Wildlife haven thrives in heart of the city...
THIS very small back garden in leafy Cotham was in need of some help. The old patio was crumbling, the plants were looking sad, the lawn was spreading into the borders, the pond was growing algae and the wall climbers were taking over.
Access to the garden was one floor down from the main living area through a back door, so the garden was not being used or enjoyed to its full potential. It was time for a revamp.
The clients wanted it to be a family-friendly area, so I set about modifying existing features and adding new ones.
There was a long-term plan to construct a balcony, with stairs down to the garden. For the meantime, we settled on constructing a deck across the whole length of the back of the house at ground level, so the balcony and stairs could be added at a later date.
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This deck would hide the rather ugly concrete patio and add a sense of style. However, in order that the deck wouldn't dominate the space too much, I decided to divide it visually in two by setting the deck boards in one area at right angles to the other. This would create a space for sitting and eating, and another for colourful planted pots.
The existing pond was small, so I increased its size and moved it closer to the deck. By cutting a long sweeping curve into the edge of the deck, an overhang was created that jutted across the pond, which had the effect of bringing the pond closer to the seating area.
To encourage frogs and other creatures, a slate "beach" was created around half the pond, providing a gentle slope for access. The other half was edged with flat stones, providing look-out and sunning posts.
The pond was stocked with a mix of marginal and deep water plants and some barley straw was added to clear the water. I also put in a couple of handfuls of oxygenating weed and water snails to help balance the algae.
To add a stronger sense of design, I shaped the lawn into a defined circle, with crisply cut edges, and used some lovely old Victorian decorative edging bricks to hold back the border soil.
This helped to prevent the lawn straying into the borders, and made a definite feature of what had previously been a rather ragged grassy area.
Another of the clients' requests was that the garden should become more wildlife friendly, so I chose plants which were attractive to butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects. These creatures particularly like flowers with single, open blooms so they can access nectar and pollen easily. Scent and colour also play a part. For honey bees especially, it is important to have a variety of plants, which will provide flowers during every month of the year.
Dandelions were cleared from the lawn and I also spiked the grass with a fork and brushed in some sand and lawn feed to encourage air and water to permeate roots.
The overgrown wall climbers were cut back, revealing a pretty pink clematis and climbing roses. The latter were trained over the wall beside the bench seating area to provide perfume and colour. A vivid purple clematis later found its way through the roses and up into the neighbouring pear tree, creating a romantic bower.
It is easy to forget the importance of planting on the vertical plane; doing this can disguise the garden boundaries and give the illusion of enlarging the space.
Tackling the borders, I planted these with blue, magenta, orange, yellow and purple flowers, and added evergreens and flowering shrubs to provide "backbone".
In a small garden it is important to choose plants that have a long flowering period, but also provide interest over several seasons, such as berries, autumn leaf colour or striking seed-heads.
Large pots on the new deck were filled with geraniums, cape daisies, scabious and hydrangeas, and these were also "under-planted" with spring flowering bulbs, so that when the flowers died down at the end of summer, the bulbs would emerge in late winter and early spring.
A pot of mixed herbs was added too; handy for use in the kitchen.
The garden is now well used by all the family, providing an eating out area on the deck, a romantic seating area under the roses, and a thriving pond.
The goal to create a more wildlife-friendly garden appears to have been surpassed, as the garden is now home to Bobby the rabbit; Mr Snuffles, the blind rescue hedgehog, and his companion Douglas; a quantity of frogs and, most recently, a baby newt.
To contact Sue, call 0117 944 2432, or email firstname.lastname@example.org