Saxifrage & suspicious bulbs

So… this post is going to be about Mysterious Triffids and Suspect Bluebells.

To the side of the house is this strip of garden:

The back of this patch is bare other than some stumps and has been earmarked for mum’s storage shed. But the rest is a wild sort of area with bushes and a big variegated holly tree. Unfortunately it’s also been a dumping ground for people’s beer cans, takeaway trays, footballs, bricks, and other stuff thrown over the fence while the house was empty. I’ve been cleaning up some of the rubbish (in the photo is a drinks can I missed, ugh). Otherwise, though, I kind of like it! When I finally get to working on this, I think I’m going to mostly leave it alone except for adding some more bulbs and shade tolerant wildflowers. It should make a nice woodlandy looking area with those big, established bushes.

Admittedly I’m not certain what all of said bushes are, and they’re undoubtedly not native. But they’ve been there for years at this point and are basically small trees that would be next to impossible to remove. Most importantly they’re always full of house sparrows, which need all the help they can get. The birds like the bushes so they’re staying.

That though brings me to the… things growing at ground level- goodness knows what has been planted, or otherwise arrived by itself, in this area. Unfortunately I’m not in touch with the person who used to do the gardening for my grandmother when she lived here, and when I used to visit I didn’t really pay attention to what the plants were. So everything is basically a surprise at this point.

Firstly I noticed some of these odd little rosettes around the place. There’s a lot of them and they seem hardy to the point of indestructibility.

Triffids

I’d been trying to identify them for a while; Google was only giving me succulents. Which these aren’t. But after posting a confused question on Instagram someone was kind enough to point me in the right direction: they’re a saxifrage, probably London’s Pride. The area they were growing was covered in dead grass and rubbish, so I cleared that away to see just how big the patch was….

Spoilers: it’s pretty big.

Looking these up, these aren’t native either and a lot of people consider them a weed, but again… I like these tough little evergreen things and the history behind them, as something that would colonise WW2 bomb sites. Plus bees apparently like the flowers, which should look amazing where they’re growing right by the front gate! So they get to stay, I’ll just try and keep this little green carpet from spreading too much further.

There are also a whole lot of spring bulbs of different kinds popping up right now. Again, I have no idea what some of them are- but I know there were bluebells here in the past. And most of the greenery that’s appearing looks like bluebell to me.

…Now, if that’s what these green clumps are, it’s either a very good thing or a very bad thing. I love bluebells… so long as they’re the right kind.

These could be either the native UK bluebells, hyathinthoides non-scripta, invasive Spanish bluebells, or a hybrid of the two. Unfortunately the latter two types are taking over from our native, protected ones. There are apparently still native bluebell fields in the immediate area, so if these are the spanish/hybrid type we’re going to have a problem.  The London’s Pride gets a pass but Spanish bluebells will not, meaning I’m going to have a fight on my hands trying to get rid of them…

The highest likelyhood is that they are Spanish/hybrid as those got planted in gardens a lot, apparently. But there’s a chance they could be native ones (or at least mostly native). The leaves look thin to me, like native bluebells are meant to have… but I don’t have the experience to be able to tell, honestly. I need to wait until they flower to know, and until they do I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed….

 

To leave off on an unrelated but more positive note, though, there are definitely Things starting to happen in the hedge I planted! Here’s what was the saddest and deadest looking twig of the bunch, which is now growing some buds!

Things learned when planting a Hedge

Okay, so, last time I worked on the long skinny terrace I left off here:

at least it’s clear-ish

So I was about ready to actually plant something in there. And pretty excited to do so since it’d be the first actual planting in this garden, as opposed to digging up. Yeah, I’m probably getting ahead of myself but I wanted to get something in the ground for motivation, and to avoid having to wait til next winter.

I ordered a pack of bare root wildlife hedging from Naturescape, which seemed to have the biggest variety for the price. I’ve ordered stuff from them before and they seemed pretty good! Now it was just a matter of waiting for the parcel to turn up. The weather was getting nicer so–

…well, it was getting nicer.

oh dear.

There was then a lot of swearing.

By some miracle though the snow didn’t last very long and melted in a couple of days. I was worried about how wet the ground would be, but the weather seemed to go from WINTER to SPRING in about five seconds so it dried out pretty fast- I didn’t find the swamp I expected when I uncovered the terrace, but I did find a lot of sneaky rocks and roots I’d missed the first time round. (apparently my grandfather used to say he was really good at ‘growing’ rocks. Now I see why. But then, the house is sitting on an old colliery site…)

I’m totally a professional, guys.

