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Developing Our Garden Space

May 29, 2018

We have been in our current house since October 2010. Upon moving in, like most of the back gardens in our area, ours was just grass. Tidy, but totally lacking any sort of love or character.

Initially, I had no plan, so I started experimenting with different things on a very small scale. I grew up around people who were very passionate about flower and vegetable gardening… surely some of that must have rubbed off on me, right?

Well, yes and no… Yes, I did discover that I actually enjoy growing things very much, however, I’m not a natural. In fact my gardening style is probably best described as a clusterfuck of dumb luck. In all seriousness, the plants choose to live in our space more than we choose them to live in our space. I’ve gotten to the point of sprinkling some seeds around and basically just waiting to see what takes. And it works for the most part.

Over the years I have been primarily focused on bringing plants into the garden which have strong personal significance to me. Plants like lilacs, forsythia, violets, dahlias, and gladiolas. Slowly character has been building as the boring patch of grass becomes bordered by an ever increasing variety of texture and color.

More than the plants though, I love to study the wildlife that has made a home in our garden. I nearly had an outright joygasm one day when I found three different species of snail.  I tend to get inordinately excited about critters, especially invertebrates. People who know me very well, know that if you give me critters to observe, I’m in my element… and then I’ll rattle off random facts about the critters (that no one probably wants to hear) until I turn blue. I really can’t help myself. This is an enthusiasm I must have been born with as I can’t remember a time without it.

Now that our oldest daughter is starting to become very interested in nature and science I can pass on my dorky outdoorsey knowledge, and I think it’s time think outside (or rather inside) the garden borders to add some character to the rest of the space because what we have right now, is still more or less a patch of tidy grass.  I’m finding that the more I think about how to do this, the more focused I become on how to make our patch of earth do more for us as a family from both a recreational and an educational perspective.

So this post is all about the plan I’ve been mulling over in my head to bring about these changes. Some will happen this year, some next, a few, when money allows.

I’m not overly concerned about aesthetics when it comes to the garden. I am more concerned about what purpose I’d like the space to serve. And it comes down to incorporating four major things. I want it to be functional, educational, nature friendly and LOW MAINTENENCE.

So let’s start with functionality… What do I want our garden to do for us?

Well, cooking is important, so is lounging with a firepit (wood smoke is one of the best ever smells) and of course for the girls, having a space to play is essential.

We already have the BBQ, a chimnea with swing out grill and cooking gear, as well as the firepit and the girls have plenty of toys and space. The only thing I’d really like to invest in this year is a concrete circle to go under the fire pit so that it has a dedicated space that isn’t just burning random holes in the grass. We would also like to put some decking onto the shed at the back of the garden, but that’s a project for a time when we have a lot more money to spend.

Now, moving onto how I plan to make the garden more educational.

It’s already fairly educational I think, however the amount of wildlife we’re attracting  isn’t as high as it could be and this is one reason why I’m going to install a small nature pond. My hope is that amphibians will move in, specifically frogs… but I’m happy to take all the toads and any random newts that might want to wander in as well. Frogs were such a big part of my childhood, I desperately want them in my garden.

We have already had two consecutive years of caterpillar raising to observe life cycles. This summer we’re doing painted lady butterflies for year three and next year I’ve got my fingers crossed for puss moth caterpillars, so being able to add amphibian life cycles to that would be amazing. I’d also love to get a hold of some ladybug larvae as well as they go through a very impressive metamorphosis.

In addition to attracting wildlife I’ve also begun to experiment with food plants as I grew up with my grandfather’s garden and my husband grew  up with his mother growing vegetables and strawberries in their small back garden so having been exposed to that in our youth we feel it’s really important for children to physically see that food isn’t something that just comes from the grocery store as well as how it’s grown. Last year was the first year of attempting to grow anything edible with alpine strawberries (which LOVE our garden) and since they were such a success (still going strong 1+year later), this year we are trying potatoes, blackberries, raspberries and herbs. I also sort of accidentally grew a pile of salad. :)  Just trying a few things at a time. However next year I plan to add a couple fruit trees to the mix.

