My background project has been the garden but it's now become the hot new climber in porkette's project list. We live in a rented house, it has always been a rented house and no one has ever done anything to this garden other than basic maintenance. The landlord has planted some pretty dull foliage to screen our garden from the neighbours and there is also a rambling rose around our terrace. Apart from that nothing much other than a scraggy lawn. At the front of the house we have a lawn composed of moss and a couple of flower beds which contain a rhododendron and some rather scruffy Heathers. The soil is clay and has poor drainage. If this wasn't enough the back of the house is on quite a steep slope so the whole garden tilts – mowing the lawn is a brilliant workout.
Last year I started relatively quietly by starting to dig over a sunny corner of the garden and plant some sweetpeas to trail over the fence. I dug in dung pellets and many liters of compost to a piece of ground measuring about 6 feet by 2 feet – it took a long time to sift the soil and get rid of the stones but I did get some pretty good sweetpeas – grown from seed by me. I stuck some seeds straight into the soil and then chipped a few others so that I'd have a chance of something coming through. I've had to learn the weather here too because things stay colder for longer and we also have harder winter temperatures than in the UK. What may be hardy in the UK isn't here.
My neighbours noticed my efforts and I got some compliments for the sweetpeas. During autumn I planted some daffodils, narcissi and a few other bulbs that I can't remember the names of. I've decided that anything I buy has to be perennial unless I plant it from seed because I don't want to spend a lot of money on the garden – I've got time but not huge amounts of cash. So far this year I've got sweetpeas and nasturtiums from seed. I've got courgettes from seed and have swapped 2 courgette plants for 2 tomato plants. I've planted mint and rocket in tubs and they've both germinated and now I need to see if they'll survive to adulthood.
I'm spending about 5 or 6 Euros a week on the garden and to date have bought some Iris, Phlox, Trailing Hearts and Aubretia. My neighbour has divided one of her Aubretia plants for me and I've got that started to try and disguise some spectacularly nasty stone troughs. Perhaps in about 3 years it will have started to tumble in a way that cover unsightliness. Several neighbours have noticed what I'm doing and I've been offered cuttings and divisions of plants from their gardens. I think that mainly they're pleased that this garden is finally being cultivated. I have been promised grape hyacinths, lady's mantle and peonies.
I'm going to start photographing the garden – at the moment it still looks like a wasteland and although there will be pretty pockets later this year, I don't expect to have anything like a whole pretty garden. This is very much my long term plan. Gardens grow and develop – they don't appear overnight.
Recently someone asked me if I didn't think it was a bit of a waste to be spending time and money on something that didn't belong to me and I didn't agree. I'm going to get the pleasure of doing the work – I do enjoy getting my hands dirty despite the scratches and the fact that I'm never going to make it as a hand model. I'm building something that will belong to more than me. I like the idea that in 10, 12 years or so when we leave here to go back to England (or wherever we go) that someone will tell the people who live here after us that there was an English woman who lived here and she made a garden from very little. I'm more spurred on with this because of a recent death in our family. Although N knew he had very little time left to live he set his flower seeds into the propagator early in the year and in the last few weeks of his life he transferred his seedlings to larger pots. In so many ways it was painful to watch how slowly he was doing it, how much his hands shook but it was what he wanted to leave for us. Despite knowing that he would never see these flowers bloom this didn't deter him from stoically planting and noting what was what in his notebook. Later this year, I'll collect some seeds from these plants of his and I'll set them on in this garden next year and so it will continue.