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Big, established garden and feeling overwhelmed - what to do?

(11 Posts)
PonderousTortoise Fri 12-Jun-15 15:40:37

This is kind of a gardening AIBU - aibu to massacre some of the lovely mature planting our house's previous owners put in to make it more manageable for me?

We moved from having a tiny patio and couple of small beds to having a large patio with herb bed and borders, sloped bed with shrubs, big lawn, big trees, huge deep borders etc. So far we've kept on the once a week gardener the previous occupants had, because DP is not interested in gardening and there's no way I can keep on top of it all by myself.

I feel like I would be much more comfortable if I could do 90% of it myself (leave clipping the hedges and tree work to professionals), not to mention saving £££. I think this would mean getting rid of lots of the perennials in borders, and widening out the lawn. I would then have lawn, small borders (including espaliered apple trees) and the sloped border and patio to maintain.

Anyone done similar? Would I regret losing all the established planting? Is it sacrilege to deface something lovely someone else has built up?! Would I even be able to cope with it if I simplified it - I would have to keep a fair bit or it would just look bare.

I know you won't be able to answer any of that exactly not knowing the garden or me, but would appreciate very much any thoughts!

Methe Fri 12-Jun-15 17:36:52

I couldn't do it but it's your garden, you should have it however you like! That said it takes a Very Long Time to get a garden looking nice. You might take it all out, regret it and face a ten year wait to get it back to that standard again.

Why don't you ask the gardener to give you some lessons?

Whatever you do, don't rip stuff out and skip it. I'm sure a local neighbour or friend would love the plants.

shovetheholly Fri 12-Jun-15 17:40:38

It sounds positively idyllic. Which leads me to say that it would be a shame to destroy something that is beautiful! I would also suggest that small borders can sometimes look very mean in a large space, and that establishing plants can be a lot of work compared to looking after established shrubs or perennials which is generally quite straightforward things like wisteria excepted.

My garden sounds much smaller than yours - it's 100ft x 30ft - and I do everything myself. In my established beds, I have very little work to do bar a little bit of weeding, because the plants are quite tightly packed, which limits the space for unwanted plants to grow. Combine that with investment in mulching (and I really, really cannot recommend this highly enough) and you can reduce your workload an awful lot.

Rather than it being an either/or decision about the gardener, why not reduce his visits to once a fortnight, and see how you go with taking on some of the jobs inbetween? It should give you an idea of what you can manage without overloading you completely.

Have you thought about leaving some of it more wild, for example having an orchard area that only needs occasional care?

GoodGriefCharlieBrown Fri 12-Jun-15 18:05:59

I had exactly the same problem when we moved 2 years ago - the previous owner was a retired landscape gardener and both front and back were beautiful, front had no lawn but probably 100 plants with criss-cross paths and back had a massive bed in the middle with approx 100 plants plus a huge greenhouse and shrubs around the perimeter.
At first I tried to keep up with it like it would be sort of disrespectful not to but then I realised that it needed to work for US because it was OURS now.
We had all the plants taken out the bed in the back as well as some unsuitable (thorny or with poisonous berries) from the front and now we are working out where we want to go from here. It's a slow process because I want to keep the maturity but make it easier to maintain so we make one change then step back and leave it for a while. It's abig part of our home so I treat it in the same way - living with it to see what works best rather than stripping it all back and regretting going too far.
Good luck with it but remember it's YOUR garden now so do whatever feels right so you get the most enjoyment from it.

PonderousTortoise Fri 12-Jun-15 18:16:35

These are both really useful - thank you.

I did ask the gardener this year to leave some areas and just talk me through what he would normally be doing when instead of actually doing it - my plan ws to take it over in small chunks but in practice I haven't been able to be here every time he is and sometimes it is other workers here, so I haven't really got any guidance.

I am aware that the bits that are now under my control are starting to look a bit crap, and am starting to feel defeatist and like I ought to just return to the gardener looking after it all. I had really looked forward to getting stuck into it but I think I'll need to think creatively about what to do now. I think you're both right that I shouldn't just rip stuff up and throw it out.

Perhaps it is just a matter of changing my mindset and thinking of it as like a public park that we pay for private access to, rather than 'my garden'. I miss the feeling of satisfaction of tending a little garden that I created from scratch and could keep under control with a little potter everyday, but maybe I need to stop thinking about that and appreciate the space and so on here instead.

