Living in a townhouse overlooking a 19th Century dock in London, and the proud owner of a pot-plant patio about 7ft square, I was very happy with my little corner of the universe, but I had always wanted a garden. When I decided to move into the Chester area after a two-year holiday in Aberdovey, the item on the top of my wish-list was that long-dreamed-for proper garden. A nice big one, with a gorgeous lawn and lovely wide flower borders. Be careful what you wish for 🙂
When I first bought the house in Churton over a year before moving in to it, the garden was in a state of serious neglect, much to the distress of the previous owner. Ivy, holly and stinging nettles were running absolute riot and it was all more than a little overwhelming. As to the lawn, it is certainly green but there’s a lot more going on than grass, including moss, buttercups, daisies and clover. The bees love it.
After the first excitement of having a big garden wore off, it was all terribly daunting but as soon as we started to tackle it, every few hours of work made a major difference. I say “we” because this became a team project. My father, an experienced owner of old houses and big gardens, set to work on the garden with a vengeance, with a bit of help from me before lockdown set in (I was living in Aberdovey when the pandemic hit), and a major contribution by a small team of regular helpers under his direction: In particular, Nigel, Joe, and James, building on some heavy duty clearance of chaos by Chris, Sean and Joe. Sean is still in charge of the ongoing care of my lawn, such as it is, and Joe is still bashing my garden into submission.
Chris, Sean and Joe demolished endless, densely networked carpets of ground ivy and nettles with metal-bladed brush cutters; Nigel and James set about digging out an incomprehensible amount of concrete, bricks and other rubble, including a national collection of golf balls (we stopped counting at 50), abandoned hanging baskets (I stopped counting at 19), armfuls of plastics including a a bewildering number of candy wrappers, before landscaping and profiling the result; Dad hacked down a jungle of brambles, released fruit trees from captivity, broke up compacted beds, separated roses from holly bushes, and pruned the results; and Joe began to weed ferociously, improved the quality of the soil, extended existing flower beds, dug new ones and deployed red sandstone edging everywhere that the lawn met the beds. We began to recover all of those hidden gems that had made up someone’s lovely vision of the garden in the dim and distant past.
We found a rose bed that when we arrived had been completely concealed by holly and sambucus. We discovered forgotten pathways that had once run at the back of the flower beds, found a hideously overgrown paved path behind the garage and revealed some truly gorgeous specimen trees and shrubs that were hemmed in by the garden’s characteristic invaders: ivy, nettles, holly and an impressive range of gigantic weeds. Just thinning things out started to let in more light, and the impact of that was remarkable. Dad hard-pruned all the roses, which looked a bit forlorn for a year but wow – they are now amazing.
Eventually, we were in a position to start planting, and for me the learning curve hit a new level as we divided the garden for planting purposes into shade, dry shade, partial shade, partial sun and full sun and I began to dig holes like a crazed rabbit, putting my carefully selected plants into them with plenty of root and plant feed and bagfulls of compost.
When I at last moved in, in early 2021, the garden was not merely recognizable as a garden, but beginning to be a lovely one. We have dug in so much compost, chicken pellets, bonemeal and mycorrhizal that some of the dwarf delphiniums that my father grew from seed are now quite literally as tall as me (5ft 6 / 168cm). Not really very dwarf 🙂 I had planted them at the front of a bed, thinking that they would be no more than a foot or so tall. Even my father was fairly staggered! The mission continues to be the provision of all-year colour, especially in the north-facing borders, to provide more structure to the design, and to encourage butterflies, bees, birds and hedgehogs into the garden. There is still so much left to do, but we’re all rather pleased with the progress.
How my mother would have loved it all.