After 25 years gardening on free draining sandy soil many of the thoughts below on our challenges are well known and numerous ideas no doubt documented elsewhere, but during Open Days a few favourites come up on how to make gardening at Pooh House & Gardens less toil and sweat and more sustaining in the process.
First and foremost identifying the wide variety of different climatic conditions (light, wind, soil, moisture and frost pockets) that coexist in the one garden has been crucial and playing to those strengths ie acer garden with dappled sunlight of the many silver birches to protect them and the wonderful leaf mould over the years in certain parts of the garden yet gardening on virtual dust not even sandy soil in other areas.
Next; a series of learn as you go tips (feel welcome to talk to us on any open days or as a private group) especially from a perspective of inheriting a disused quarry and inhospitable dry spots so:
- Using pots or a nursery bed initially to house delicate plants and planting out when a little more established and climate conditions more forgiving. Some plants can also become big enough to divide into several plants.
- Noah’s Ark (a complex construction of sleepers to hold sand bank back) which has doubled up as a feature garden in its own right and a nursery bed to raise more mature specimens and save money in the process.
- Using local materials when solving difficult challenges and potentially expensive ones at that.
- Finding that unloved and well established older specimens can with a little creativity be brought back to life and in fact on occasions become feature plants in themselves (boulevard conifer after 20 yrs should by rights have had its day but since given a topiary treatment looks a real feature as a cloud tree).
- Creating stunning colours needn’t be about flora and in the heat of recent years we have to learn new garden techniques hence ‘Beth Chatto’ dry bed corner and maximising on the kaleidoscope of blue green yellow evergreens and foliage (eg magnolia grandiflora) to supplement more delicate and water needy.
- Many years ago when the moles kept coming back we realised its better to work with nature and set about creating ‘islands’ and walkways that got round high maintenance and expensive gardening that needn’t be.
- We recycle and find homes for all our pots (never throw them away).
- We’ve converted to organic soil and mulch as they go though extreme testing (you don’t pay a supplement for this benefit). As a result we don’t import disease and often work without gloves so doubly important. Look after your soil as it is a living organism and so should be enriched regularly with organic mulches. These condition the soil and give it an inoculation of beneficial fungi and bacteria.
Although important to have log stores and wildlife habitat for waste we are now extremely cautious and take additional care by adding walkways to shut off any potential for unwelcome visitors (ie honey fungus) that could strike down not so healthy plants that may be struggling with lack of water or other issues. A visiting professor in this area recommended we hastily create a series of pathways that would protect other parts of the garden from the rhizomes. This also had the additional benefit of providing safe moist water havens in times of drought.