A Garden From Scratch – Part 1

Creating your own green space is wonderfully fun and rewarding and as I embark on creating a new garden, I look forward to rediscovering all the emotions gardening evokes –  joy, consolation, nurture – in a brand new environment. 

There is an excitement when moving home that emphasises the opportunities in new beginnings, even when our moving ‘to do list’ became longer than the West Highland Way.

Throughout this series you will be joining me on a step by step journey in transforming my new 8 x 6 metre plot of soil into a family garden. Welcome to ‘A Garden From Scratch’!

My previous garden was communal and influenced by many personalities. I craved my own space to create a garden that embodied what my family and I dreamed of. I have since settled on a list of elements that consist of design, planting, water, bio-diversity, wildlife, family space and ‘grow your own’. Is that a long list? Quite possibly, but when you really look at it, many of these elements can be crossed referenced into helping one another and that is exciting! 

Site Visit
I made a number of visits to the plot in order to experience the space in different weather conditions and at different times of the day. I’m pleased I did this as I now feel like I have known the space for while, a bit like an old acquaintance becoming a new friend.

I am learning more about this new friend and the surprises it is revealing. The first thing I have focused on is the foundations and if I were to bypass issues at this stage then it’ll surely come back and haunt me later on in having to remedy those issues which would have a significant impact on both the garden and the bank balance. 

The garden measures 8 x 6 metres, a reasonable size and with this comes a gradient that falls towards the top right hand corner of the garden. This will help with drainage of rainfall however this is only helpful if the water can pass through the soil, which brings me onto the first major issue to consider. 

Clay Soil
Our garden has been filled with very dense clay soil, packed with nutrients but completely water logged. If I don’t tackle this issue from the outset, I will risk poor conditions for laying paving, lawn areas and flower beds, with root rot being a concern. As the foundations are key to the garden’s success, I have two approaches to consider. 

The first approach is to remove a large layer of soil, building the levels back up with drainage mediums and top soil, creating a free draining and level area. This is very expensive. 

The other approach is to level out the horizontal gradient so we are left with one lateral gradient, remove the top layer of soil, dig trenches, add perforated drainage and cover up with drainage mediums and top soil. This is cheaper and although it will have a less permeable structure in terms of depth, it will have a clear drainage system and top soil for access to that system. In this latter approach, I would need to add plenty of organic matter and grit to the flower beds in order to break up the soil structure at the levels below the drainage system, giving healthy room for plant roots. 

Design
The design is taking shape and incorporates our plans with gentle subtleties. As a small space there could be a temptation to push everything to the sides leaving an obvious opening in the middle of the garden, however I want to fill the garden by creating different spaces and rooms to emphasise the concept of journey and interest.

I have my fingers crossed in hope as I start to create this garden and after each landmark moment along this journey I will sit back and take stock: a home for wildlife and pollinators, a colour wheel for the senses, an appreciation, an education, an inspiration, a space to relax and most importantly, a place for family.  

You can follow Andy’s progress as he builds ‘A Garden from Scratch’ in his regular column in Scotland Grows magazine and keep up to date with him on his Instagram feed.

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