Monday 28 March 2011

Creating a garden and studio from scratch.

March 2010 - having just moved in, in a very temporary sort of way with hired furniture, well with hired everything as all was lost in the house fire, I look on at the dismal garden with huge excitement and anticipation for transforming this neglected strip of Devon clay into a beautiful Cottage garden. Thank goodness someone had the forethought to plant a Flowering Cherry tree. I love the prospect of one day sitting under the dappled sunlight with family and friends. Hey Ho!
The back of the cottage/garden looked desolate and uninspiring in 2010. The 'garden' - a piece of land, fenced off from the field where cattle graze is on a slope but faces south so all is forgiven.  Pity about my neighbour's fence. It is totally uninspiring and I will really have to think hard about how to transform it.
A late start to the vegetable garden in year one, using compost to plant as the soil is compacted clay! Virtually all my time is taken up with dealing with the insurance claim and trying to work out exactly how to re-start life after the house fire. So delighted to be living at Dartington amongst such supportive and lovely people. Looking forward to making a home and garden and a new life. I see this place as home now even though it looks so unloved as yet. All property is rented here at Dartington Hall and is not cheap but I think my cottage is at the low end of the market as it is so small. It was originally designed for the farm labourers on the estate. In fact the family that live next door have been here since the beginning - father to son to grandson as far as I can make out. No one stays long in my cottage as it has been used as a transition post for people looking for larger places up until now. It is my mission to change all of that and make this plot of land a little paradise. When I was growing up we lived in our family home, it was called Pleasuance, named by my uncle who was its architect and I still have the sign, gilded in gold leaf on oak by my father. This will be my little pleasaunce - it is Old French for a certain type of garden

March 2011 - My son is building me a garden shed, 16' x 8' to have as workshop/potting area at one end and hopefully a place to paint in with constant daylight at the other.  So far so good, door next, then windows, steps, insulation, tongue/groove inner cladding and decorating.  Everything is step by step, day by day, a bit at a time as we are all so busy. When the foundations for the shed were dug, as the garden is on quite a slope - a lot of earth and gravel was moved.  It has been sitting in a huge pile waiting for better weather.  It will now be transformed into a modern herbaceous border and provide much beauty and delight! 

As a consequence, I have been digging out weeds and more weeds!  This is an organic garden so there is going to be a lot of weeding!  Then there will be digging in compost, leaf mold and old rotted down horse manure and then raking and leveling.  The earth at the top end of the garden was very compacted and a long time home to perennials with very deep tap roots and masses of creeping buttercups.  I love buttercups but there is a limit!  I dug out the beginning of the what I thought would be raised beds to a depth of about 6'' - 10" to get most of the weeds out and then stacked all of the clods and turf against the fence on the left of the plot.  One year on and it's transformed into workable and quite beautiful and usable soil which is just what the plants will require.
Bit by bit and wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, I've been adding the soil to the new flower bed.  I am taking it quite slowly as after a winter of really no heavy garden work I know from painful experience that I will have to let my back muscles adjust more slowly than I have done in the past. I can't afford to be out of action with a bad back at this time of the year. It is frustrating but worth it!  I've been collecting an assortment of old fashioned cottage garden plants - roses, hollyhocks, phlox, pinks, delphiniums, foxgloves, peonies, irises, lupins, lavender, hardy geraniums, aquilegia and poppies, many of which I've grown from seed and brought on from cuttings and all waiting for a permanent home.  But the soil will have to settle and there will be more weeds to extract before they can go in and have room to stretch their roots.
April 2011 - Two weeks on and I've changed the shape of the bed and managed to find stones to edge it - no cement, just soil for infill and Aubretia, which I have always loved in cottage gardens and somehow never been able to grow. I have been protecting the plants with sections of poly carbonate whilst my two new arrivals, Emmeline and Alexandra settle in. 
I like to work at different tasks for a short time each day as there are so many different ones to do. This is pretty heavy going, namely bringing these large stones from across the lane where they are piled up every time the field is ploughed. I know that there are going to be a lot of weeds too as this compost from the estate is fully organic!
May 2011 - Later on in the year and all the plants are thriving, bees are buzzing and the garden is starting to take some kind of shape. No doubt it will change shape later as I tend to garden the same way as I paint, taking the next cue from the previous ones rather than depending on an overall plan.
Named after and  Emmeline Pankhurst and Alexandra Kollontai  both strong and visionary, Emmy and Alex arrived in my garden as a gift from a friend who is moving house.  I think that this is a naming tradition to follow.  However, Mrs Siskins - the small white carnations along the lower side have been virtually vanquished by these revolutionary ladies already!  I shall have to fence them in - plants, not hens for now.  Later I will build the chickens a beautiful Palais de Poulet but for now they will have to muck in and make do whilst I get on with building the infrastructure of the garden. 

