Sam and Gavin’s Garden Adventures: 2

Clearing the garden might sound as glamorous as doing the washing up but winter is the perfect time to clear up and get ready for the hard landscaping. So pull on your woolly hats and gloves and get out there.

Words: Joe Swift

Many of us will remember the television makeover programmes of the 1990s. Fabulous entertainment with dramatic transformations happening before our eyes in a very short space of time. Bits of suburban wasteland were whipped, decked, primped, planted and presented to a tearful homeowner freshly back from a couple of days holiday.

Many of us will also have realised that such things really only happen in the magical world of television and making a garden is actually a slower process: this, of course, is half the fun and the reason why so many people garden. It would be very dull if it was all over in a couple of days. What would we do then?!

Sam and Gavin are taking it slowly. Having had eminent Gold Medal winning garden designer, Joe Swift, drop in on them to help with the initial design they are now trying to do as much as they can on their own.

The first step with any new garden is clearance.

Work out….

  • What you want to keep - bearing in mind that just because something is big, it is not necessarily worth keeping!
  • Identify all the shrubs and plants you have in the garden. Sam and Gavin had some pretty uninteresting shrubs and that was about it except for a magnificent oak tree that will give them shade in summer and privacy all year round.
  • See if there is anything hidden away which you had not noticed before. There was an old pond in this garden that they had filled in when they first arrived as it was dangerous for Louie. If you have young children then you must fence off ponds and water features until they are at least three years old.

Get Stuck In

  • This is fun for all the family: cut down all the things you don’t want.
  • Think about composting: you can easily hire a shredder for a day.   It will mince up most garden debris into small chips that will easily rot down. A compost heap saves you having to get rid of garden rubbish and will give you free nutrition for your soil.
  • Check that all the fences are sound and the posts have not rotted.
  • If you live outside a built up area it may be all right to have a bonfire. Check with your local authority and make sure that the wind does not blow all the smoke into your neighbour’s house.
  • If you really can’t cope with a compost heap or bonfire see if you local council will take away your green waste for recycling. Most do.
  • Be sensible: gloves and sturdy boots are a definite. If using machinery then basic safety kit is essential.
  • Chainsaws are great fun but can cause appalling damage to anybody who does not know what they are doing. My advice is to steer clear and if you need anything like that done then call in the professionals.
  • Be patient: digging out roots and stumps takes time but if you persevere you will get there in the end. I always like to think of the people tunnelling out of P.O.W camps in the last war - steady and relentless is the only way!

Having got as far as they felt they could go, Gavin and Sam decided to bring in Julia and Zolly for the next stage. There was a line of old Leylandii trees along one fence. This is a very fast growing evergreen coniferous hedge that is fine provided you clip it very regularly. Once it has got its roots established they can put on three metres in a year so can very swiftly get out of control. They also dry out the soil around them so it is impossible to grow anything else anywhere near them. Good in some places but not here!

Mark it Out

  • If you have a plan on paper then take some time to transfer it to the ground so you know it feels right.
  • You can then change things around if you need to: the lawn can be a bit bigger or the paths can slightly change direction.
  • Look at the design from every direction - especially from upstairs windows.

The next stage will be the hard landscaping as Gavin and Zolly start digging out foundations and preparing for the terraces and artificial lawn. Winter is often the best time to do this sort of thing as the children will not want to be outside as much so there is less danger of accidents. It may be cold but, with luck, everything will be ready for planting in the spring.