Can you dig it?

The current state of play

The current state of play

When we moved into this house we inherited a beautiful garden packed with a wonderful array of shrubs, flowers, heathers and firs, all planted in raised beds on a number of different levels. We arrived in early summer when it was a controlled kaleidoscope of colours – no plant too large, nothing overpowering, nothing unsightly. Everything grew beautifully and we enjoyed many evenings sitting outside with a glass of wine simply admiring it.

The first thing we killed was a lovely, miniature variegated tree that stood alone, growing through the gravelled area on the mid-level. It looked like something you’d find in a Japanese ornamental garden.

Well, I guess we pruned it too heavily and, when I used weedkiller to get rid of the grass that had begun to poke through the gravel, some must have got into the poor thing’s roots. It went rather anaemic then the leaves fell out and never grew back. I pulled it up and threw it on our compost heap.

I must confess, we were always rather half-hearted when it came to tending the garden and, with the arrival of children, the time we were prepared to dedicate to hauling out buttercups became even more limited. Gradually the weeds began to take over. Each year another selection of plants would fail to emerge through the jungle of long grasses, sticky willy and other intrusive species.

It was a little depressing to look back at pictures of how it used to be and, occasionally I’d embark on a frantic mission to win back the borders. But it was always in vain. Two hours of maniacal weeding on a Sunday afternoon, once a month simply wasn’t enough. This garden needed half an hour of attention every day to maintain order.

This past winter, Jessie (wife) made a decision that something needed to be done. She suggested we dug up most of the borders and turned a large portion of this section of the garden into lawn. At the time, I remember looking out nervously from our conservatory window.

“Do you have any idea how much work that would be?” I said.

“Yes, I suppose there will be a bit of digging required,” she replied.

A bit of digging! A bit of bloody digging! Nobody has used a spade so extensively since Hercules had that horrible day at the Augean stables way back when.

Firstly I had to get rid of the gravel that covered all the walkways and gaps between the raised beds. I should point out: this part of our garden is highly inaccessible, difficult even to get a wheelbarrow into and out of. So I began to fill a large bucket with the gravel, take it to a point where the wheelbarrow would reach, fill it then wheel it round to the front of the house where I used it to replace the gravel lost from our drive through years of floods and snows.

This first, supposedly (according to Jessie,) straightforward section of the project was quite hard work. I would estimate some 50 barrow-loads of gravel. At first it was ok as the gravel was easy to scoop up. It became more difficult as I came to the harder to reach corners. Plastic sheets had been laid down under the gravel and these tucked under great rocks bounding the edges of the borders. These had, in turn, become embedded in the earth over the years.

Anyway, you’re starting to get the picture. Suffice to say, I have a very sore back and my golf swing has gone to pot as a result. I’ve broken a spade and two garden forks. I’ve dug up the roots of a pretty sizeable tree; I’ve cut down two smaller trees with an axe; I’ve uncovered a wall and dug down two or three feet to level an area of 10 square metres or so; I’ve dug out two huge rockeries and shifted all the rocks, cut through roots and searched through the earth to save the bulbs – no we didn’t want to lose them did we darling? Perhaps we could build a rockery at the other end of the garden? I’ve done more raking than an Olympic long jump official and twice had to turn over the whole lot, as it’s become a swamp after huge downpours of rain.

Now, at last, it’s pretty much finished and ready to sow grass seed on. It better bloody work.

Where next?

More on life – Click here then scroll down for earlier tales of woe. 


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