We have six or seven small areas of garden. Three have grassy lawns. Most are partly semi-shade or full-shade under wide-spreading oaks, beeches or chestnuts.
All of them are located at the edge of a wild wood abundant with wildlife and bird song. Two springs ago in 2010, they were all either mature with messy flowering shrubs - plants like hebe or with large wild ivies, huge thorns pulling down fences. Some areas were taken over by weeds, or had no form of life, in the shady parts. The lawns were two feet tall with weeds. There were ugly paths and unpainted fences. Beds were completely hidden by grass - or mossy and empty.
Over the last two years, I have devoted most Saturdays afternoons after shopping, in spring and summer, to creating a natural "character" for each of them, based on what I found would grow in them. It has been an enjoyable struggle - bringing order to Nature.
I can now give them each a "name", though I am still nothing but a novice gardener. In shaping these mini gardens, I learned from two things: seeing what grew in
b) in neighbours' gardens (this tip comes from the Royal Horticultural Society)
Ferns seem to like this place. Hops thrive naturally in Kent. Next door they grow six feet - in three weeks. I am covering fences with golden hops, which grow about a foot a week, and shoot out large view-blocking leaves.
Ferns seed in the shade here, naturally, so I have added some ornamental ones. I found a native fresh green leafy, elegant "weed" in the shade which I replanted decoratively. I cut and then weeded by hand the two lawns (avoiding weedkiller) and sowed new grass seed.
Friends removed ugly fences for us and we covered some ugly paths with fake grass. I created a new lawn, the size of two double sheets using Patch Magic (which is wonderful) near the house.
Growing strawberries from seed in 2010 resulted in twenty plants which are perennials. All my other seeds failed. Initial handsome hostas, grown by students at Hadlow College, got badly eaten by slugs last year, but they resprouted vigorously this spring.
As a result we now have: "Roman Herb Garden", "Hosta walk", "Woodland Patch", "Strawberry dip", "Twitcher's Paradise", "Rockery", "Wood Walk" and "Back Garden".
"Roman Herb Garden" is next to the kitchen. It is a kitchen garden and tiny lawn. This comes from necessity because all my flowers were eaten by bugs. I made a feature of the stem of a twisted, savage, wild thorn tree and a flowering cherry tree offering, even now with pale ripening cherries. Overhanging is a "Roman" sweet chestnut, a tree not native to these shores and brought here by the Romans. So to continue the "Roman" theme, I planted resilient herbs in pots which are bug-resistant I can now step out and pluck fennel, rosemary, mint, three kinds of tyme, bay and basil for Italian dishes.
"Hosta walk" is now complete with five hostas thriving. They now have a beer trap filled with three day old "Duchy of Cornwall" beer!
We added to "Woodland Patch" those plants suited to shade and woodland.
"Strawberry dip" has just been created in the ditch next to the conservatory where I am growing strawberries on straw in huge grow bags : this area gets sun.
"Twitcher's Paradise" or "Bird Lawn" is a garden with two garden huts, large bird feeder, lawn and beds, with rampant honeysuckles and an unpruned pink rose. I nurtured grassy lawns for two years, through weekly weeding, mowing and daily watering, by hand. I just added flowering colour in pots and bedding plants.
I rescued two 50p dried-out heathers (from Homebase) for "Rockery" last year, planted them out - and now they are taking over.
Last week, I weeded the ivied "Wood Walk", moved "ornamental weed" and planted out woodland shade plants. All the plants there have pointed rubbery leaves : we have "a theme"!
Finally yesterday, I fully planted out "Back Garden" which is half decking. It is overhung by a coppiced sweet chestnut, creating a natural sun umbrella so its sun and shade pattern is complex. Honeysuckle grows painfully slowly so I added instant colour with many hanging baskets : bright splashes of pink "busy lizzies" and pink geraniums. I don't think bugs like geraniums - though I may be wrong.
The vegetable bed which nurtured my strawberry plants is now geometrically planted with busy lizzies in white and pink. Strawberries are divided into those for the birds, to soften the hard edge of the decking, and those for human consumption.
I wanted our semi-edible garden (sweet chestnuts, strawberries, herbs and cherries) to be shared by our friends : the joyful song birds.
Now all we need is sun to enjoy it. Alas!
(Photos coming later.....)