Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A New Year, A New Garden, A New Challenge

Five days before Christmas we moved to a new home with a smaller garden, close to the sea at Aberporth. For twenty years we'd gardened high on a hill on a smallholding in Ceredigion. It was a garden  prone to high winds, heavy frosts and the biggest slugs you ever did see. The summer temperatures varied from zero at night time and 28 during the day and as for the winter - well, it was a lot colder then.
This meant we were restricted to what we could grow. I dreamt of tall, stately cottage garden plants like hollyhocks, delphiniums, but I soon learnt that was not be. We made the garden at Ael Y Bryn beautiful but it was big, too big for John and I to manage as we reached our middle years. It was terribly sad to leave it but we look forward to the challenge of a new, more manageable garden and although we've been here for just six months we are already learning lessons. This new 'easy' garden isn't going to be as straight forward as we thought.

When we moved in the back was sadly overgrown but it was easy to see that it had once been a lovely garden. The end of 2015 ended horribly in a deluge of rain. We moved home on a dryish day and then it began again. In December everything was dormant, apart from a few valiant daffodils that were blooming. The lawn and path were under water after six months of relentless rain. I waited anxiously for the day we could step outside and begin the hack back the undergrowth and discover what lay beneath.
The area to the front of the shed was chock full of grasses; what had once been nice plants had sprawled and smothered surrounding specimens. John's first job was to dig them out and make about twelve trips to the local tip while I investigated the smaller beds and salvaged what I could. It was impossible to tell where the edges of the lawn were, the grass was thickly blended into the flower beds but I cut new edges, dug out massive weeds and roots, untangled creeping ivy and steadily filled barrows and buckets to be hauled to the tip. This taking stuff to the tip was a  new experience for us. At Ael Y Bryn we'd had plenty of space to dump stuff and wait for it to rot down. here we lacked the space, and missed the steady supply of of horse dung and years of compost for mulching.

Much of the existing planting was, and still is, new to us. We have never grown fatsia or magnolia, and our camelias were never a success before. Here we inherited two lovely big bushes, a white and a red, and a magnolia tree (not sure which variety) that we are pretty sure will never flower.
Our first experience of the fierce salt winds was a real eye opener. it blew like I'd never seen wind blow before and for three days we couldn't see out of the windows for the salt lay thickly on them. After that the leaves on the evergreens began to blacken and on some plants to drop off entirely. I grew homesick for Ael Y Bryn, where the hills cupped us in their arms and I now realised that the garden had been kinder than we thought.
It seemed to take forever for the spring to come. We worked outside on dry days, steadily clearing and tidying. The first largish job was to demolish a rather ugly seat that had been built from old breeze blocks and wood. We squared off the area, dug out the bramble roots, pulled up the nettles, laid membrane and gravel to make a seating area. Then we were fortunate enough to get our hands on a cheap second hand greenhouse. I had thought I could do without one but as spring warmed up I was bored without my trays of seedlings, my dustbin full of compost. The greenhouse I now have is much smaller than what I am used to but I am glad I have it. I now have tomatoes, cucumber, courgettes, peppers coming along, as well as some salad and a host of ornamentals.

By Easter it was a little more civilised but we still have a long way to go. After a very cold spell in April which we weren't expecting after so mild (if wet) a winter, everything stopped growing. Just as the blossom developed the winds whipped it off and the emerging buds crept back under the covers again.

Slowly, we are getting there. The brambles no longer snag at my ankles when I go to the compost bin, the old fallen branches, the piles and piles of debris has gone and I have a blank canvas, or as blank as I need it to be. I have salvaged what I can of the old garden, so it forms a skeleton for me to embellish.

Research has shown me that there are a wide range of plants that should thrive and I have formed a list. Over the coming months I shall be posting the list on here and keeping notes on what thrives, and what doesn't.

Agapanthus - the glorious African lilly that I have never been able to grow before.

Achillea - a tough, colourful addition to any border.

Aquilegia - a must plant for any garden, tough yet delicate.

Anemone - pretty, retiring in the spring, bouncing and vibrant in the late summer/early autumn.

Armeria - the tough little sea pink we see clinging to the cliff edge, does well in the garden too.

Astrantia - one of my favourites, lovely little cushion flowers on upright stems.

Aubretia - Can't have a seaside garden without it.

Azalea - vibrant springtime colour

Next time we look at the B list.