The planting has started!
Hopefully you’ve been following our story from the beginning, how we decided to transform our garden. In my last post I told you all about how we cleared the garden to prepare it. However, we still weren’t sure what to do next, it seemed such a lot of work. So we decided to start in one corner and work our way through the garden!
We made a rough plan or design (if you can call it that) in a notebook and talked about our ideas. This wasn’t a fancy design or anything like that, it was just a rough drawing, but it helps to get an idea of where you want to place things. The plan changed a few times but we were able to be flexible and it was ok to change our minds. It is our garden after all and some of the ideas came to us as we went along.
Start with a plan
So our plan looked like we were going to divide our garden into two. The first half of the garden was going to be quite formal and that created a problem straight away. How do you make a formal garden when the ground is not level and very bumpy? Formal gardens are all about straight lines and symmetry. Our garden was all about bumps and uneven ground. We came up with an idea and it involved using wooden sleepers to contain the beds. More about that in our next post, part 5, but for now I will tell you how we made a start by planting some Ceanothus shrubs along our fence.
Choosing the right plant
The fence on the right hand side of our garden belongs to our neighbour, so we thought it best to leave a little space between the fence and any planting, just in case next door decides to change the fence in future. If you plant anything to grow up a fence that belongs to a neighbour and the neighbour decides to change the fence over time, it could cause problems, so the best thing to do is to leave a small gap between the fence and any planting.
We went to one of our local garden centres, Woodcote Green, in Wallington, and had a look at their shrubs. My husband had this idea of planting a Ceanothus hedge along the fence. The idea came from an existing Ceanothus shrub that we have on the opposite side. This shrub is evergreen so it looks good in winter, but the real magic happens in spring, when it suddenly burst into a firework of deep blue blossoms that the bees absolutely love.
The right plant in the right place
Choosing the right plants for your garden is important. Different plants have different requirements so you wouldn’t plant a cactus that needs hot sunshine and dry weather in a garden that’s shady, cold and wet. It just wouldn’t thrive or even die. (Trust me, I’ve made plenty of those kind of mistakes). You can find out how to choose the right plants for your garden in our handy guide.
Ceanothus are also called Californian Lilac and they like rich soil but it needs to drain well. Avoid planting it anywhere too wet and it’s also best sheltered from wind. In our case, we have heavy clay soil so whenever we plant anything that likes good drainage, we add sand or grit to the soil to improve the drainage. As the hedge is planted along the fence, this was a good choice as regards shelter from wind. So now we had chosen the right plant for the right place, we went ahead and ordered 5 of these beauties.
We chose fairly large plants. Whenever possible, if you want your garden to look established, buy the largest plants that you can afford. The garden centre sold small Ceanothus plants for a fraction of the price that we paid for the large ones, but they would have taken ages to grow into a hedge and wouldn’t have hidden the fence for quite some years. So as we decided to not go on holiday and do the garden instead, we splashed out on 5 foot high plants and got them delivered to our house.
We put the plants roughly in the place that we thought they ought to go so that we could get an idea of the final look. We were excited by this stage and couldn’t wait to plant them!
Preparing the bed
Before they got delivered, we started to prepare the bed where we planned on planting them. My wonderful husband removed a rectangle shaped large size of lawn which we cut into sods and layered in another corner of the garden. In time this will rot down and you can use this soil in other areas of your garden.
After the patch of lawn was gone, we removed any big stones (and rubbish that the previous tenant of the house had buried in the garden – seriously, what was that all about?) and raked it to remove smaller stones and weeds. And then we got the big guns out. We bought a rotavator from Argos, which made the job so much easier. The rotavator is a Qualcast 800W and was ideal for our job. There are lots of rotavators on the market, a good idea is to read the reviews and pick the one most suitable for your needs, and your budget.
It wasn’t all plain sailing because the ground wasn’t level and there were lots of stones that had to be removed first. But half an hour later, another rake-over, and the bed looked ready for planting.
Now we needed to give the plants in their pots a good soak before planting in their permanent homes. We dug a hole big enough to take the shrub and mixed in some bone meal to give the roots a boost. This helps establish them quicker.
We made sure we measured equal distances between each shrub and mixed in bone meal with the soil. Then we placed each shrub in the hole and filled it in with soil and some compost. Then we gave it a good drink of water.
All in all this took us a whole day, which was quicker than we expected, and the worst was lifting the turf and preparing the bed. Digging the holes wasn’t easy with our heavy clay soil but once it was done we felt a real sense of achievement! We were on our way to transform our garden! I feel I should mention that most of the heavy digging and rotavating was done by my lovely husband Darren. My role was more of a supervisory nature and of course I kept us hydrated with lots of tea and coffee.
5 Top Tips that we have learned
- Make a plan. This can be a rough drawing or notes on a piece of paper but it helps to organise your thoughts. Be flexible and make changes along the way, don’t feel that you have to stick to the plan either. There will be times where your plan turns out to not be practical or not achievable in certain parts of the garden, so being flexible and finding alternatives is a must!
- Choose the right plants. I always get carried away when I go to garden centres and fall in love with a plant, only to find that it isn’t winter hardy or it doesn’t thrive in clay soil. It is so important to adapt your planting to your garden environment. Your garden centre should be able to advise you, or read our handy guide to choosing the right plants for your garden.
- Make sure you know your boundaries! Find out which fence belongs to you and which belong to your neighbour. You can plant anything against your own fence, but if the fence isn’t yours, it is a good idea to think about what you want to plant. You might plant a beautiful climber along a fence which will need tying in with wire and then your neighbour informs you that he is replacing the fence. It would be best not to tie anything against it. But if you want to cover a fence that’s unsightly, you could grow a hedge or suitable plants against it, but leave a small gap so a fence replacement wouldn’t be a problem.
- If you want your garden to look established (the instant garden look), buy the biggest plants you can afford. By that I mean it’s best to buy plants that are well established. We could have bought small Ceanothus shrubs for far less money but they would have taken a long time to grow to the size we wanted in order to hide the fence. Bigger, more established plants are more expensive but they also tend to establish much quicker and easier in the garden.
- Get to know your soil and ways to improve it. Before planting anything it is always a good idea to improve the soil and to match it to the requirements of your plants.
Fast forward only a year later and I thought I’d show you all what these 5 plants looked like this spring. We filled in the bed and created a path as you can see so a lot has changed!
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading about our first steps to achieve our garden transformation. Stay tuned to find out how we progressed!
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