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starting from scratch - a bit overwhelmed

(44 Posts)
AthelstaneTheUnready Sun 21-Feb-16 19:11:09

Hello to all - and a plea for a bit of simplification!

Due to being flooded I moved to a new rental last year. Basically a block carved out of the side of a field in the middle of nothing. Big flat '[' shape of grass around the house, with a barbed wire fence and a bit of a ditch separating it from the field.

Because it's rented (and I earn close to nothing) I genuinely can't afford to spend cash on it. On the other hand, I love gardening and I can't look at this neglected space for the next few years. Last Spring I dug out a herbaceous border along the roadside fence and filled it with plants from the dead zones in B&Q and B&M (white lupins, six hills giant, some oriental poppies, lucifers, sisyrinchiums, a pulsatilla, ox-eye daisies and some other randoms). I've recently binged badly on the £3.49 fruit trees from Aldi and now have 5 fruit trees and a weeping willow up at the front bit of the front lawn.

But the rest... it's just tangled grass and weeds up through the wire fence and flat turf for two of the three sides - I can't afford to hedge all the way round (though I do have 12 half price beech heeled in waiting for a plan) and it SO needs a bit of shaping. Or something.

I've been looking at it for a year now and still inspiration hasn't struck - could I please ask you for help with any and all ideas you might have - preferably ones that involve labour rather than money...

AthelstaneTheUnready Sun 21-Feb-16 19:12:24

... oh yeah... the simplication bit is that I've had SO many stupid ideas I know longer know which way is North! I keep finding myself considering buying another packet of seeds, like that'll solve the problem.

shovetheholly Mon 22-Feb-16 09:22:51

I am so, so sorry to hear about your flood. It's an incredibly traumatic thing to happen. flowers

For soil improvement, if you have a car, a tarpaulin and a pair of wellies, well-rotted horse manure is free from a local stables. Some breweries also get rid of spent hops for free, for use as a mulch under fruit.

Have a look on Freecycle - maybe even write an appeal on there, and keep reminding people over the course of the spring/early summer. People like me are starting spring division of plants that have got a bit big, and struggling to get rid of the cast-offs. I'd much rather give mine to someone like you than bin them!!

Hedging - what kind of a state is your wire fence in? Could you grow climbers up it to give you a visual barrier and save on buying whips?

As you've already found, the discounters (Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons) are brilliant for plants. You can get some smashing stuff in really good nick there for a couple of quid. (Shrubs will be £1.79 in a few weeks). The problem with buying things from the 'dead' zones' is that sometimes they are fine, but sometimes they've been exposed to shocks (lack of water etc) from which they struggle to recover. Sometimes it's obvious that something is healthy, other time not so much.

Secret Gardening Club are brilliant for bulk-buying, which is excellent for building up big clumps of planting that have more of an impact - www.secretgardeningclub.co.uk/. Prices include delivery, and if they've had stuff around for a while they reduce it. I recently got 16 plants from them for just over £15 delivered, and they've arrived in fine fettle.

However, the best and cheapest way of getting plants is to sow from seed. Again, the discounters will soon have packets of seed very cheaply (if they don't have them in already), as do Poundland. Poundland also do packs of 48 peat pots for £1. A couple of packs of seed compost, a sunny windowsill, and a couple of trays to put underneath modules or peat pots so they don't leak all over your floor, and you will soon have tons of things on the go!

AthelstaneTheUnready Mon 22-Feb-16 20:48:50

aw, thanks Shove. Surprisingly it wasn't that traumatic at the time, once I was sure the cats were upstairs. And losing stuff from the house was just, meh, stuff. But I also lost a beautiful homemade greenhouse, 6 veg beds, a newly planted birch copse, my bee houses, lavender patio, and climbing roses. When it sunk in last Spring that I was now without and just had barbed wire and turf instead, THAT's when I felt like weeping.

