Up until now, border work has involved either restoring borders, such as the side border, or expanding and revamping existing borders, such as that front border. The other day, I embarked on the first stage of a border in the main lawn of the back garden. This is technically another border expansion project but whereas before, where the expansion has been just a few feet outwards, this border is being expanded to many times its original size, does that count as a new border?
What’s particularly notable is that this is the first time I will have “broken ground” in the rear garden. Previous work has focussed on the side and front. I’ve been keeping away from the back because once I start, there’s no going back. The back garden is a very large and daunting place.
What forced my hand to get started was a number of small squash plants I had been given as seed and had germinated. I don’t know why I did this, I am not known for eating vegetables let alone growing them, but give me seeds and I simply can’t resist germinating them. Squashes are heavy feeders and need lots of room to grow. They can’t be contained well in pots and have to be planted out as soon as they get to large seedling stage. I sowed a load of squash seeds that I had been given and now have twelve three-inch pots of squash plants desperate to be planted out. The only trouble is there are no borders in the garden where they can be planted out. If they stay in pots, they will most likely die because they will need to be fed and watered so often. I can’t throw the lot out because I am simply unable to throw plants out, even if they are vegetables (though I make an exception for weeds).
Caught between veg and a grassy garden the only option left was to start on a new border in the back garden to plant these squashes in. I already had ideas for the general shapes and layout of the borders I wanted in the back and this would be the time to put that plan into action.
By laying out short sticks (the remains of deposed rhododendrons) I could draw out dotted lines for the border shapes in the area of the garden I was going to work in.
The border incorporates the small shrubbery to the side and generously curves out across the lawn and rounds to the patio, hence a border expansion. Look! Isn’t that wheelbarrow smart and incredibly useful!
Generous, sensuous curves are the name of the game, with no straight sections or tight corners. I have a set of rules when it comes to creating curves for borders:
- No sudden change of direction halfway along the line
- No right angles or tight corners
- No feeling as though the curve as had to be force-fitted into the space
- If in doubt, make it curve more
- Go for “gut feeling” every time, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t go with it.
There will be a set of mathematical functions that describe these features (apart from the last one), but I don’t know what they are. Instead I try and go for the shape a meandering river say may take, weaving in relaxed curves across the landscape. Or the shape waggling a hosepipe might make.
I have also marked out the near end of the long island bed I have planned as well as the border opposite that will contain fragrant shrubs and plants for winter interest.
Where the grass meets the patio, there will be a bench strategically placed that will look between these two borders and down the length of the island border.
Using my favourite gardening implement – the lawn edger – I started cutting into the grass and lifting the turf, using the placed sticks as a guide it was exactly like cutting “along the dotted line”. This was the first broken ground in the back garden.
I continued to cut the turf, following the marked out line round and rolling the turf back to get a good idea of the edge. The soil was very wet and sticky. There was virtually no air in it at all. This looks like classic heavy clay, but also heavily compacted, luckily there are lots of answers to dealing with this kind of soil and I have some experience of it from working in the previous garden.
There, I finally finished going all the way round and I also took up the grass that edges onto the patio, revealing a much more frayed edge to the concrete than I hoped for. The existing shrubby border desperately needs weeding, there are several sycamore trees growing out of it that I don’t want and the poor camellia in the middle is getting swamped. Hopefully my attention will focus on that soon and I will blitz it.
With the border outline “drawn” I will let the weather and some landscape fabric do the hard work for me. Instead of manually digging over the turf, by laying down the fabric over the top and pegging it down so that it doesn’t blow away, the grass and weeds underneath should die off quickly.
The black fabric will do two things, first it cuts off the light to the plants underneath and secondly, in sunny weather the temperature underneath will soar and literally cook the grass, killing it off. The rain will permeate through, as the fabric is porous.
With the border covered over it’s a matter of waiting for the turf to die off, at which point it can be uncovered and dug over, incorporating lots of compost, rotted manure, air and fertiliser to restore it to a healthy, fertile, living soil rather than the heavy, waterlogged sod it currently is.
I planned for this border to be for roses, but for this season it will have to be squash. While the border is currently under construction, I have potted the squash on to buy a bit more time but it is a race to get this border prepared and ready for planting before the squash become too large. They were already germinated late so it might be touch and go at harvest time. I’m not sure I even like squash. The fact that the very first large border in the garden was created out of a need to deal with vegetables – of all plants – somehow feels insulting.
This to-be border was hard work but very satisfying because it feels as though an important piece in a large garden jigsaw puzzle has just been put in place. Though I don’t need to just yet, I may continue marking out further borders and covering them with fabric so I can get a feel for how the garden will look, even though there are no plants to go in them yet. As I’ve discovered, it’s always handy to have a border available as you never know when you’ll be given free plants and seeds that need dealing with quickly, even if they’re perhaps not your favourite.