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On a Chalk Hillside July 2017

Our design plans.  Starting the Pergola.

The design views I talked about last time are not the same as design plans.  How we get to design plans involves many steps.  I should say here that I know many of you are trained garden designers, but neither I nor my husband are - we are enthusiastic amateurs and this post is about the way we approach designing and building our garden.  
It all starts with me having an idea.  Usually I have several - I am good at ideas.  Many are not realistic or practical, but may be 70% are worth considering a bit.  We discuss each idea, referencing places, pictures, programmes we’ve seen with a similar thing.    We stand at the spot I am talking about and wave our arms about, point, measure things, ask each other questions like “how big” “what is it made of” “how do you get onto/out of it” “what plants are in it” etc.  Some ideas get discarded, some are adapted or enhanced by my husband saying “well you could do xxxx or yyyy” “what if we used zzzz”.  We think about it some more.  Another day we revisit the spot and the discussion, bringing our new research on materials, construction methods, or planting combinations.  It begins to feel more tangible, more possible.   We agree some basic concepts – such as dimensions or materials, plants that HAVE to be accommodated or included, and write that down.   Canes, string, pegs become involved to mark out edges/dimensions/paths.  My husband goes off into a huddle with his DIY books (and nowadays the internet) to determine how he is going to construct whatever it is.  We discuss it.  I draw a not to scale diagram of the design we are agreed on.  We look at the piece of ground we are going to develop and determine what preparation steps are needed on the patch of land.   I then draw up a quite detailed project plan outlining tasks, timescales for tasks and the order we should do them in.  As this is the real world the plan has to include keeping home/vegetable plot/rest of garden going as well. 

Here’s a close up of a small tortoiseshell butterfly on the red Valarian (Centranthus Ruber) I managed to snap whilst weeding last July.  I have taken to carrying my camera around with me otherwise I see but don’t manage to record the minutiae in the garden.  An example of ephemera I would otherwise have missed, also July last year, is of raindrops on the Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum). 

Back to the plan!  Saying we are going to put paths through the rose bed and build a pergola down the utility path suggests that we start straight away with doing that.  In fact a great deal of what seems like unrelated pre-work has to be done.  The pergola was a case in point.  Not only did the utility path have to be rerouted at the end nearest the garage to allow a wheelbarrow to go round a right-angled bend, when we cleared and examined the path, most of it had to be broken up and re-laid because it was in such poor repair.  Here is a terrible quality photo of a photo looking up to where the Pergola was to go showing the state of the path on the left.

In the centre you can see the Golden Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’) which needed to be removed and the space concreted over so that the path could be widened to allow us to get a full wheelbarrow round the end of the garage and down the garden.  (To the bottom right hand corner you can see one edge of the huge rose bed with the edging which surrounded it.)   Where you can’t see the path anymore by the Golden Privet it was broken by huge tree roots from a felled beech tree which as you can see was extremely close to the end of the garage.   

We also had two huge Leylandii to remove before the pergola could be built, or the path repaired.   I know you think I exaggerated when I said in a previous post that they were 1) very near the garage; 2) higher than the house.  Here is a photo of a photo taken from the upstairs bathroom window (and please bear in mind the house is at the top of a steep slope).  The roof you can see is our garage.

It staggers me to think that between the Leylandii and the garage there also used to be a beech tree with a trunk at the base of the diameter of a dustbin.  Anyway, I digress.  Though it looks from the snap as if it is one tree, it was two less than 1m apart, on our fence line (as the beech tree was).   The removal of the Leylandii was a great way to get to know our neighbours.  On that side of the garden the fence belongs to the neighbours, and so we had to discuss their removal with them.  They were extremely enthusiastic about their removal as the Leylandii pushed their fence over and blocked their view.  In fact, we discovered the Leylandii blocked the view of at least the two next neighbours along as well, and they were all very happy for them to go.   