Your points: horse manure - yes! I have a couple of places, but it's more where to dig out the beds. I fear I don't have an artistic eye for shape. I don't struggle really for plants either (I have some to divide, some to swap etc) - it's the bones of the garden I'm struggling with. There's so little to go off. I would desperately welcome advice on how to deal with the wire fence for example. Last year I just mowed up to it, but grass and weeds grew in, under and up the other side, creating a 5' 'hedge' of nettle, grass, thistle and plantain. If I plant climbers or a hedge just this side of it (with my tiny amount of 12 beech!) can I just ignore the gubbins on the other side or will it overwhelm the smaller plants, grabbing the water and light? I might attach some longer posts to some of the existing posts and dig out small 'beds' around them, just to create a higher profile for climbers, what do you think?

thank you for the secret gardening club link - I'll have to have a look. Honestly though, I think the majority of my problem is that I'm renting so there's no real forward planning allowed and there's nothing here: i.e. it's never going to look like a mature garden with shrubs and trees in my time, and the thought of just one-dimensional flower beds and grass is unsettling me. In which case...

... bite the bloody bullet and do it. My father's donated an exochordia, viburnum, spirea bridal veil, forsythia and a philadlephus (all about 8" high) so they'll never get bigger unless I put them in, will they...

Sigh. Thank you very much for your advice. You have helped me clarify my problem is timescales really, not money. Nonetheless, advice on the barbed wire very welcome! grin

TheSpottedZebra Mon 22-Feb-16 22:58:32

Oh you poor thing, that sounds awful. And to lose such treasures, that you have put your heart and soul into, too...

Still, as you say, it's stuff. You're ok, as are the cats. The garden will never be what you had before, and nor will it be mature for a bit, but you can make a massive difference in a different way. Could you contact local gardening society and beg for divisions and cuttings? As Shove said, it's lively to give things a nice new home.

Could you also try and see things differently eg your hives are gone, but you can make amazing bee-friendly patches this year instead.

Have you checked out the thread on cheap gardening offers? Scroll to the bottom obvs for most recent posts... I have my eye on a big plastic greenhouse from wilko at £25. I'd live a proper one but space and cost prevent alas. And lidl seeds are in now...

shovetheholly Tue 23-Feb-16 10:20:47

Athelstane - that's an awful lot of stuff to lose. I would definitely be in tears. You poor thing!

I guess what concerns me is: how long are you likely to stay where you are? Because if it's only a short time, I'd hate for you to labour away building a lovely garden and then have it taken away from you again by the uncertainties of the rental market. It could feel like going through the same loss all over again sad

If you're likely to stay in roughly the same area, have you thought about doing a cheap, low maintenance back garden and pouring your energy into something like an allotment instead? That way, you could keep it even if you move house. You could do a lower-maintenance job on the back garden, with some shrubs that only need an annual prune.

In terms of the fence - I have similar issues at my allotment. The next plot is really overgrown! I have created a narrowish bed along the side with espaliered fruit trees, and I weed it regularly to keep things from coming over. It is a bit of a constant battle, but little and often keeps them at bay. You could do the same either with a young hedge, which would look attractive, or with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous climbers (if the wire fence is robust and meshed enough to tie these in.

AthelstaneTheUnready Tue 23-Feb-16 18:43:50

Thanks, both, for the sympathy. I've put it behind me though, so it's just this new garden causing me new grief!

I've plenty of cuttings I can take - my seed trays are too many for my windowsills - and I've been donated some tiny bits of shrub. Have also put some knock-down beech hedging (very thinly!) across the front. I just want height and shape to this garden! I even considered buying a leylandii to grow as a tree... [shame] There are my bargain fruit trees, which are about shoulder height, but so spindly bless 'em.

I don't think I'd feel loss leaving something Shove if it was still in situ - I enjoy creating a garden (am just baffled by this one). And I am planning on being here for at least 3 years, maybe much longer. There are some allotments further north in the county, but where I am, people pretty much have slabs of field and hillside to themselves, besides, I rented this house BECAUSE it had outside space for the cats me.

