Posted by: tabliope | May 18, 2008

how does your garden grow…

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. 



  1. I am impressed – I’ve been just buying plants from garden centres. I tried to grow some from seed (marigolds from my aunt’s garden, and dutifully collected sweet peas from mine), but they all shrivelled up and died out in the real garden. My dad tells me I planted them out too early. I have a couple left in pots that I’m leaving for a lot longer.I want to learn how to take cuttings etc, but I think I’ll need a greenhouse at some stage, the study windowsill just doesn’t cut it.Good luck – and I hope you get some lovely colour this year. Lobelia is a good trailing plant that grows fast and provides lots of colour, as does Alyssum. I love alpine’s as well, and our alpine garden looks gorgeous with a couple of different varieties of Saxifrage and some Aubretia. That could be something to do in the troughs.

  2. [this is good] Beautifully put, as always.  I’m moving this year and am looking forward to starting on a whole new garden.  I want to grow vegetables, etc, and peonies.  Oh and a cherry tree and some rhodies.  We did quite a lot here but you could call it our test-garden and next time it’ll be even better.  I like to look out at my cherry tree and imagine it in 50 years time, if it survives that long.  

  3. Being a good gardener is one of the many things I haven’t inherited from my mother.  Everything I touch seems to die on me and the only things that survive do so inspite of me, not because of me.  I’d love to have some time (and money) to rectify this because I derive so much pleasure from going to other people’s gardens who have wonderful colours and fragrances blooming all year round.  I’ll look forward to seeing your photos when you put them up.

  4. I am impressed by your dedication and wish you well.

  5. Both my parents and Nick’s parents are really keen gardeners – I’m with you – things in my garden surive despite my best efforts to kill them!
    That said my darned tree peony is huge, but has a distinct lack of flower buds, so I have lots of interesting foliage and not so much colour!

  6. We are (ha ha! I mean Chaunce is) getting really stuck in to our garden and a few people have said it’s a waste cos we’re renting, but I don’t think it is. We’re paying to use it after all – I just wish we’d done it earlier, though I guess last summer was such a wash out we wouldn’t have used it as much.
    So far we have potatoes, carrots, onions, rocket, a windowbox of various herbs, blueberries, strawberries and sweetcorn all coming through (though the cat keeps sitting on the onions.) We do have a goosberry bush but it’s never given us anything. And we tried garlic but it all died.
    There’s loads more I want to do with it though. Apart from a laurel bush the rest of the garden is bare earth/weeds/rampant russian vine and we did buy some lawn seed but I think turf might be better. I still haven’t got round to gravelling the side return and putting some furniture in. I am determined to do it before July. Luckily we live practically next door to a builders merchant so getting a tonne or two of pebbles should be pretty straightforward.

  7. That story about N is very, very moving.  My Mum was a very keen gardener and what was distressing her most when she was in hospital was that she ‘hadn’t got my bulbs in’.  I hope the people that buy her house enjoy it as much as she did – I can’t bear to look at it now, though.

  8. anything I’ve done with gardens has been a wonderful combination of luck and ignorance.  I take cuttings and either shove them in a glass of water and wait for it to root or not or else help it along with some hormone rooting powder – RG – with your peony – I would be tempted to wait till after any flowers that should have been there would have finished then cut it right back and feed it next year.  My solution to most things is to cut it right back – it’s not always right though, but you don’t lose anything that wasn’t to some extent lost.

  9. I can understand you not being able to look at it at the moment – I don’t think I could go and look at my mum’s house and garden now.  She had a xmas rose that was better cared for than my dad and the dog and I would be upset if that hadn’t survived.  Despite the fact that I found it a source of constant irritation when she was alive.

  10. It’s bizarre because we’ve never had to cut it back – over Autumn/winter, it sheds all its leaves, and just looks like a few sticks in the ground, then come the Spring it’s over a metre high again. This is it’s 3rd year in the ground, so if we don’t get flowers this year, we should do next year.
    My aunt gave it to me as a cutting from hers – I left it in a pot for nearly a year, and when I moved from Bristol, all it was was a 15cm long stick in a pot, then when we got here it started sprouting and I put it in the ground, and now it’s enormous.
    I will see if I can prune it later in the year though.

  11. My niece was upset that the apricot tree that Mum planted for her in her garden would be left for whoever buys the house – so the poor thing has been dug up and moved to their house.  I just hope it survives.  I might have to go back to the house just once more to help my sisters do the final clearance – I’ll just have to avoid looking out of the back windows.

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