I am aware how ridiculous and beyond first-world the 'problem' of having too large and lovely garden sounds btw! Thanks for indulging my self-indulgent angst grin

PonderousTortoise Fri 12-Jun-15 18:19:56

X-posted Ggcb - thanks for that, it's really good to hear from someone with similar situation. Good advice re one step at a time and thinking hard about what will work for us.

sisterofmercy Fri 12-Jun-15 18:34:24

Maybe you need to just look after the patio area, look after that yourself and leave the gardener to the rest including the patio borders perhaps if you've not really done borders before? It sounds like the garden is too big for you really. If you get bit with the bug later on and have more time you can always change things.

funnyperson Wed 17-Jun-15 16:20:40

I'm with sister of mercy
best to keep it going with the gardener and do the patio plants yourself until you have the time or know what you want.
it takes at least 2 years to get one's head around a new garden
then little by little, once you have sat in it a bit, you will want to change a plant here and a plant there rather than the whole lot all at once
also, visit local gardens under the ngs scheme, and get a feel for the sort of garden you like. you might prefer naturalistic rather than herbaceous cottage garden style. you could discuss changes with the gardener. the garedner sounds like gold dust and I woul keep him/her on. good gardeners are hard to find. mowers and hedge cutters are easy to find.
you might well not love the garden style of the present garden but you need to have a clear idea of what does work for you before ripping it out.

shovetheholly Wed 17-Jun-15 17:31:15

I don't think you're being self-indulgent, tortoise. I actually think you're possibly not being confident enough in your own abilities. I am sure that if you had infinite time and energy you would learn how to care for every shrub in it, and you would look after it with aplomb. The problem is, we live in a world where those two valuable commodities are finite. So there is no shame at all in having a bit of a hand with it while you have your hands full with other things. It doesn't mean you're a crap gardener, or that you're out of your depth. You're just busy.

I also do not think that you should preserve it in aspic. Gardens can be works of art, but they're also alive, and they change. You shouldn't feel that you can't make a call to get rid of something you dislike, or to add something you love. I guess what I am saying is that change to something mature and established almost always works better when it's done slowly and with careful thought. Perhaps it's not a one-year project, but a ten-year or twenty-year one smile.

When I went to Japan, I learned that to be allowed to prune a tree in one of the big parks there without supervision, you have to have been pruning trees for 25 years. And that pruning a single tree can take weeks! Now I'm not suggesting that you go quite that far, but you get the idea!

I love the idea PPs have suggested of you having your own bit of the garden to deal with - I reckon this might build up your confidence a bit and make it feel more like "your" space. You then have the best of both worlds!

PonderousTortoise Wed 17-Jun-15 18:24:18

Thanks for these further suggestions, and kind words shove smile

I had read somewhere that you should leave a year before changing anything in a new garden, so I think as we're just coming up to a year in the house that was starting to make me feel I ought to be getting going, so it's good to hear someone tell me to give it two, funny!

Consensus wisdom seems to be take it slowly, build up knowledge and ideas, work bit by bit, which sounds a good plan.

The patio has just one big bed, and a small herb patch, so I think that's the place to start - there is a big hole where I did make one decision and take down a huge hedge of winter jasmine, so I can start filling that up.

The other area I think I can work on is making more of a play area - we inherited an old swing but it's a bit unsteady, and the area it's in is very scrubby, nothing much there to fret over losing, so I think clearing that out a bit and putting in something fun to play on would also be a good project to make it more suitable for us.

Thanks again everybody - feeling much more relaxed and ready to approach it without feeling so hopeless.

Cedar03 Fri 19-Jun-15 10:12:19

I agree that you should take your time. Gardens evolve the whole time anyway. We have a small garden and when we moved in it had a number of established plants including an enormous conifer which was way way too big for such a small garden. The conifer came out which let in more light. Another big bush went into a sulk and died so that came out which gave a space to something else in. We had to make those decisions because of the plants themselves. You'll find similar things happen in yours.

But if you decide that you'd really like a different planting style in your garden then go for it. Read about Great Dixter (famous garden in Sussex) where the old rose garden was ripped out (to the horror of many people) and a completely different planting style introduced for an example of being bold about making a change. Plan anything well - this is where a good gardener will be an enormous help - and it will succeed.

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