Fence: righty-ho, you've convinced me. I had thought all the grass and nettles and gubbins poking through and over and under the wires would overwhelm any baby hedge, but I'm going to dig out a strip and give it a whirl with my cut-price beech. PLUS, and this is a red letter day, the forester of the estate I live in the boundaries of has said I am welcome to dig up any saplings that take my fancy out of the forest! There's ash, maple, holly, hornbeam, oak, willow, blackthorn - all sorts in there!

I will be out with the spade and a bin bag on Sunday, looking very shifty. Please no-one call the police as I am mostly certainly not burying any bodies. Honest.

HaveYouSeenHerLately Tue 23-Feb-16 19:35:06

Are you able to post any photos or a rough plan?

I want to reshape my lawn and increase the beds this year and that's giving me headaches, I'm rubbish at visualizing grin

AthelstaneTheUnready Tue 23-Feb-16 20:40:46

Well that was an interesting 5 minutes grin blush

Fat gardening sausage fingers, sorry.

Quick guide - light grey is house, dark grey is path around. Brown is beds I've dug out (cleaner curves than that, but I'm on a 1998 paint programme...). Dark blue blob is oil tank. Dark squiggles on bottom right are existing conifer hedge. White dots are my bargain aldi fruit trees (should be one more) and the willow. Big nasty crosses are wet, dank areas with no sun, lots of moss, and... seeping...

The garden ends where the lawn does, which is where the wire fence is. The purple squiggles are the grass/nettles/plantain etc growing up and through (got about 6' high last year) - and the blue slabs on the outside are when the ditch runs.

There is never any sun in the bottom right quarter. Soil is outstanding, having been cultivated for a very long time indeed, but with clay about 2 feet down. Windy spot (middle of field), but also manages to be in a frost pocket.

So far the plan is to shift the plants out of the roadside border into the new curved one on the side of the house, then fill the road border with the cheapest hedge/shrub/whatever I can find to create a visual barrier between me and the road. But THEN, I also have a problem visualising - and I just can't work out what to do with the rest of it. Any ideas? [hopeful]

shovetheholly Wed 24-Feb-16 09:08:58

Wow, great job on the plan! Wish I could draw on the computer like that!!

Brilliant news about being able to take saplings (I'm envy that you live somewhere with a forester!). I would definitely, definitely do that as a matter of priority - there's still time before bud break to get hedges in along those sides, which will give you a windbreak and a 'frame' around your gardening canvas as well as a habitat for wildlife. Hornbeam and blackthorn are both lovely.

Here's what I'd do if it were my space: I think I'd then dig out some continuous, long curvy borders along every side - leaving stepping stones at the back where necessary to let me get in and cut the hedge (these won't be very visible so they can be made of anything really). I'd make the beds deepest in the middle of each side to allow me some space to have higher things at the back and lower things in front so it's not just one long linear row. I think, if it's practical, I might make the path round the corner between the compost and the oil tank quite narrow, to let me screen off both of those things. However, I'm not sure how the refilling of oil tanks works so this may not be practical.

I'm assuming that top wall of your house is quite sunny -if so, I think I'd pop in some herbs in pots along the wall.

I'd create a shade/bog garden where the big black X is. It sounds as though you could just plant some bog-loving things in there without needing a membrane - I'm thinking things like rodgersia, ligularia etc. The latter is 3 for £3.99 at Secret Gardening Club at the moment smile

AthelstaneTheUnready Wed 24-Feb-16 19:02:39

No need to be sarcastic about my drawings! grin blush Actually, rubbish as it is, it is helping me think. Veg patches definitely at the back of the house (should be the same length but messed up the drawing).

And yes, you're right - I will feel vastly more relaxed with a (curved) hedge around the sides to start providing a bit of structure and delineation. I think I might bulge it out in a curve opposite the curvy bed I've just dug, to give an hour glass break between the front and the back slabs of lawn. And have that bit bulge upwards as well, i.e. allowed to grow higher than the rest of the hedge.