I’m not quite sure how it happened but in discussion with the neighbours about their removal it became agreed among the men that whilst our method for tree removal that I outlined to you in my January 2017 blog post was to be used, it was not quite appropriate for me to assist as these were much (MUCH) taller, and heavier than the trees we had already dealt with.  We also needed longer ladders.    We bought the longest double extension ladder we could find.  Our neighbour also had a shorter one.  Our neighbour took down his fence from our garage end to his hedge level with our pear trees. (We had agreed with him that if he did this, and helped with the removal of the Leylandii we would help him replace his fence.)  Now we were ready.  So one fine weekend we started.  I stood on the bottom of ladders whilst the men swarmed up them and roped off sections of Leylandii against each other, and sawed through the trunks.  To begin with this was feasible, but as they got lower and lower, the trunks got thicker and thicker, the cutting through took longer and longer.  Our neighbour’s neighbour who was sitting on his garden swing chair watching and calling out encouragement suddenly started talking to HIS neighbour who had just come home, and before we knew it this neighbour appeared with a chain saw!   We had never met this neighbour before, so here was an example of Leylandii bringing a neighbourhood together!!  
I shall skate over the amount of material that felling two enormous Leylandii creates that needs removing/recycling.  We used several of the trunk sections (once the branches had been chopped off) as edgings for beds to hold in soil against the slope, as we had in our vegetable garden.  The branches/foliage where we could fit them into our chipper were chipped, and the chippings used as a mulch or top coat for the paths through the vegetable garden.  There were so many branches, and so much mulch it filled the crossed paths through the vegetable garden and the wider path beside the beds and the fence on the left of the vegetable garden to a depth of 10cm with many bags left over for use in other projects.   Here’s a shot from the top of a ladder looking down on the vegetable garden showing the paths duly mulched.

In order to undertake the replacement of part of the old path, down to the washing line post (you’ll see it later down this post) a lot of effort was needed.  The old path had to be smashed up with sledge hammer and carbon steel demolition crow bar (the one I used to plant my bluebell wood, mentioned in my April 2017 blog post).  This was done by my husband.  The tree root I mentioned had to be excavated and sawn out.  Here it is in situ.

The lumps of concrete and hardcore had to be removed temporarily (by me).  Here is the pile I made on the other side of the garden for one section of path (half of what we did) to give you an idea of the amount of material.

Wooden shuttering had to be fixed where we wanted the edges of the path to be, and then the old lumps of path had to be lugged back (by me) and broken into small pieces by my husband to make a 10cm deep hardcore layer that was solid.  Because we did all this by hand, it took most of the time.  The final (and quickest) stage is making and laying 6cm concrete on top of this.   We got all this preparation stage done for the new bit of path, and the replacement of part of the old one, and hired a cement mixer for a day.   Which day?  Valentine’s Day 2006 naturally!  

This is the concrete being levelled in the section going past the beech tree stump.  If you look closely there is a light vertical face beside the path by the small Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart’s Tongue Fern) which is the sawn through tree root that as you can see is higher than the path.  As you saw in the photo above it was shaped like a chicken’s wishbone, and the two “prongs” went right across the path well into the lawn the other side, and caused a fairy ring of mushrooms in the grass in autumn.

I am including this shot to show you the Leylandii stumps behind the new-laid path with our neighbour’s new fence behind it.  I’ll explain why they are still there in my next post.  The two twiggy bunches beyond the Leylandii stumps are the Philadelphus ‘Sybille’ and the Weigela ‘Bristol Ruby’ backed by the Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Rotundifolia’).  N.B. The washing line post is in line with the Weigela.  

To give you an idea of how we reconfigured the path at the top to allow for wheel barrows here is a picture of the infill (also done on Valentine’s Day 2006).

You may note that we have only removed enough of the Golden Privet to get the path laid at this point, the rest came out later.  You may also note my potting bench wedged up against the oil tank support as this was the only level bit of hardstanding at that point.
 Reviewing the project to see if there were any learning points we decided that it would be much more cost effective in future to buy our own cement mixer.  We had many more metres of path to replace, and the effort involved in getting enough path ready to make hiring a cement mixer for a day cost effective whilst being unable to walk on it as it was being smashed up and relaid for weeks on end made it a no-brainer.  I say “we” and “our” but it is MINE.  I make the mud pies, whether by hand or in the machine.   I love doing it.   So hiring a concrete mixer so I can spend all day making concrete was a very thoughtful Valentine’s Day suggestion by my husband.   (Mind you we were too tired to walk for a mile to town for a romantic candlelit dinner as well that night…)
Next time, putting up a Pergola.  Really.  

Posted by Sheila May

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