Garden Progress

May Madness, Mayhem and Wildflower Meadows

Yesterday we sowed a wildflower meadow in our back garden. Which sounds very simple but it’s been over a month of hard work in preparation. At the same time we had scaffolding put up around the entire house for new windows, guttering and fascia boards as well as some chimney and roof repairs. A busy household of men who were powered by sugared tea (we ran out of sugar!).

Scaffolding in place
Scaffolding in place

Last time I wrote here, we were getting ready for a delivery of two tonnes of reclaimed stone, to build a stone retaining wall which would replace the log one already in place. The stone was delivered at the bottom of our very steep drive on a sunny morning in early May. I moved it, a couple of stones at a time, off the public path to a few metres up the drive, Roger then wheelbarrowed it up to the back garden. It was very hot work.

Roger then had fun creating a giant jigsaw, choosing stones from the spread on the lawn to build a wall. He did a dry run first, before cementing anything in.

Back garden before May work
Back garden before all of the work done in May. Dry run of the retaining wall.

Roger had booked a week of “holiday” from work to build the wall and prepare the garden for the wildflower meadow. I started a new job the day the scaffolding went up (not on purpose, it was just one of those things) which added to the mayhem, so it was all down to him. Hardly a rest, and he’d also declined an offer of a week on the beach in Spain! The weather here was the best we could ask for, so the hard work continued.

Drainage in place
Drainage in place
Wall almost complete
Wall almost complete, just the coping stones to be put into place.

The wall looks fabulous, even better the the original stone retaining walls throughout our front and back gardens. But that wasn’t the end, next on the list was removing the uneven turf. Roger hired a petrol driven turf cutter but it was still incredibly hard work due to the incline, unevenness and compacted clay soil. We decided to keep the lower lawn and will try to revive it into something that actually resembles a lawn! [Our original plan was to make this into a low growing wildflower meadow that would only need cutting about every 3 weeks.]

Now it was time to lay some stepping stones through the meadow to the raised bed at the end of the garden. It was another job very well done.

Stepping stones laid
Stepping stones to the raised bed at the end of the garden

Next job…to turn over the hard compacted soil to remove the remains of the turf and weeds, and as it turned out, glass, rocks and old brick wall! I was able to help with this by the end of the week. Back breaking!!! We eventually finished it Sunday morning. I then raked it over as level as I could. Finally, it was time to sow the seed.

First I divided the area into equal(ish) sections. I couldn’t find my metre stick or any string, so I used a broom and a ball of wool.

Dividing up the area ready to sow wildflower meadow seeds
Dividing up the area ready to sow wildflower meadow seeds

I’d ordered native wildflower meadow seed for clay soil from Meadowmainia. It contains 21 wildflowers and 7 grasses. It’s a bit late to sow this year but I’m sure something will come up and we can expect a better meadow next year. I’m excited to see it developing over the years. I’m prepared to add plug plants if necessary. Best of all, it only needs to be strimmed/mowed twice a year.

I had 12 sections marked out. so I divided the seed into 6, then 12, in the conservatory. A red damselfly joined me!

I tried to sow the seed as evenly as I could but it was harder than I expected. I may well have a patchy meadow! After sowing I trod over each section. This was also harder than I expected and took a lot longer than I thought it would. We were expecting rain. The BBC said 1pm, then 3pm, then 7pm, then 11pm. So I soaked the area with the hose, to encourage germination, late evening as the rain didn’t look like it would arrive. It did eventually rain very lightly but barely anything. Only a few miles miles away, it rained hard and places became flooded. How lucky are we this week and this weekend?!

This is how our back garden looks now.

Waiting for the wildflower meadow seed to germinate
Wildflower meadow seed sown and trodden in – phew!

We are very happy!

The neighbours have been very complimentary.

Which leaves today, Bank Holiday Monday, free for a motorbike ride.

Garden Progress

Weeding, Planting, Bees and Bikes

After my enthusiastic start on the front garden in February, progress has been slow, mostly due to frozen ground, high winds and snow.