I can't really change the paths - they're solid concrete around the house (which means no climbers to soften the brickwork). I have dug a narrow strip on the east and south of the oil tank (I know, I know, not allowed!) and am planning to get some raspberry canes to cover up the sides.

The new circular blob is where the table can go, just as soon as I find some free slabs of some sort to make a base in the lawn.

AND. Excuse the repeated mention of Aldi, but I went in for some cream today, and ended up spending £8 (that I shouldn't have), but got...

... ready...?...

... bulbs and shoots...

... 3 eryngiums, 2 phlox, 5 physalis, 40 miniature yellow alliums, 30 acidanthera, 40 triteleia, 1 agapanthus, and 60 mixed iris! For £8!

Most will go in pots, for this year at least, and get shoved wherever the garden looks worst.

poocatcherchampion Wed 24-Feb-16 19:11:39

This is an amazing thread. I need exactly the same kind of help as you op although circs not so grim.

30yo garden with mainly large tall trees and lumpy grass. We need features etc to bring it alive. And plants, flowers trees and colour!

AthelstaneTheUnready Wed 24-Feb-16 20:10:36

large tall trees envy

if i had proper trees and a grown up hedge, i'd have this:

AthelstaneTheUnready Fri 26-Feb-16 19:35:51

Well, that's me committed. Bought a couple of tunnel cloches in the sale to keep the cats off the veg, so... have started the veg in seed trays inside, just need to dig the veg bed... I HATE lifting turf and digging.

So tomorrow's plan - dig out two long strips for veg and let the frost get into it for the next few months weeks; dig up and split the plants in the existing bed (some for a friend, some for the curvy bed); plant the dodgy beech bare-roots I already have along the front; go prospecting in the woods for saplings!

Does anyone have any advice on digging out saplings? About 3 to 4' high ones? I tend to chop through the important roots no matter how far out i think I've dug around it. Twice the width of the branches? three times?

AthelstaneTheUnready Sun 28-Feb-16 19:28:09

Eyes bigger than my spade this weekend. Managed to dig and hedge half way down one side, and move and split maybe half of the existing plants into the new border and replace them with beech. The rest still to do...

But beans! My beans and peas are beginning to sprout - and I finally cobbled together a polycarbonate roof for my homemade coldframe - total build time = 7 hours hmm for a 2mx1mx50cm bottomless box hmm so potted up all the summer bulbs I was excited about earlier and put them in there for a bit (-8 at night here this week). Also hacksawed through some of the hideous barbed wire on top of the fence so less worried about the cats ripping themselves on their usual tracks.

Shove, your idea about digging out a narrow bed for the hedge has made the area I've done look SO much better.

And I still have two months to dig a veg bed before anything can go in anyway.

bimandbam Sun 28-Feb-16 19:39:26

Would some of that reed netting stuff work as a temporary cover up for your wire fence? We use it just to pin around stuff we don't want to look at. The cheapest place I have seen it is wilkos. You could secure it to the fence with plastic tie wraps maybe and just tack the bottom down with longish u shaped tacks.

AthelstaneTheUnready Sun 28-Feb-16 21:11:33

hmm, there's a thought, bim

I hadn't considered any of the flimsier constructions because the wind just howls through here on a regular basis. But maybe a few metres of the short stuff might be an idea, jammed into the bottom half of the fence just to keep the weeds back a bit from the new hedgelings.

bimandbam Sun 28-Feb-16 21:20:19

We used it pinned to some post and rail fencing at our old house in quite an exposed area and it was pretty secure. I think the fact that the wind blows through it and it wibble wobbles around makes it pretty solid bizarrely. It moves with the wind so doesn't really catch and because its reed it's quite bendy.

It does give you a kind of Oriental look you could harness with some nice grasses and frondy plants. Am not a massive gardener (do bedding plants spring and summer) so don't know the fancy terms but you will know what I mean.

