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On a Chalk Hillside October 2017

Remodelling the Rose Garden

This is my lucky thirteenth blog post already, my goodness doesn’t time fly!  Looking back through my photos of my garden in October I note that at the beginning of October last year this Fox-and-cubs Hieracium aurantiacum was flowering still.  I had taken seed from earlier flowerings to send to the HPS seed distribution, so was delighted to get further flowering.

By the end of the month I was admiring the combination of the autumn colour of the Blueberry against the rosette of the Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ both grown in pots.

I do think a blueberry is a great addition to a garden as it has white blossom in spring, delicious fruit, and then this lovely autumn colour.  As you probably know it needs a soil on the acidic side, so we have to grow it in a pot, and this one, dug up from my step-mother’s allotment when she had to give it up, is self-fertile, so we only need the one to get fruit.   

Turning to the remodelling of the rose beds, let us start with a scary picture of the rose beds taken the first winter we were here to give you an idea of what was!

This makes it look a deceptively small area, but reminds you how narrow the garden looked.  Removing all the green wire “fence” surrounds even though they were only about 20cm tall helped make the huge central bed of roses look not quite so rectangular.  I wanted to be able to walk through the roses, not just down one side or the other of them.  Also, to make paths that did not just go up and down the narrow garden to make it look wider.  If you watch any gardening makeover programmes on TV (or are a garden designer) you will know that one popular suggestion for making a long narrow garden look wider is to put an S-shaped path through it.  My idea was to dig up the grass paths all round it and, working with the roses that were planted there already, wend paths through the area so that there would be three irregular-shaped, and different sized beds.  The one on the left hand side as you looked from the house would incorporate part of the ribbon border that went all the way down the side of the garden to the shed, and the area that had been the path, but veer towards the centre of the garden to incorporate some of the roses that had been in the left hand side of the old bed.  The border on the right hand side would keep its right-angled corner on its right hand side, but have a diagonal left-hand side to accommodate the Rosa 'Frühlingsanfang' and Burnet Double White Rose at its centre and back, and in its far left-hand corner having the moss rose Rosa ‘William Lobb’ as the feature.  
There was to be a path running diagonally across the width of the garden from the Pergola (featuring the stumps of the Leylandii covered in tree ivy) to a small seating area on the other fenceline so you could look across the width of the garden and see all the roses.  This would form the back of the two beds mentioned already, and also be in front of the Rosa ‘Canary Bird’, Rosa 'F. J. Grootendorst', and Rosa 'Pink Grootendorst' which would be in a wide bed backed by the three Pear trees, which are planted in grass.  As this bed was very wide, I decided there should also be a cul-de-sac path between the Rosa F.J. Grootendorst and the Rosa ‘Canary Bird’ mainly to allow me to get into the bed to weed.  
Perhaps this picture as we began to lay out the paths will help!

As you can see here, there is a concrete path to the front left of the picture past the rectangular rose bed full of the lovely pink rose that may be Rosa ‘Ispahan’ to a small grassed area.  We decided to keep this grassed area for the washing whirligig. To the right of the picture and the grass is the Pergola.  You may be able to just make out the vestiges of the grass path going straight through the left hand bed to the big white pot.  I wanted the new path not to go straight ahead as it would remind you of the ribbon border and that grass path, so veered in towards the fence a bit past the Forsythia before turning right sharply in front of an apricot hybrid t rose, and then turning slightly again between two other hybrid tea roses and continuing to the T junction with the diagonal path across the garden dividing the two front beds from the back one.  You may be able to make out the diagonal path marked by the cane at the right hand side, and with my husband standing on it towards the left.
This width and configuration of paths even with extra bends to accommodate roses already planted necessitated the removal of three roses from various places, which were put in big pots so that they could be rehomed later.  Paths had to be wide enough for me to push a full wheelbarrow along.   After some empirical tests (ie my husband jumping out at me when I HAD a wheelbarrow full of prunings and measuring me and the girth and length of the wheelbarrow and load) we determined that 30 inches was the ideal width.  (I believe that is 76.2cm).   In order not to lose too much planting space, or too many roses, this path width did not allow for someone to push past the wheelbarrow once it was on the path, indeed it involved quite a balletic move, or some clutching for two people to pass once the planting was at its zenith each summer.  
You can see from the pictures above that this was a lot of metres of paths, and our choice of materials to make these paths had to take that into consideration.  York stone, or even concrete paving slabs were too expensive, and I didn’t want a concrete path through the garden.  Whilst the utility path was ok to be concrete, the decorative part of the garden was to be, well, decorative.   In our tiny London garden we had made narrow paths of gravel held in by raised brick edges mortared in.  The blackbirds had tossed all and any mulch into these paths and made it really difficult to separate the dirt from the gravel, and as we all know gravel gradually “walks” the more you walk on it.  These paths in London had been half the width of the proposed paths, so we discounted gravel.  We started researching.
Two things happened within a shortish time of each other over that Winter 05/6.   On one of our visits to my step-mother in the Lake District we went for a walk round a part of Lake Windermere shoreline owned by the National Trust.  There we discovered a path material which looked quite natural, like a continuation of the gravelly shoreline, but it was solid and compacted.  The second was watching an episode of Ground Force where they were surprising a Vicar with a path along the side of the church for people getting into the church especially for weddings.  They were making this path out of Hoggin.  This turned out to look very very like the path round Windermere.  Down here when we went to the builders merchants they call it Path Gravel, but it all seemed to be the same stuff – self binding gravel.  A mixture of sand and gravel that is compacted to become solid.   This was one of the first times we appreciated the power of the internet.  We could find out what it was, and how to lay a hoggin path.  There was even a video to watch, as well as a technical pamphlet.  Not only was it not too expensive in terms of materials, the techniques were all within our grasp.   
So, how to lay a Hoggin path?  Obviously you need to measure out and peg out the outline of the path first.  Then, you dig out the soil to the depth of 15cm and contain the paths with a wooden edging, as you can see from the photo above we did.  Unless you have no pernicious weeds I would recommend nailing weed suppressing membrane to the wooden edging before putting in a layer of hardcore to 10cm, and then adding scalpings.  Scalpings are the small flattish offcuts from a quarry – quarry waste if you like - which look a bit like slate chippings, and which bind the hardcore together more, and help join the path gravel layer to it.  Here are two pictures showing the paths with the scalpings layer added.

N.B.The second picture is taken from the path across the garden looking back to the leylandii stumps.  It shows the cul-de-sac on the left with the Rosa ‘Canary Bird' behind the green pot, and the path turning right heading back to the house.  The concrete path across the back of the picture will soon be covered by the Pergola here.
On top of the scalpings you add the Path Gravel, approx. 6 cm, and then you compact it with a wacker plate as shown below.

We hired this wacker plate, which is like pushing a very heavy hoover or polisher about, but with a little practice my husband managed to control the beast.  It leaves the path surface as you can see below, but care has to be taken to avoid the wacker plate getting too near the wooden edges and damaging them, so as a precaution it necessitated walking woman doing it manually (or pedially if that is a word!).

After a bit of rain, this is what the finished surface of the paths look like:-

You can also see in this picture the triangular bed to square up the lawn, which I filled with pinks.  Next time I will talk about planting up the rose garden.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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