The hens are only too willing to clear any patch of ground and if enclosed during the process the result can be very advantageous to them and to me. 
April 2010 - In the meantime my thoughts are turning to a small sheltered area that the new shed has helped to create. This little grassy area will then be for sitting in, under the shade of the flowering cherry and then, as the blossoms are too soon gone, a pink clematis Montana that will grow up amongst it's branches.

I have since leveled the earth mound  around the base on second thoughts as someone is bound to want to sit, lean and rest from time to time, plus piling earth up will bring its own problems.  A round seat would be wonderful eventually.
April 2011 - Removing that mound and preparing the soil around the Cherry tree for Clematis and Wisteria, with a little help, in fact, it's impossible to keep them out of the picture.
April 2012 - the Cherry tree in flower, petals drifting down. The Wisteria and the Clematis happily climbing way above. Looking forward to seeing them in flower.
April 2010 - Bella is usually nearby. This time sitting where the garden gate will go.
April 2011 - Stage 1 - I have decided to use 8' tree stakes for this entrance to vegetable garden. I like the idea of having two gardens, one for a more traditional cottage garden and then a separate vegetable one. This makes more sense as Bella is very keen on picking her own fruit and veg! The plan is in my head.
I have decided that I will paint it off white in keeping with the studio/shed. I do hope this will be alright. I can see it in the future covered with Honeysuckle, Jasmine and Roses.
February 2012 - Cross pieces on and now lovely gate, tall enough to prevent Bella leaping over and to keep the hens on one side. No sign of the fox as yet but this wont keep hm out I know.
February 2012 - back to work on the entrance. This has been a job that keeps being delayed.
April 2012 - One more cross member and the gate needs more coats of paint. The Honeysuckle needs to be wired into place initially and then I will let it scramble. The Jasmine has not taken off as yet. I planted them last year so they may take a while. The roses - Zephirine Drouhin -  chosen for being deep pink, virtually thorn-less, repeat flowering and having a wonderful fragrance have really taken life slowly and I will have to build up the beds and put more in order to make the entrance look beautiful and abundant. No quick fixes with gardening, just patience and devotion. The rather basic wire fence, well his is my first attempt at fencing but I've every confidence it's going to look absolutely fantastic now the wire's stapled on, the lavender and roses have become established and jasmine and other ramblers scrambles over and through it.
April 2011 - Early mornings are misty now as the earth warms up and spring arrives.  Each day brings new wonders.  The world is no longer mono tone, there are touches of Sienna, Paynes Grey and Chartreux Green mixed with the dawn chorus.   This is such a beautiful map of Dartington Hall Estate, which as you can see is heart shaped and we live in the middle of the heart!  I can take a walk around the gardens and experience that incredible peace and contentment that comes with a garden that has  grown into its own maturity, one that has presence and its own identity.  I can wander whenever I have the time, take photographs or just sit and be inspired whilst listening to the birds singing, the rain falling or the wind in the trees.  In Dartington Hall Gardens, spring has already arrived - it is sheltered and has been loved and cared for since the 1920's.  It is such an inspiration at any time.
The birds are being very busy gathering straw and feather this week. The weather has been especially kind and the cherry blossom is in full bloom already. Even the jackdaws are busily gathering moss from the roof of the Barn Cinema which is the oldest building on the entire estate.  
Hill House Nursery is without doubt my most favourite garden centre. It's open all year, the tea rooms are from an Enid Blyton novel, the people who work there are wonderfully up beat and helpful and the plants are diverse, plentiful and no where near as expensive as the more corporate places.  We have just collected a wisteria, a present from a friend, to eventually grow across the back wall of the cottage.  I have about 18' of old rusty chain, retrieved from the beach on the estuary at Salcombe which will have a new life as a support for the wisteria until it has managed to reach the wall. There is concrete around the cottage and I really want this 40' (potentially) of fragrant white magnificence to have plenty of room for its roots to grow so I have dug a hole, with the help of a pick axe and added loads of old horse manure and compost mix so it's off to a good start.
April 2011 - Emmy and Alex have their temporary home here.  I am trying to cut back/dig up and move the wild rose to a place in the hedge.  It's thorns are lethal and much more suitable for a boundary plus it will block the view of the developing garden from the kitchen window if left in its present position.  So far so good.  There is a pile of driftwood in the corner to move and then try to clean off the depressing stains from the walls. I have the wall above the kitchen window in mind for the eventual site for a dove cote, a long, low one that reflects the shape of the cottage roof.  I've often kept doves in the past and life feels incomplete without them.  I used to keep peacocks, I love them, I wonder if they might be a possibility for the future but I know that not everyone appreciates their song!  I adore it, so plaintiff and moving.
April 2011 - Looking a mess, I know but I am making progress. I don't mind working in so-called chaos. I see it as an ongoing creative process, creative chaos in fact.
April 2011 - My first astonishing introduction to Fritillaries was at Magdalen College, Oxford - see this link if you would like to know a little more about them - Fritillaries at Magdalen College Oxford  I've loved them ever since so when the rain began to stop in the afternoon, I managed to work on the border and part two of my fencing in the sheltered garden.  I had to put in seven wheelbarrow loads of soil and compost into this section alone as previously there had only been a hole full of weeds, lumps of old mortar and dead leaves from autumn.  It is here that I have started off a few Fritillaries from which I will try to grow more from their seed for next year. 
April 2011 - Another area to be transformed. I love the old seat ends I found at the re cycling centre. I shall bring them back to life and find a spot for a new old bench. They have lions heads on them!
April 2012 - Work begins on leveling the lawn prior to re-seeding.
I went over to Stoke Gabriel, a beautiful little village on the edge of the River Dart so took Bella, our adored black Labrador with me and walked her through the woods and as it was low tide we could cross the weir and walk back along the Mill Pond, where I found this beautiful blackthorn blossom, litchen and ivy berries.  There is something about the combination of colours that I know will translate into future jewellery/collage/painting!    