As I said wilkos was the cheapest I found but b and m do gardening stuff quite cheap and I am sure I saw some the other year.

shovetheholly Mon 29-Feb-16 08:25:47

Athelstane - shock you've done LOADS! Wowzers! And I hear you on the build time for things. It always takes me about 6 times longer than I think it should as well. grin

I've been thinking about your veg beds. How narrow are your intended strips? Doreen (gardening guru, on the allotment thread) has a plan that she posts sometimes of planting in squares instead of rows - it's a way of packing in a LOT more plants into a small space, and increasing your yield. If your beds are too narrow, you won't have room to do this, though. I'm wondering if you might be better off with slightly wider areas in terms of return for effort? I dug my allotment beds at 1.2 metres width (they're 3 metres long but obviously you can go to whatever length suits your site), and that's about right for me to get in and harvest/weed without treading on the soil - but still allows me to get loads in.

AthelstaneTheUnready Tue 01-Mar-16 18:33:51

bim, I've not looked at prices yet, but that idea is still percolating...

Shove, you reckon? I look at all that still needs doing and fret.

I couldn't fit in veg beds as you describe - or rather, I could have one, not two. How do squares give you more than strips if your width is fixed? If that's a stupid question I may head over and ask...

Inside news: sweet peas, tomatos, nasturtiums, ipom... opamoponaea.... (morning glory), oriental poppies, sweet williams, french marigolds all starting to emerge! Still waiting for signs of life from courgettes, cucumbers, pansies and leeks. I have no window sills left, but my parents have just offered some old double glazing glass so I can take 2 months to make another cold frame to fit them all into grin

shovetheholly Wed 02-Mar-16 09:27:44

With raised bed gardening, you can plant with a bit less space between things than you do in ordinary soil (this is why raised beds can be more productive in spite of having paths between them than just a plot). We really need Doreen who is the expert, but as I understand it, in blocks you plant in offset rows, thus packing more things in than in straight rows. I've certainly found I can pack more in this way!

Your seeds are going to be lovely!

bookbook Wed 02-Mar-16 15:53:41

saw shove putting out a call , but I think Doreen must be very busy !
Not the same thing, but I did find this to explain block planting of veg in raised beds, hope it helps smile
www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/Gardennotes/713.html

shovetheholly Wed 02-Mar-16 18:15:09

book you are a wonder grin

bookbook Wed 02-Mar-16 19:06:01

Just read a bit more up thread
Are you there short -term, mid or long term? It may make a difference to how much work /planning you are willing to commit to ( though it looks as if you have done masses already!).
On digging up saplings - roots tend to reach out as least as far as the tree is high - if that helps

AthelstaneTheUnready Wed 02-Mar-16 19:26:20

roots tend to reach out as least as far as the tree is high - if that helps

Aghast shock

No wonder I chopped through a few roots <cough>. I think I'm going to need a bigger bag.

Thank you, Book. I had a quick read and I think I was doing block planting by accident in my old garden anyway, so very happy to squeeze close together - although offset, as Shove says, rather than in 90 degrees to each other.

I do have some odd bits of timber, but nothing that will make a sleek-looking raised bed. Never mind. The marigolds will disguise the edging.

I'm here short-term (about 3-4 years, barring disasters), so no use starting asparagus or anything like that. Doesn't stop me committing to shaping work though, since the garden will still be here when I go, and how much can people resent some fruit trees and shrubs to break up the edges anyway? The only limiter is money - I don't really have much (£8 was a big spend for me) but although it's hard to define, I am happy to spend that little on things that make the garden a better place in my eyes, i.e. the odd shrub, putting hedges in, cheap supermarket fruit trees etc - things that will not mature while I'm here, but make the garden feel a better place right now, knowing that something has been set in motion. Does that even make sense? confused

Inside news: Leeks! I have leeks! I was starting to worry about them. Still no sign of the cucumbers or courgettes or pansies.

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