I am, quite simply, chuffed to bits with our London garden right now. At times the transformation of our boggy, heavily shaded ‘lawn’ into a woodland garden, complete with winding gravel path, almost defeated us. There was sweat, there was toil and there were tamtrums. Removing sack after sack of clay subsoil laced with lumps of tarmac, through a block of flats in the heat of the summer, is not to be recommended. Nor will you find many gardening books that support the planting of perennials during the heat of August.
However, the results have been nothing short of remarkable – to me anyway. The once impenetrable soil, now picked of stones, tarmac and the worst clods of subsoil, has been enriched with composted bracken and good old blood, fish and bone. Digging has created a tilth which is still permanently damp and heavy, but now rich and workable too. More compost and grit will be needed as time goes by. The soil level has been raised by 6-8 inches, creating a top layer which is much better drained. The worm population seems to have rocketed overnight. Mr Robin is almost as delighted as I am. And the poor, neglected plants that spent April until August cooped up in black plastic pots on the terrace are putting on a huge growth spurt.
Summer planting is a bit risky on dry soils, but our plants’ roots have relished a run through the cool moist earth before winter arrives. I’ve already planted hundreds of spring bulbs and there will be more to follow. And to top things off, two weeks ago a neighbouring tree which cast a light and rain shadow over one corner of the garden was taken down, leaving our magnolia in splendid isolation and with new directions in which to send its elegant branches.
Before we started work I am ashamed to say I had very little interest in this part of the garden. It all seemed rather hopeless. Now I am out there first thing in the morning and as soon as I get home from work, contemplating new garden furniture, outdoor lighting, and naturally more plants. It demonstrates what we all know in our hearts, that it’s better to get stuck in than to put things off.
If what we’ve created makes me happy now, it will do so all the more as plants and shrubs mature. It’s opened up new possibilities in terms of things we can grow, our coastal garden being warmer, sunnier and on much lighter soil. No possibility of candelabra primulas there! And now this part looks better, it spurs us on to tackle the back of the garden, where our decking is starting to resemble something out of a haunted house. A challenge we might once have put off, but which now seems achievable before spring comes around again.