Step Sitting Required

Karen's visit and James' talk last week have given me much food for thought about my garden. I've been feeling dissatisfied all year: it's 10 years old and much of the planting is well past its sell by date. Despite much step sitting (the place where I do much of my thinking about the garden) I haven't come up with much of a plan apart from taking out the two over large conifer trees (framing the above photo) and ripping out all the planting at the bottom of the garden.

Having blogged and read continuously about gardening for 3 years, I feel like I have gained so much new knowledge about plants and styles, but without the expertise needed to use them well in my garden. I'm also struggling with a space which goes from deep shade on one side to baked Mediterranean in less than 15 metres.

So it was good to have someone here to look things over with less jaded eyes. Karen and I spent quite a lot of time mulling over what James had said too. We agreed that the 'hard stuff' was looking pretty good, so the basic structure I have in place is OK. I've decided not to have a water feature in my garden because I have the sound of the stream going past the side, so the 'wet stuff' doesn't need much attention either.

The two areas needing lots more thought are the 'soft stuff' (plants) and 'other people's stuff'. With the latter James spoke about the need to carefully and gradually blend the garden into what lies beyond. When he said that I realised that's working quite well at the bottom of my garden. You can hardly tell there's a fence plus 2 compost bins there and the greenery blends with the hedges of my neighbours. So ripping out all the shrubs down there isn't the solution after all.

I still need a better use of layers down there though, so perhaps removal of some of the shrubs like the thorny Berberis and the hidden Kilmarnock willow will provide some room to introduce some colour and different levels. I'm also considering a border of wavy grass to provide some unity and lightness, like the strands of silver leaved edging plants I used there when I first planted up the garden. Karen thinks I need to make better use of my focal points like the pictured shed too. I've thought about adding a Sedum roof to it, but I need to persuade NAH as well as researching which plants are suitable for under a shady birch tree.

This means I need to look elsewhere for the main injection of colour I think the garden needs. Karen's suggested digging up half of the lawn and putting in a large curved bed which will hide both the gravel path and some of the planting at the bottom of the garden. I think she's right, but I'm struggling to come up with ideas for its execution and the means to persuade NAH that such a bold move is the way forward.

It looks like lots more step sitting is required...


  1. I think Karen is right. To me the shed is too dominant and your eye is pulled right to the back of the garden. If you have a border in front of it - maybe with grasses and mixed perennials it would help distract from the shed and the lighter planting style would be a good contrast to the denseness of the shrubs behind. Use the shrubs as a backdrop

  2. Can you tell him he won't have so much lawn to cut? Love the idea of the sedum roof - they provide colour in themselves.

  3. Ah I see you have really experienced the true Karen visit! She never comes here without my wandering about with new eyes. Fabulous isn't it? And you are right, she is usually right.

  4. I think 10 years is some sort of tipping point - I've spent the past 18 months gradually trying to reclaim my own garden from planting that was wonderful for ages but has long since outgrown its beauty. Plus I've learnt more, changed my tastes and "met" more plants that I want to grow. The removal of a chunk of lawn to create a new border sounds wonderful, I've never regretted getting rid of my own. I actually really like your shed, enveloped in greenery, and with the addition of more layers and some pretty woodland flowers I think it could become magical, and all the more mysterious if the approach is a little obscured by the new border. Hope you enjoy your step-sitting and planning!

  5. PG - for most of the time the shed doesn't dominate as I've got screens of tall plants in front of it on the terraced beds. The over tall conifers do a good job of screening it too. It's only when I sit on the steps that it's so obvious. My original design had taller trellis in front so we could grow more climbers, but NAH preferred the lower ones! I'm also thinking about reinstating the archway I had in the original design...

    Lu - I think that is only only argument that'll work. I'd love a Sedum roof but I'm worried we'd have problems with birch seedlings (as well as it being too shady) to make it a viable idea

    Elizabethm - it was so good to talk to someone who is not only a talented gardener but has no 'baggage' associated with the garden!

    Janet - that's just it - changing tastes and meeting lots of new plants. My head's now overstuffed with ideas! The border to the right is already a woodland one as it's shaded by the trees on the public land next to it. I'm borrowing those trees (ie other people's stuff) most heavily as they make my garden seem so much bigger. It's about the only border I don't want to change at the moment!

  6. I love the combination of black bamboo, varigated dogwood and small grasses for gradations in height and colour plus winter interest - especially if you strip the lower leaves off the bamboo once the stals have turned black after their second year in the ground.

  7. During your step sitting you are making one enormous assumption - that James knows what he is talking about!
    Do what makes you happy.

  8. i have little use for lawns, so digging up half of it is right up my alley. i also like the idea of using decorative grasses to add interest. when looking to what softens a gardens' outline, i find peonies do it for me. oh so much luck in convincing nah to dig up the grass...

  9. NG - sounds great. I've found black bamboo to be rather invasive on my allotment so I need to dig it out!

    James - you do make me laugh. Of course you know what you're talking about. Doing what makes me happy is so fundamental, I forgot to mention it!

    Petoskystone - I'm known for my aversion to grass, so there'll be a lot of shocked people out there after they've read this!

  10. (Note to self - stop going around other peoples gardens and suggesting they dig up their lawns and plant grasses).

    I think when you have removed the two trees you will have a very clear idea of what is right for you - I think that half the fun is the planning - and James is right - do what makes you happy.
    It WAS fun to go through all the possibilities with you

  11. Karen - you're very welcome to advise me anytime :) Sometimes talking things through with someone is just what's needed :)

  12. I also feel that I am looking out on a past its sell buy date garden too and wish that I could rewind the clock by some years :) Good luck with making plans for the future and executing them in due course ~ James's advice sounds an excellent rule of thumb to follow.

  13. I'm with Karen and Helen. Dig up the lawn! (Mind you, Will Giles has just told me to do the same thing and my reaction was oo-er!)
    Which do you enjoy growing more - grass (as in lawn) or flowers and shrubs? I'm guessing the latter. So, make more space for them.
    What about turning the usual arrangement on its head and instead of having a lawn surrounded by borders, have a border surrounded by lawn? )You'd still keep the existing borders around the edge, obviously. Let's not go mad!)
    In other words, you'd have a large - large - island bed in the middle, which would give you lots of scope for plants of different heights and textures, with a wide lawn walk around it.
    @Karen: Can you come and stay with me please?

  14. Anna - I think once the trees have gone I'll be able to think more clearly

    Victoria - now we know why you've been working so hard and not blogging! Congratulations on the launch of the i :)

    I've just been outside step sitting (before it atarted to rain) mulling over your idea. I like it...

  15. Just popped back and I have to say - I like Victorias idea and I could see that working well for you!!

    @Victoria - yes love to come and stay next time I am in your neck of the woods!!!



  16. Karen - I think it'd work well too - just a matter of persuading NAH!


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