Here’s the area marked out with bbq skewers and string because it was what I had on hand. Just in time for a GIANT BOX to show up on the doorstep! It looks like I got lucky with my timing, too- I was aware I was ordering right at the end of the season for bare root things, and as soon as they were dispatched the hedging packs went out of stock on the website. I guess I got one of the last lots!

A BIG BLURRY BOX
lots of plants

Above is what I got! Everything looks alive/healthy, though I’m no expert. This is enough plants for the almost-exactly-10m terrace with a couple left over… I went with the 5-plants-per-metre advice but we’ll see if that was a good idea or not. It was certainly the only affordable idea- due to bulk pricing, 50 plants actually turned out £20 or so cheaper than 40 would have done…. huh…

Anyway, it’s a mixture of hawthorn, field maple and various other british shrubs/small trees.

How cute is this holly?

I didn’t take any photos while actually planting, as I was too busy getting covered in mud and trying not to let the roots dry out in the wind. (see? I did my research :p) It was an ‘adventure’ though, and I learned a few things in the process…

-It’s really hard to convince yourself that pruning everything by half upon planting is a good idea despite reading otherwise. :( I did it, but arghhhhh poor things….

-Slit planting on a raised terrace is not as easy as they make it look.

-If like me you are a clumsy buh, you will fall off said terrace at least once. My bum has the bruises to prove it.

-You can measure and mark out the planting area as much as you like, it’s still gonna be wonky.

-Rootgrow gets everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

-You can plant 50 shrubs in an afternoon. But your body won’t thank you for it the next day, owww. I may or may not have had help with the last few…

-After planting, you will fret about the poor twigs forever.

ta-daaa

And here’s what it looks like as of yesterday! ….It doesn’t look like much, honestly. But so far everything is showing buds or some other sign of life, so fingers crossed at least some of these will survive and establish.

Admittedly this was a bit of an experiment; I’m not sure how well it’s going to work in the long run. It could be that everything will die, or the opposite will happen and I won’t be able to keep it trimmed enough on the path side to not be a nuisance. But it’ll be interesting finding out! I really hope it does work, though, because if it does in a few years time it’ll be really good for the birds and insects. And it’ll help to make up for the bushes that’ve had to be removed because of dad’s garage (ugh).

Honestly I’m already wondering if more hedging along the boundary fences will be possible, but that’s a job for the distant future.

So much digging

Okay so…. confession, I’m basically a soft nerdy marshmallow shaped person. Part of the appeal of this garden project is, y’know, getting some exercise.

And I’ve definitely been doing that. If I wanted to be able to order hedging by the end of March, I’d have to seriously get going.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this is what I started with in February:

After a couple of afternoons attacking it with a rake and shovel, I managed to get it down to this.

The problem was, the whole area was solid roots and stumps! It looks like there had been something of a hedge along here already. There was one existing bush (pieris? I think), the stump of which you can just see in the first photo. But as I cleared the grass away I found lots of other buried stumps that had to be dug out, some of which were bigger than my head. So it didn’t go as quickly as I’d hoped!

About 1/3 of the dug out clumps. Oof.

But once that was done, I was ready to start filling in all the resulting holes and– oh wait. This is Wales. And Mother Nature had some words to say about that.

Oh.

….The Beast From The East put a stop to any garden work for a few days. On the plus side, the snow and ice probably helped to kill off any remaining grass in there! At least I hope so.

The snow was pretty at least! And it did hide some of the junk piled around the garden for a while.

Luckily the snow didn’t last too long, so I was able to tidy up the terrace a bit and even it out by using some of the soil from the furthest tier where the garage is going to be. (MORE DIGGING! And a big thank you to my mother for helping rake it in while I was wrestling a very rickety wheelbarrow full of topsoil).

So here’s where we are as of yesterday! I think it’s about ready to plant. Once the conifer is out of the way anyway. (You might’ve noticed them gradually disappearing. They’d grown through their planter and were going to become a big problem, so are being relocated. Mum hates them, dad likes them, I’m not really a fan… so they’re getting repotted and moved elsewhere as a compromise. I’m not sure if they’ll survive but we’ll see.)