I do have a front garden too, just waiting for a little magic! Living at Dartington Hall means you are always prepared for the unexpected, as when a chap on a penny farthing whizzed by one morning.  I will turn the front garden into a typical country cottage front garden.  I have managed to transplant my wisteria from my previous house.  That is where we had the fire.  The wisteria was planted in a huge container on the balcony but was heavily damaged by the acrid smoke that bellowed through the window above it.  It looked terrible but we managed to move it and I washed all its branches, dug a hole and watered daily and hoped for the best.  It has survived and is thriving.  Me too!  Meanwhile I have much to do in the back garden.  It has been a rainy week but in between the showers I have been ticking jobs off my list. It's all pretty back breaking work and the only way I can keep going is to make sure that I get to the swimming baths by 7 am or just after.  It's pretty impossible to get there after that as road works and the morning rush hour take too much time out of the day. Swimming is the one thing that keeps me moving, it's such gentle exercise and strengthens the core muscles which this kind of gardening would soon exhaust.  The steam room and the sauna are pretty good too!  There is a gym but I find it so boring, I much prefer to work in my garden.

Found - one bedraggled pigeon in Exeter city centre - now rested, watered, fed and re-homed at Dartington Hall.
March 2011 - Time for some inspiration from other gardens.  At this time of the year there are not many gardens that are open to the public yet.  Kingston House in Devon opens three times a year only.  A beautiful Sunday, so I decide to take myself off to see what I can discover in other peoples back gardens.  Kingston House  is not  your regular 
back garden!  However it does have quite a humble kitchen garden which is the part that attracts me the most.
I like the use of using and re-using whatever is to hand and i really like these wire contraptions - an idea I will follow for sure.

Little cages to protect the young plants, presumably from rabbits. A good idea to protect things from Alex and Emmy. I also like the edging stones but having seen the house and grounds I have no doubt that there is a quarry nearby so stones would not have been a problem.  In the days when Kingston House was built 'location, location, location' was still I am sure the ruling criteria but in those days much time, thought and consideration was given to strategic positioning, water source and stone and timber and where to house ones private army!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...