I have been very remiss about this blog – it was unintentional, but we had builders in and we had to move out. The garden was utterly banjaxed and I hadn’t the heart to write about it. The good news is that gardens and plants are very resilient, and despite the best efforts of the workmen, builder’s sand, concrete, empty cans and milk cartons, custard cream packets and bits of tools, rubble and plastic scattered and buried everywhere, the garden is on its way back. This is not to say it was easy, on the contrary, it has been back-breaking work getting the garden back into shape and I won’t be posting any pics of the back garden until next year, when it looks a bit better, but it looks like a garden again, as opposed to a war zone.
If, like us, you are practically bankrupt after building works, and can’t afford to get in professionals to fix up the garden, here a few things I learnt along the way:
- Preparation is key. In the months before the build start planning. I began a year in advance and dug up my precious snowdrops and more special spring bulbs. Remove and pot up any precious plants and anything you wish to keep and pot up. Propagate favourites and have a good think about what you really want to keep growing. It is a good opportunity to have a rethink about what you like and what sort of garden you want to have. Either remove the pots from site altogether (ask friends and family to store them for you if necessary), or put in a spot in the garden, out of the way and cordon it off. Tell you builders in no uncertain terms that they are not to put any machinery or rubble there and to stay well away from this spot.
- Instruct your builder and architect – all topsoil removed in excavating for foundations is not to be taken off-site. Ask them to pile it somewhere so you can reuse it later.
- If your works necessitate removal of existing slabs or bricks on paths or patios tell the builders to lift them carefully without damaging them and again, store them somewhere on site. Despite their inevitable protests and words to the contrary, they can be used again later.
- Hire a skip or skip bag and clear anything you no longer want; get rid of broken garden furniture, old pots etc. so you won’t return and have to face another clear out.
- When you move back the garden will be destroyed. Accept this fact, live with it and psychologically the trauma will be easier to bear.
- Before you do anything you need to clear the space thoroughly. Hire another skip or skip bag. You will find detritus everywhere, buried in the ground, under trees and shrubs.
- Mark out your beds and paths.
- The ground will be dreadfully compacted from the heavy machinery and plant used in the build, so you will need to break up the soil again. Use a fork to loosen it, and look out for any spring bulbs – if you don’t damage them they will, amazingly after all they have been through, return to flower another day.
- When the beds have been prepared you can spread the topsoil you have saved up.
- Relay paths and terracing or patios. We were incredibly lucky as we found a friend who worked tirelessly on the hard landscaping for us. We had quotes of up to €7,000 to relay our plain concrete slabs and bricks. Sean did it for us at a fraction of the price.
- Prune any trees or shrubs that have become out of control during the build and shove the prunings on the skip.
- Replace damaged walls and fencing – we were terribly unfortunate as storm Doris took down our back wall just as the building was about to start.
- Plan your beds carefully. Think about past mistakes and try to avoid them. Only plant things you really like and want. Don’t go for quick fixes.
- Your perennials will take time to establish and bulk up in their new beds and many won’t flower this year, so annuals are a godsend at this point. Nasturtiums, Rudbekia and Papavar somniferum were invaluable to me. They made the beds look full and gave great colour. You can also, as I did, beg, steal and borrow plants from gardening friends.
Amazingly, the front garden didn’t look half bad this year, we only moved back in mid-May and by autumn it was looking pretty good, the dahlias and asters as usual were star turns and Crocosmia Lucifer, which I usually curse, played a blinder.
Anyway, there you have it. I’ll keep you posted next year with a monthly update.