Six on Saturday: 22.5.21 front garden update

So it’s been a busy day today. Unusually I’ve been at work today. We’ve had an open day to allow families in to see the nursery. Just one at a time with Covid restrictions. It’s been nice to have them visit as many parents haven’t been able to come in ever. A chance to see where their kids spend a large part of their time. Then I’ve been busy with a bee activity set with Alice from Catkin and Co. We made a sandwich wrap and candles. Strangely satisfying. So it’s a later six this week. Coming in and out of the house it has been nice to see how much the front garden has progressed. From starting it afresh over a year ago it has established well.

The front garden

The basic concept of the front garden was to create something that would be fairly low maintenance by using lots of ground cover. I wanted more of a focus on foliage than flowers. The garden is North facing, shaded by the house, thick clay and is exposed to strong sea winds. So, on the face of it not the best conditions. But, I think I’ve found a lot of plants that are the right plants in the right place. The brick spires are looking good. The foxgloves have shot up the last few weeks with lots of rain. The ferns and hostas are returning well. Alice refers to it as the jungle as a lot of it is now as big as she is. Eventually it should fill out to that point where you have to push through the foliage to get around the stepping stones.

Lamprocapnos spectablis ‘Alba’ Bleeding heart

This was a little bare root purchase from Wilcos the year before last. It is a bit lost behind a foxglove but it is poking through nicely.

Leucojum vernum

This was a spurr of the moment purchase. It doesn’t quite suit the garden conditions. Ideally I think it likes full sun. But it seems happy enough so far. I took the chance as I thought it would be nice to extend the snowdrop season.

Allium ursinum-wild garlic

Allium ursinum has a bad reputation for spreading badly. I’ve taken the risk as it’s quite a short plant and I don’t mind it acting as an understory plant and spreading around the gaps. Much of what I’ve growing is larger and will drown them out so they can fill the odd space left. I like it hough. The flowers are pretty. They are edible if I want to harvest them and they add another food source for pollinators.


Many of the hostas were bought cheap from a local church sale. These are looking very nice currently. They all seem to be coming back strong currently. The beer traps and frogs seem to be keeping the slugs in check currently but I could probably do with applying some nematodes. One of the reasons for growing the wild garlic was a vague theory that it might put the slugs and snails off chewing the hostas. People spray hostas with garlic spray so surely surrounding them with the scent of garlic plants should have a similar effect.

The view from above

I like taking photos from above on a regular basis as it shows areas that are working well, which areas aren’t, which plants are complementing each other and which are not. Currently the foxgloves are dominating a lot of areas but these are making nice spires as a contrast to the spreading hostas. The ferns are producing the wonderful bright new fronds. The heuchera are providing a few pockets of contrasting foliage. All in all I’m happy with how it is developing. The Ilex creanata hedge along the edge is growing painfully slow but hopefully it is rooting in well and will get going.

I’m glad I made the decision 2 years ago to overhaul the front garden. It is much nicer returning to this than the weedy gravel. We see a lot of people stopping to admire and they often stop to talk and compliment it if I am out working on it. I’ve got to know more of the people on the street through my front garden than I would otherwise know. Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief snapshot.

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Six on Saturday: 21.12.19 The front garden in winter

As we reach the end of the year I thought I’d take one last look at my main garden project this year. I have been working on revamping the front garden. It was previously just pebbled with a bland pot of green in the middle. I have tried to plant so that there will be a nice mix of shade-loving foliage with a few different periods of seasonal interest. Between the ferns and the rocks, it has elements of both Japanese gardens and Victorian ferneries. Both influences I am happy with. Overall it is starting to come together. Almost all the plants have been bought at reduced prices or out of season. So I have opted for plants that weren’t always in the best of health but I was confident that they would recover. It’ll still be a few years until it all fills out properly but I’m already happy with the progress.

1. The view from above

The view from above shows I’ve kept a reasonable framework of evergreen plants for winter. I planned the planting to try to keep a reasonable level of interest through the seasons. The ilex crenata along the border edge has filled out a bit since planting. It should eventually form domes of green but at the moment it’s still a bit patchy. The patches of Asplenium ferns are holding out the best of the evergreen ferns. I was expecting these to be the toughest as they grow wild in my local area. A lot of the other species are still small but will look good next year as they fill out. The stepping stone path still needs finishing. I used a few temporary log cuts for the last stepping stones and haven’t got round to replacing them. There are quite a few gaps where the hostas have died down, so may look at filling next year with more cyclamen so there is something on the go through the year. I did consider white primulas to fill the gaps but they don’t have much to recommend them in terms of foliage. The rocks are settling into there positions and the moss is settling back over them. The builders came back to finish the pipe so it drains out the garden. The water butt hasn’t been needed much of late but is well filled for next year.

2. The bins

I have a job to do over the holidays adding some ground base grids under the bins and then gravel fills the gaps. This will make a more solid base for the bins to sit on. The materials have been sat there since the last holiday. So, so long as the ground isn’t too solid I’ll hopefully get this done. There are some lords and ladies growing underneath the bins currently. This has attractive foliage but poisonous berries. It spreads rapidly by seed. I’m in two minds about digging it up to remove or to place somewhere else.

3. The cyclamen

The cyclamen are looking good still. I got a few cheap trays from Tescos a few months back and they’ve added some nice winter flowers. Hopefully, they’ll self-seed. I forget which types are hardier so don’t know if they’ll return next year.

