecat is – a place that sells a variety of plants staffed by people who are able to give you sensible advice on what to buy and plant where, but these are sadly few and far between. 

More common are the DIYhomewearoutdoorclothingchristmasdecorationbookshopcafe centres with a few plants on the side, staffed largely by folks who know only a little more about gardening than I do. I don’t have anything against them; I just don’t think they should be called garden centres.

Halecat is, however, a different breed and even before we embarked on this project it had become my garden centre of choice for two main reasons, firstly because it isn’t called a garden centre and secondly because it is clearly run by people who love and know about plants.

Tom took us around to help us find the things on our list with enthusiasm so great we began to wish we had a bigger garden so we could fit in more of the beautiful plants - we decided to start small with 7 plants, more than enough for the next couple of weeks.

You know those times when you’ve been in a furniture shop and bought a new sofa because it looks fine, only to get it home and realise that it looks way bigger in your lounge than it ever did in the shop? (Yes I know I should carry a tape measure with me). Well we had the opposite problem with the plants – the boot of the car looked nice and full of lovely young plants to transform our garden but, now they’re all planted they look so tiny and vulnerable out there and I feel so worried about them. Still the clocks go forward this weekend so hopefully a major growth spurt is on its way.

We’ve so far concentrated on the large rockery and some low growing carpet plants to cover the driveway, next time we’re going to tackle the vegetable plot and the planter pots we inherited in the front garden so much more hard work awaits. And then there’s the apple tree that still needs “attending to” but right now I just can’t look it in the eye so don’t go expecting any miracles on that front; I’m thinking perhaps another artistic garden feature...

Charlie Dimmock never had this much trouble…

Ground Force always made it look so easy. 60 minutes to transform a garden from basket case to decking clad haven but I’m already beginning to realise just how much stuff must have ended up on the cutting room floor. When we bought the house it had been empty for 2 years and the previous occupant had been a lovely old lady who hadn’t been able to do a lot of gardening, so she’d had a gardener come in to keep the place looking nice and tidy but nothing had really been done with it.

We’re lucky to have a pretty large garden, it was one of the main reasons we bought the place, but after 2 and a half years we’ve finally admitted we need some serious help to take it properly in hand; cue Abi and Tom. We’ve visited Halecat on several occasions and love the fact the people there actually know what they are talking about, brilliant for gardening novices like us. There are several problems with our garden, not least of which is the inept pair currently trying to keep it in check. The plants and bushes are all somewhat overgrown and the overriding colour scheme is green and grey. 

Also, as you can see from the photos there’s no lawn, which I sort of miss but on the upside, there’s no mowing either. Tom’s advice was if we’re going to do it then we may as well do it properly and I’m all for that. This is a long term project for us rather than a quick makeover so a little time invested up front should hopefully make all the difference down the line. Phase one has been “operation slash and burn” and involves ripping out many of the old bushes in order to replace them with something rather more colourful.

I expected it to be hard work and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve tried to do a couple of hours each day which, to be fair, is all the weather has permitted and there have been several very welcome “shower breaks” allowing me to catch my breath as another deluge sweeps through. And perhaps I’m a careless gardener but so far I’ve had bits of garden up my nose, in my eye, down my throat and a substantial amount in each welly, along with the odd rather surprised frog.

A dodgy back and a refusal to give up mean I’m currently spending most evenings in a co-codamol induced haze surrounded by a fug of deep heat, a situation not helped by the fact that most of our garden implements probably belong in a museum. Still, if Capability Brown did alright without a leaf blower then so can I. I’m hoping to learn more about gardening in general and the names of plants in particular, but for now they just have the names I’ve given them: stubborn spaghetti bush, irritating variegated shrub and the nasty thorny one. Over the coming weeks we plan to continue preparing the garden and are working with Tom to devise a new planting scheme which will add both colour and interest. 

We’re very happy to experiment and try the unusual and we’re keen to grow more of our own food, plus I have a mild obsession with daisies and their perennial cheerfulness so expect them to make an appearance. I hope you’ll enjoy following our adventures as we lurch along this horticultural highway and trust me, if we can grow a set of green fingers then anyone can.