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Sorting out the garden

I think this is likely to be a long-running saga, which I shall spread over several posts and probably several months. You have been warned!

view of the terraced garden

This is what my garden looks like currently. It is heavily landscaped, with the first terrace (where this picture was taken) being as high as the house, and two further terraces above there. There are spectacular views over the Herefordshire countryside from the summerhouse on the top terrace. But it is necessary to do much of the gardening up a ladder!

The previous owner was very proud that he designed the landscaping himself, and moving the hillside further away from the house as he did certainly would have made the house lighter and less damp. Unfortunately, we weren’t so keen on the way he actually did the terracing, and Chris and I had a long-term goal to Do Something About It

The problem is the concrete blocks, which you can see all too clearly in the photo. They were made to order for the previous owner, to his own specification. They are about 2’x1′ in size, with holes in them to grow plants through. That is the first problem – I’ve tried for years to find something that is pleasant to look at, preferably evergreen (or at least interesting all year round), and will thrive on a north-facing slope. I’ve planted literally hundreds of alpines – saxifrage and aubretia mostly – but they only took in patches. Trailing periwinkle was another experiment, but only lasted a few seasons. Even ivy gave up and died on me. The only thing that really grows well there (apart from dandelions) seems to be alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle), which Chris hated vehemently and waged unsuccessful wars against.

The other problem is that the blocks are not in any way fixed in place.They are laid on top of each other, resting against the soil and/or granite underneath, with only friction holding them in place. If, by some miracle, plants do “take” in the holes, then their root-mass grows larger and ends up pushing the blocks out of alignment. So even those plants that do manage to establish themselves have to be strictly culled very few years in order to keep the retaining wall from falling down. Worse,  the blocks are too heavy for me to move on my own. So when a section of wall starts bulging alarmingly, I’ve had to call in the gardener plus a mate and a ladder to maintain it – and that is expensive.

For years Chris and I have been wanting a more stable, lower-maintenance solution that would also be pleasanter to look at all year round.  But we always marked it down as too difficult. We did start trying to do something serious about it this time last year, and asked for opinions from a number of landscape gardeners. But then of course Christopher’s cancer got much worse and we had to put the plans on hold.  I’ve finally decided that I can Stand It No Longer, and my goal over this summer is to re-activate those plans and get it sorted out.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. PaulD | 13 May 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Eeeek !, that looks like some pretty solid reinforcement, hope its over engineered, I wouldnt want a landslide.

    Have you tried some of the ‘creeping jenny’ dont know the proper name for it but it spreads quite well even on poor ground

  2. David A | 13 May 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    An interesting engineering problem! The slope is too steep to be stable by itself, i.e. with just soil.

    Embankments etc often use “rock baskets” (not sure of the correct term) to create terraces – i.e. cubic mesh containers filled with rocks. But these would probably be even less attractive than the blocks.

    Might be worth taking a look at the huge retaining walls around Waitrose – these have a facing of interlocking wood, so look reasonably attractive – but I think there’s some more substantial stuff behind them.

    Have you considered growing creeping plants up the blocks instead (virginia creeper or similar, NOT ivy – it will rip the blocks apart!)

  3. Veronica | 15 May 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t know whether sempervivums or sedums would grow on a north facing wall like that, but you can get them to take successfully in very sparse amounts of soil over rock, and there are many attractive and interesting varieties. They certainly retain their form all year round.

  4. PaulD | 18 May 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    “Might be worth taking a look at the huge retaining walls around Waitrose”

    … and if theres any plants on it, maybe go along with a trowel ?