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The Reclaimed Garden

I've been rather tied up for the last 4 years volunteering full time at a local charity (and I mean full time - 7 days a week, all day and half the night) and consequently have totally neglected my own garden. Not clipped the box hedges. Not pruned the fruit trees. Not weeded. Nothing.

Romantically, through my rose-tinted specs, I like to think of my garden as at the point just after when Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger and the castle grounds become swamped in thorns and brambles hiding the castle from passers by. The reality is that a visit to the opticians is long overdue and the garden actually resembles railway wasteland. Eternally optimistic, I'm excited about trying to recover my garden, and hoping that there is a real Sleeping Beauty hiding beneath the brambles.

Frankly I've no idea where to start, everywhere I look something is crying out to be done. There are nasty pernicious weeds that will need some serious action, amongst less-problematic, but equally ubiquitous, annual weeds. There is a proper wood trying to grow, with self-sown birches, willows and ash trees. All it needs is a few oak seedlings and Sherwood forest could reclaim the area. There are untrained fruit trees and rampant climbers, a pond that's forgotten it's supposed to have water in it and a lawn that has more moss and weeds holding it together than blades of actual grass.

I can't abide wasting anything and so if I can find a use for any of the things that I'm going to have to move or get rid of, then I shall do. The problem with this is that I want to hold onto things until I can use them - so I delay pruning until I have a use for the offcuts. I want to use all the box clippings for event foliage, the bramble stems in wreaths and the birch in everything from plant supports, to bouquet fillers and wreath materials. I need to stop using my garden as if it was some kind of enormous larder for my flower smithery, and do things at the right time in the calendar. Like that's going to happen......

The garden was originally laid out about 17 years ago. It's a garden where once there was a farmyard, and at least two thirds of the north-facing "front" garden was actually hard-standing and we had to dig down and then import 100's of tons of topsoil (some of which came from the "new" power station site at Rolleston!" to give us a garden. In places, the soil is very shallow, only a foot deep at most. This front garden was divided into borders, lawn, a shallow pond (for the swallows) and a fruit and veg garden.

The back garden is an enclosed courtyard, a south-facing suntrap, but with the majority of the planting area in the shade of the back walls. It is home to the old pig shed, and when it rained, when the cattle were in, could be filled with up to a foot-deep of cattle-poo sludge and rain water. We know this from our wonderful next door neighbour, Hubert, who once farmed the land, like his father before him. The "beasts" as he calls them, have long-gone, with their poo, and we have planted a garden in their place.

So come with me as I attempt to reclaim this jungle, and I hope to give hope to any of you out there with over-grown wildernesses. I hope to tell the garden's story, and share ideas and thoughts, plant profiles and design details. I'd very much like to hear your reclaimed garden stories too - all help gratefully accepted!

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