Another educational point will be looping back to the fire pit. Fire safety starts at home, this includes how to build a fire, how to maintain it and what NOT to do. Bonfires and camping fires were a big part of summers my entire childhood and this is something I really want to share with our girls, plus what child doesn’t LOVE roasting marshmallows? <3

I’m sure that there are a dozen more educational points I could make but those are the main ones off the top of my head. The next thing that I want to focus on is how nature friendly we can make the garden to both attract MORE wildlife and to protect our plants from the wildlife we’ve attracted.

That’s where ladybugs come in again as greenfly has been a problem for me in the past. I figure more bug houses encourage ladybugs is a good start. I love bug houses anyway so happy to put up as many as I can get my  hands on. (Already  have 3) They’re also good for various other winged insects, which means bug houses are win win win. :)

We have a lot of slugs and snails too as we are in Scotland and Scotland is moist. As much as I love them though, I would like to minimize how many of my plants they’re eating. I know frogs will take care of some, however I save all of my eggshells and crush them to act as a natural deterrent, and it works! Copper slug tape is also a great, functional deterrent that doesn’t actually hurt them. There are plenty of areas in the garden where they can live and eat till their gastropody hearts are content… just preferably not my dahlias. I think that’s reasonable.

The biggest pest we have is actually our neighbours big fluffy white cat. She poops everywhere… not in the borders like any other self respecting cat though, oh no no… she does it right in the middle of the garden while looking me right in the eye, or she digs up wherever I’ve JUST planted seedlings, ripping them to shreds. Normally I love cats, but this cat isn’t quite right (dirty and mean) and she destroys a lot of my hard work. I have tried squirting her with water guns (this was after we established she was mean), and smelly, expensive cat repellents, but nothing works. For a while I even started feeding treats to a neighbor’s big tom cat which kept her in line temporarily, but that cat isn’t around anymore, so she’s right back in our garden, leaving her disgusting mess right in the middle of where my children play… and killing my plants. In fact, the only thing that did work at keeping her away for a whole summer was a sonic cat scarer… we actually have two, but the horrible beast must be going deaf because they don’t work on her anymore… so as a last resort I want to get some cat silhouette things and cross everything that she’s also going blind enough to be deterred by them.

As well as utilising nature friendly pest control I’d also like to plant more nectar rich flowers, and just more wildflowers in general to help the butterflies and bees. I’ve decided to let the majority of the right hand border go to the heather which they love, but I’m also planning to buy another raised planter dedicated to just wildflowers. A mini meadow! This will also tie into the educational aspect as we can identify all of the flowers, as well as the insects that are attracted to them.

Another nature friendly point is of course the water feature. Everything needs water and a declining amphibian population means that they need more places to safely reproduce where there is plenty of food.

The last important theme for our garden is that it’s low maintenance. The grass needs to be easily cut and plants that come back every year on their own are my favourites. It means they like it here, and we like having them. So my husband and I have agreed on a layout that facilitates easy mowing and the plant side of things is up to me and my experimenting. :)

So that’s about it for my plan… here’s the breakdown of features I desperately want to incorporate by autumn this year.

  1. Small Frog pond
  • Minimum spend (liner and gravel)£30-£40
  • Maximum spend (liner, gravel, starter plants, good quality frog hide, edging to define area from lawn mower) £60-£90

2. Stone slab circle for fire pit

  • Estimated spend £150 for slabs and sand to level

3. Goat willow (to sustain Puss Moth caterpillars)

  • Amazon £15

Goals by spring 2019

  1. Fruit trees for barrel planters (Thomson and Morgan via amazon) £20
  2. Puss moth caterpillars (roughly £18 mail order)
  3. More pots and soil (£100) My pots are mostly on their last year unfortunately due to the plastic deteriorating
  4. Another raised bed planter for mini meadow (£50)
  5. Mail order ladybug life cycle kit (£25)
  6. More bug houses to encourage more ladybugs and bees to stay around the garden (£10-15 each)

 

Things that would be nice to have in the long run

  1. Outdoor tap (£50-£100) currently we hook the hose up to the kitchen sink.
  2. Deck for shed (£500)

I know that aside from the decking (ouch!) it doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but I am not working and don’t have a regular income as sales in my store or individual commissions come in fairly rarely, so it might be a while before everything comes together even though I’d like to just get stuck into it all right this minute, however it is at least a smallish enough amount of money that it still feels achievable. At any rate, I’m excited going forward and will continue to write about our progress!

 

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