Nearly three years ago we moved here, to Craiglockhart, Edinburgh, with great hopes for our first garden.
We hoped it would, in time, allow a degree of semi sufficiency in fruit and vegetables, provide flowers and foliage for my work as a florist, and give us a place to relax and escape.
Our canvas is a quarter acre square plot split roughly into three strips with the house making the meat in the sandwich. The house is perpendicular to a quiet cul de sac with the main garden spaces, one east and one west facing, each side of the house, and a narrow north strip of land edged by a lovely old stone wall.
When we moved in, much of the west facing side was dominated by four chaemecyparis of an enormous height and girth and another even larger relative that overshadowed the house and plot – which we had taken down swiftly to ease the claustrophobia and return some of the land. The east side of the garden was bordered by a twelve foot high and ten foot thick laurel hedge obscuring the view of the seasonally beautiful wooded hill and encroaching on our potential growing space. The garden was mainly lawn with a few shrub borders.
And so we got to thinking. We would like to be able to grow our own vegetables, compost our waste, lounge in private in the sun, hide from the sun in some dappled light, have some smaller trees near the house where we could feed and watch the birds, hang the washing out in the breeze… We want to eat alfresco with friends and family when the summer allows and enjoy some intimate spaces whilst encompassing some extroverted space. We would like a sense of surprise. All the usual requests of a small suburban garden.
If we could create something of Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose by Singer Sargent here in this small garden, the atmosphere of such gentle femininity heightened by those heady scents and massaged by the wonders of such exotic shapes. A little of the wildness of the west coast, the scent of the bracken, the crush of the pine needles underfoot, the joy of the moorland with its robust textural carpets of heather, mounds of blae berries and birch. Sun bleached grasses waving in the breeze. Then there are the fairy glens of Brankyn, Ardkinglas and Crarae deep in my being from childhood visits. Places of magic and mystery that we both love. Might we be able to capture the feel of these in our garden?
Where to begin?
We both took the summer off and began by lowering the hedge and reducing its depth by a meter and a half helping extend our views over the valley to Craiglockhart Hill.
Next came the hire of the turf lifter which was unworkable on the clay and had us resorting to old fashioned spade cutting which is slower but more effective and gradually we lifted every blade of grass and turned their faces to the ground in neat piles for the worms to do their thing. After trying with the drill to break up the compacted soil we hired a mini digger and set about digging up the old paths and re-levelling areas, whilst raising others.
Seven and half tonnes of manure from the zoo – rhinoceros and antelope mainly, sixteen builders bags of council green compost, over a hundred wheel barrows of a kind neighbour’s leaf mould and we got to shovelling and mixing.
We couldn’t be without the loan of a neighbour’s mattock, the generosity of friends gifting plants, we broke two spade handles, got through a few chain saw chains and earned a few blisters that summer.
That was just the start of it all…
To see how it’s all turned out, read the second part of Monica’s gardening journey next month