February saw me clear the bed at the bottom of the drive, order some woodland plants and plant them. The snowdrops made a brave attempt to flower despite being covered in snow several times. One Snakeshead Fritillary flowered beautifully before losing it’s lovely purple colour after the last covering of snow. But the remainder are definitely growing, as are the bluebells, but I’m not sure I’ll see any flowers until next year.

At the same time as working on the woodland bed I started at the very top of the main front garden, which is on a steep slope and tiered. My plan is to tidy all the tiers up, see what pops up over the summer, add a couple more shrubs and plant some herbs.

Herb and Shrub Plan
Herb and Shrub plan and shopping list

One of our first jobs when we moved in was to clean the windows. Not an easy task with the house on a steep slope as it’s difficult to find safe places to put up ladders. Even the local window cleaner refused! So, the shrubs at the very top of the garden needed cutting back to allow a ladder to anchor into the soil.

Shrubs at the very top
Shrubs had to be cut back to allow space for a ladder in order to clean the windows

I can’t wait to see the twiggy one come into leaf, there are plenty of small buds. It looks like it has an amazing colour in the autumn, if not the summer too.

A few days later I was able to get out into the garden again. Now those two shrubs were cut back I could tackle the weeds underneath them.

Whoever created this tiered garden put in a lot of work. Each layer has a weed suppressing membrane covering the soil with a few inches of bark on top. It must have been done many years ago as most of the bark has decomposed and the membrane just tears when it’s touched. Needless to say, the weeds are growing through. It soon became apparent that as much of the membrane as possible needed removing in order to dig out the deep weed roots. It was going to be a slow project.

I now have a process – weed the top layer and then move it to a cleared section. Pull up the membrane (which rips away in small bits) and dig out the weed roots, then put the top layer back. Much to my surprise, it’s very satisfying!

Looking down on the tiered garden
Lots of work to be done!

Whenever I needed a break, I pulled out all the old Crocosmia leaves. I like Crocosmia very much but it does spread everywhere. This is the case in my new garden, so I’m digging out lots of Crocosmia bulbs with the weeds, on purpose!

Croscosmia die back behind white Heather
I think the Crocosmia needs to be tidied up!

Once I’d weeded around the top two shrubs, I moved down to the next tier and ended up with a bare patch, crying out for another plant. So off we went to the garden centre, returning with a Mahonia. I love it’s spiky looking leaves which contrast well with the more regular shaped leaves of the other shrubs. Next winter I should have some beautiful yellow flowers to match the yellow in the leaves of it’s neighbours.

Mahonia
Newly planted Mahonia

Then came the “Beast from the East”. Twice!

No more work on the garden until last weekend, when the sun came out and I got warm enough to strip down to a T-shirt!

The poor Mahonia looks a bit worse for wear, with browning leaves. I think it may have winter burn. It hadn’t had chance to properly settle in. I’m keeping an eye on it and hoping it’ll recover.

Continuing my process – clear top layer, pull up membrane, dig out roots, put top layer back – I ended up with another gap. I had two small lavenders and a rosemary waiting to be planted out. So in went one of the lavenders. Although the soil is quite heavy, it’s very well drained, due to the steep slope, so I’m hoping any lavenders I plant will thrive. Next door has quite a few, which look a bit sad after the snow but they were lovely in December when we moved in.

Lavender and Mahonia
Found space for a Lavender

Sitting on the wall to admire my work, I realised there were lots of bees in the Heather. I was sooooooo happy! Bees and Butterflies, the name and inspiration for this blog. I want to attract wildlife into both the front and back gardens, especially bees and butterflies. And here were the bees!!! Unfortunately no matter how still and patient I was with my iPhone camera, I couldn’t capture a photo of any of the bees.

Then came another first for this year.

The gardening tools were put away, and the motorbikes came out. A ride out into Derbyshire to enjoy the sunshine, the never boring scenery (no matter how many times we see it), spotting new lambs and getting a bit chilly at the top of Snake Pass which had only been reopened a few days ago. There was more snow up there than I expected and the small lake/mountain pond was iced over.

What a lovely day. Here’s to many more beautiful days ahead, sharing my time between gardening and motorbike riding.

Pure Pleasure
Motorbike adventures or gardening?