I haven’t bothered clearing off the moss from the edging; can’t really change the concrete blocks, and I think the moss looks better than cleaned blocks would. As well as being a little habitat for insects.

The area is now covered up with black plastic to try and prevent weeds, ready for when I get the hedge plants! And I’m going to make another cup of tea as I’m still sore from all the digging…

The long terrace

The trouble with suddenly having a big project on your hands is not knowing where to start. The one good thing about the back of the garden having to be built on is it narrows down the choices a bit; I’m not touching anything back there until the garage is actually up and I can see what I’m dealing with.

But when we move in we’re going to need a sort of utility area- somewhere for the washing line, a small shed for storage, maybe somewhere to sit when it’s not raining. So that decided it- I’d work on the small area directly behind the house first. There’s the remains of a small lawn here, a couple of potted conifers, and a concrete pad where a greenhouse used to be. Eventually, hopefully, this would be the ‘tidy’ part of garden but…. well.

“””lawn”””

At the back of it… nobody was completely sure what was under the overgrown grass and stumps of bushes here. One end of the mystery zone has a huge old washing line pole, which we don’t need as we’ll be using a smaller rotary one. Other than that it was a tangled mess.

oh dear.

Closer inspection revealed a long, skinny terrace underneath all the thatch. I thought I might just try and tidy that up as a flower bed- something that could wait until after the move- but what to do with the washing line pole at the end? Though it COULD be removed, it wouldn’t be easy. It was also very tall and very visible from the living room and what will eventually be my bedroom.

Eureka

…Which actually makes it an awesome bird feeding station, up out of the reach of cats and with built-in hooks. And as the horrible quality photo above shows, the birds seem to like it too.  (I’ll get rid of the old line and paint the pole later- that, like the matching pole that’s currently buried in a hedge, is a problem for another time.)

The ‘recycled feeding station’ gave me an idea of what to do with the long terrace, but also gave me a time limit to get it cleared and planted.

If I was going to have bird feeders on the end of the terrace, why not give them somewhere to nest/perch in? A row of native hedge plants might work, and would eventually screen off that part of the garden to hopefully make it a nice secluded spot to sit. The problem is, the hedging packs I was looking at were bare-root and needed to be planted before the end of March. After that, I’d either have to get potted plants (not an option as that would double the price) or wait until November. And it was already February. So like the sensible and organised person I am, I decided to be patient and wait until— haha yeah right.

I actually decided to go for it and get it done ASAP because I’m the queen of leaving things until the last second. Er, tune in next time for panicked scrambling…?

 

Gardening: level 1 newb

Umm, hello! I guess this is a thing, then.

I never thought a gardening blog was something I’d ever do- the ‘garden’ at the current family home is a concrete car park except for a smallish raised bed that, until the middle of last year, was mostly just used to pile firewood on.

So this is all a little weird to me. My family and I are currently in the process of moving to a house with a large garden- by my standards anyway- and I’ve sort of taken responsibility for it. I’m starting this blog to help motivate myself and… well, given my utter lack of experience with this stuff? There are probably going to be some hilarious mistakes, tears and tantrums along the way here.

I’m both excited and intimidated to get going! Excited because I’ve always wanted a wildlife garden full of bee- and bird-friendly plants, and maybe a pond. Last year I tried to make something of that little raised bed and caught the gardening bug pretty badly, even though I didn’t really do that much.

Intimidated because this is a really huge project to take on and honesty I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. The garden hasn’t really been maintained for a long time, and it’s going to need a lot of work and TLC. Here’s the state it’s in right now….

Overgrown and a bit sad. Unfortunately the top level is shortly going to disappear under a garage (ugh) but the rest is still going to be an undertaking! (There’s also the side area and front patio to eventually sort out, not pictured here.)

I’m going to be taking it one terrace section at a time, clearing and replanting with native plants (where possible) as time, weather and budget permits. I’ve got no idea if that’s the right way of doing it, but it’s the plan for now. It’s not going to be the most glamorous or perfect garden- the existing layout will be staying and I’ll be reusing/recycling as much as I can- I’m well aware that my ‘after’ is going to look a lot like a serious gardener’s ‘before.’ That’s okay, though. I’m much more interested in planting for wildlife than perfect flower beds!

Hopefully it’ll work out, but either way I’ll be posting my adventures in bumbling and googling my way through growing things here. I’ll also be posting smaller updates on Instagram!