Donna Marie emailed:
I am desperate! I have recently bought a property with a huge front and back garden. Both gardens are completely overgrown. Huge bramble bushes and unidentified shrubs loom out at me each time I walk out onto the tired old patio at the back of the house. The property is on the side of a mountain (terraced gardens originally, I think). It is such a huge project! I am a young single woman and can only afford to landscape it myself ‘bit-by-bit’.
How do I start clearing it myself and how do I improve soil that hasn’t been touched for decades?
I would like a few fruit trees and a summer house at the top of the garden as it looks out over the roof of the property to the Swanea Bay area (ahh, lovely). I would also like to make both gardens look even bigger, but I have no imagination regarding garden design!
I love gardening but have never encountered such an appalling, neglected garden. This really is ‘gardening from scratch’!
Please advise me where to start!
First of all, let me say that a young single woman in possession of such a property as you describe is off to a good start. A decade after my college graduation, our family moved into the house we still live in–our first–and the garden had been neglected for at least that long. So what I am about to share with you is built upon my own experience, plus scanty recollections of books I’ve read.
Your first task will be to observe and identify. It is easiest to identify plants when they are in bloom, so this job requires patience and discipline. Your best ally would be an experienced gardener who lives in your neighborhood. Failing that, some field guides to identify the weedy shrubs and some library books to identify the good guys will go a long way. I know I found the White Flower Farm catalogs quite useful for identifying garden plants.
While you’re engaged in this process of identification, think of all the strong young men you know and consider what kind of bribe would be necessary to obtain their help, which you will find extremely useful when it comes time to remove the unwanted plants. Seriously, big projects are far less overwhelming when faced with friends, so once you have a plan, don’t hesitate to ask for help in executing it.
These are two books that I’ve read before and remember having general help on renovating and redesigning a pre-existing garden. For help on the nitty-gritty of removing unwanted plants, Planting Noah’s Garden : Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology has a couple of relevant chapters.
Once you have eliminated the brush and scrub, you will want to start coming up with your own design. It is just as well that you have to do things “bit by bit” because you will change your mind several times as you ponder your landscape and pore over books and catalogs and make sketches. Sometimes I think it is the best part, because nothing ever goes wrong in your imagination, you never break into a sweat, and the price is right!
You have a wonderful adventure ahead of you. Why don’t you start a blog to chronicle your progress?
If anyone has advice to add, please share it in the comments section.