Now’s the time for gar­den over­haul

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIAR­MUID GAVIN

My house, which I moved into nine years ago, was orig­i­nally a show home de­signed, in­side and out, to tempt buy­ers. A land­scap­ing firm had been com­mis­sioned to plant the gar­den be­fore I got there and it suited me to live with their work for the first three to four years. Be­sides, I was re­mod­elling the in­te­rior of the house at the time and mak­ing de­ci­sions about the type of gar­den we wanted.

Early on, I planted some fruit trees but not much more. It was an awk­ward site, slop­ing away from the house and large-scale lev­el­ling works would be nec­es­sary be­fore any big de­ci­sions were made on an over­all theme.

And so, the show­house plant­ing sur­vived. What do I mean by show­house plant­ing? The type of trees and shrubs that were cheap, eas­ily avail­able, fa­mil­iar, grew fast and adapted to most si­t­u­a­tions.

With trees, it was birch, sor­bus and thuja … they sprung up ev­ery­where. With shrubs it was the com­mon­est gar­den cen­tre se­lec­tion: Vibur­num ti­nus, cor­nus, elaeag­nus, ribes, cean­othus, for­sythia, ma­ho­nia, griselinia and cherry lau­rel (Prunus lusi­tan­ica) — all species that are eas­ily prop­a­gated and ones which shine in a pro­fu­sion of flow­ers in spring.

Once I con­quered an ir­ra­tional fear of plan­ning my own space, we de­vel­oped a plan. The hard land­scap­ing was done and ter­races were in­stalled. We had lawns across three dif­fer­ent lev­els, beau­ti­ful rec­tan­gu­lar ponds and even a fancy ve­ran­dah. We gid­dily planted up our new gar­den, tak­ing great de­light vis­it­ing spe­cial­ist nurs­eries and gar­den cen­tres, fill­ing the boot — and some­times the pas­sen­ger footwell — with ac­qui­si­tions.

Af­ter a num­ber of Chelsea Flower Shows, refugee plants would make their way to my gar­den to be­come talk­ing points. And in the last few years, the whole plot has put on quite a show.

How­ever, re­cently, I’ve de­cided that I have to look at the frame­work and get rid of all those show­house plants which clung to the bound­aries, hop­ing against hope that they weren’t be­ing no­ticed.

They have done a great job — creat­ing habi­tats for wildlife, pro­duc­ing daz­zling sea­sonal dis­plays and adding a lush green back­drop to all the new plan­ta­tions. But, as firmly rooted as they are, my in­nate gar­den­ing snob­bery is kick­ing in and they’re just not quite spe­cial enough.

Over the past week I’ve em­barked upon the great gar­den re­moval. I’ve at­tacked with spades, shov­els, hack­saws, se­ca­teurs, lop­pers, knives and shred­ders and there has been a blitz of the old guard.

And maybe, fol­low­ing my be­lated ex­am­ple, it’s time for you to re­con­sider your plant­ing.

Au­tumn is a won­der­ful time for re­moval. When the leaves start to fall from shrubs, it makes it easy to see the frame­work and as­sess the jobs. IF YOU DE­CIDE ON A CLEAR-OUT, TH­ESE ARE MY TOP 10 TIPS: 1. You’ll be amazed at the amount of space you find… 2. But be­ware — the foot sol­diers of the gar­den may be prop­ping up your fences. I’ve cer­tainly ex­posed some weak points in my bound­ary fences re­cently. 3. The amount of light that pours in af­ter re­mov­ing plants that are in the wrong place is very pleas­ing. 4. Some­where in your mind have a plan. Many of th­ese plants pro­vided pri­vacy so imag­ine what you would like in their places. 5. The soil un­der th­ese plants is dry as a dust­bowl. I’ll have to do re­me­dial work with the soil to pro­duce a beau­ti­ful loam to hold mois­ture around the new roots. 6. The clock has gone back, the days are shorter but my en­thu­si­asm for change doesn’t wane un­til dark­ness has set. That some­times means that I leave tools out­doors overnight. Many of th­ese jobs will re­quire sharp tools but pos­si­bly not your best ones, as some may get lost. 7. Buy or hire a shredder to cre­ate mulch so that you can pro­duce a blan­ket of hu­mus ma­te­rial to keep the soil warm — the real win­ter cold is on its way. 8. Re­mem­ber wildlife habi­tats. Don’t have a scorched-earth pol­icy and en­sure there is still plenty of fo­liage for birds, bees and in­sects. 9. Some shrubs don’t need to be re­moved en­tirely — they just need to be re­shaped or hard-pruned. I’m find­ing that some vibur­num and griselinia will still do ex­cel­lent screen­ing jobs be­cause they have the height now but, as with when I get my hair cut, some thin­ning-out en­hances the pic­ture. 10. You want the soil to be as clean as pos­si­ble for re­plant­ing, so it will take some clever dig­ging and cut­ting — us­ing sturdy stems of large shrubs as levers — to prise out all of the roots.

DIG­GING DEEP: start your spade work for next year

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