Shrubberies and spring cleaning

We have been in the new house for nearly four months now, and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of the garden.

Cherry blossom

At least something is in bloom – cherry in the back garden

There are good reasons for this – we’ve concentrated on getting the house itself ship-shape, and the weather hasn’t helped (although that alone has not been a deterrent – I’ve been so desperate to garden that I’ve been out there in rain and even falling snow).

It’s more the overwhelming scale of the task which leaves me in a state of inertia. I start one job, then notice six more that need doing. Weeds everywhere. Lawn full of moss. Refilling holes dug by foxes, particularly around my poor heuchera transplanted from the old house, which they seem determined to destroy.

Sad heuchera

Sad heuchera, which *something* has repeatedly tried to dig up

Some tasks are a small effort for big reward – I tackled the front garden, which needed a trim and tidy-up, but as it’s the part of the garden on view to the world, I felt I had to make it look more respectable.

I’ve never had to worry about it before, as the old house only had a front yard, but now I have to consider what the neighbours will think if I let my flower beds get shabby.

Luckily, an hour or so’s work trimming back last years flower-heads from the hydrangea and dead wood from the fuchsia, and the improvement was quite heartening. I’ve also planted snowdrops, cowslips, violets, saxifrage and more pansies – it’s cheering to see the patches of colour poking out here and there when I come or go from the house.

The previous owners put down woodchip over the soil, to stop weeds coming up, which (rather like woodchip indoors) looks dated, but does its job pretty well. At least I can see what needs doing here – keep the shrubs under control, and fill in gaps until the woodchip patches get smaller and the green gets bigger. That’s the easy bit, anyway.

The back garden is more of a conundrum. No-one but us sees it or is affected by it (or so I thought) and it’s not even very visible from the house, due to a rather odd configuration of windows at the back.

Raised bed

Raised bed, full of mysterious bulbs

The plot is dominated by two things – a large raised bed across the width of the garden, which would be perfect for growing vegetables, but it currently seems to be sprouting bulbs of various kinds, and behind it, an enormous shrubbery.

Shrubberies have always seemed slightly naff to me, harking back to the days of Margo and Jerry, hostess trolleys and fondue sets. Possibly only beaten by the rockery as the most 70s garden feature (when I was around 7 I thought rockeries were the height of sophistication, believe me). When I was actually confronted with one, though, I was rather daunted by it.

Buddleia

Enormous overgrown buddleia

The shrubbery clearly serves a purpose – it shields us from neighbouring houses – but it’s been left to overgrow, to the point where it overhangs the fence at the back, branches almost touching the ground, and soon may partially block access to neighbours’ garages at the end of their gardens, so we have to tackle it now, to keep them off our backs.

The worst offender is an enormous sprawling buddleia – I’ve never seen one left to get so big – it’s so gnarled and contorted now that it’s frankly a mess. Ideally I’d like it taken out altogether, but getting the root of such an established plant out of the ground will be a challenge.

So far I’ve contented myself with chopping back what I can reach with my long-armed loppers, my favourite new toy, but I’ve barely made a dent in it so far (or at least that’s how it feels).

Besides the buddleia, we have a couple of low-growing shrubs (a mahonia and something with variegated leaves I don’t recognise), and at least two other shabby trees, one of them a viburnum of some type. All of it is tangled, overgrown and gloomy, with bare earth below, as it spends much of the day in shadow.

Without a serious pruning, which might compromise our privacy, I’m just not sure what to do with it. The empty flower bed underneath the shrubs is completely invisible from the house, as it’s behind the raised bed, so perhaps I should be growing vegetables there – but I doubt they would do well in the shade.

I am not too worried about my lack of inspiration – they say you should leave a garden for a year at least to see what comes up – but I am frustrated by the way the shrubbery looms over everything. I’m reminded of the tale of the Sleeping Beauty in her forest and wonder if the more I hack at the vegetation, the faster it will grow!

It’s a job for more than one person, really, but it’s hard for us both to get in the garden with a small baby around, and with the weather so bad it’s been a case of snatching a moment when I get a chance. What it needs is a serious assault, perhaps with friends helping if we promise them beer and food in return, and as we get down to the bare bones of the garden, I might start to get an idea of what it could become.

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