4. Window boxes

These boxes were intended as window boxes but they are too small so they ended up either side of the door. The hostas have died down now but Asplenium trichomanes are still on the go. I planted some white crocus in for spring as well. Hopefully, keep something on the go through the year. I’ve added a few Katherine Gold Irises for good measure. These were a purchase Alice made a few months back when I gave her the choice of whichever bulbs she wanted but I haven’t really had anywhere for them so they are getting rammed into these. Just poking its way in at the front of the photo are a few fuschia that are still holding on. I doubt those last few buds will open currently.

5. Heuchera

The heuchera have largely stayed looking good. The lime marmalade and forever purple combination is still one of the finest pairings of heuchera in the garden. The bright green combined with the veined leaves looks grand.

A few of the other varieties are looking a bit downcast by the wet weather but hopefully, they’ll pick up again. I’m going to have to look at taking cuttings next year to increase stock as they are quite pricey to fill decent sized areas. The moss is establishing well on the rocks. I’d be happy for it to continue spreading onto the ground to form a good mat.

6. Crocus planting

I’ve gone for filling gaps with mass crocus planting. I went with all white Joan of Arc from Gee-Tee bulbs. I was good about getting the bulbs into the lawn in the back garden but only just got these in. I am leaving it a bit late but hopefully, they’ll just come up a bit later. I’ve already planted some wild garlic, Allium Ursinum. Accounts differ of this spreading and running rampant, but as it is contained to the front garden with nowhere else it can self-seed easily I should be able to remove if I decide I’ve made a mistake. My theory is the scent of the garlic will drive the slugs away but I have little hopes of this actually working. There are lots of the deciduous ferns and hostas are shrivelled up now, so the crocus will have a chance to flower before these comeback.

We’ve seen lots of people stopping to check out my progress on the front garden even at this time of year when it’s looking a bit sparse. Hopefully, by next year the evergreens will have filled out nicely so there is still a lot of foliage through winter. We had a full day of rain yesterday so don’t think I’ll be doing many jobs today, but I’m off for Christmas now so hopefully get on with the remaining jobs.

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Front Garden update 3

Having returned from holiday I have got back out to continue with my front garden revamp. While we have been away the front path has been taken up. The crumbling concrete path has been replaced with smart pavers. Last time I wrote about the front garden I was leaving off planting part of the garden as there was still the path to complete. Now I’ve been able to get out and planted up a bit more of the space.

The view from above

The views from above shows the right side where I started planting has started to fill out well. The plants closest the path went in yesterday. I’ve given them a good soak in to help establish them. I’ve been sticking to ferns, hostas and heuchera so far. I’m aiming for a mixture of foliage with different shapes and colours. The garden is North facing thus all the shade lovers but luckily I like foliage plants. I’m keeping the flowers minimal and getting the colour through the leaves.

The view from above shows there are still some gaps to fill. I’ve used some coleus and alchemilla to fill gaps while the other plants fill out. I’ve bought stepping stones for half the circuit. They lead to the water butt, then back round to the path. The idea being I can water all the areas from the stone to limit how much I step on the ground. Alice does a circuit round each time she comes out the door which is quite useful for stopping her running out onto the road. The stepping stones in the bottom part of the photo are just temporary until next month when I’ll buy stepping stones to complete the circuit. These were log cookies we had spare from the wedding.

The wall where the bins are was on the point of collapsing so we’ve had it replaced with a fence similar to the other side. It’s odd but the bins feel tidying for having a fence taller than them. We are planning long term to build a bin tidy out from the fence to hide them. Next door has started tidying their garden. They said I’d shamed them into tidying, though they did say it jokingly rather than edged with venom. They are looking to plant something in the middle of their circle, then put fresh weed matting and gravel down. I’m trying to encourage them to continue the hydrangea love. But I think that would suit the spot: shaded, minimal effort, long period of interest.

Front door

The supports over the front door had partially rotted and we were considering removing. The gaps were filled with expanding foam, then the edge with wood filler. It’s had the first layer of primer. We are deciding whether to paint white or to go dark grey to contrast with grey of the bricks. The path looks much improved for the new pavers.

On either side of the door, I have placed these planters. They were intended to be used as window boxes but I can’t support them well under the window and they aren’t really big enough. I think they are looking smart here though. The coleus in front of the planter was grown from seed and is adding some temporary interest. I’m planning to add some snowdrops or crocus to the planter for some Spring interest. The hostas will die down for winter. The ferns are evergreen but will brown off to be replaced by fresh fronds in Spring.

The hanging basket was looking a bit dry from us being away so I’ve cut back some of the trailing plants. I think it’ll grow back with a bit of care.

Stepping stones

I have selected concrete steppings stones in the shape of log cuts. They aren’t the fanciest but they will gradually be surrounded by the plants. Each is slightly different so it doesn’t look too uniform.

Now I have an idea of where the stones are going and the path is done I’ve added some more plants. The hostas are mostly hosta fortuneii. These were bought for £1 or £2 in Winter on sale when they look like a pot of dead growth. I’m also taking a chance on placing the aspidistra outside. This has come from my classroom but I don’t have space for it in my next year’s classroom. I’m hoping close to the house it will have enough warmth to survive. My China Moon aspidistra in the back garden survived last winter so hopefully, this will too.


A few more ferns have been added. These are mainly wispier varieties like Dryopteris and Polystichum. I’m not sure how these will cope with the sea winds so I’m going to need to keep them well watered initially and we’ll see how they go. So far I’ve mainly planted varieties like Asplenium with wider fronds that can cope with the winds.


The water butt has proved invaluable since installing it. I have been able to manage the majority of the watering over the Summer from just this saving me carrying water through the house. We have had quite a wet Summer, but still very helpful while I’m getting plants established. Even small downpours have helped fill it back up. It has been a bit smelly a few times so I’ve added an antimicrobial disc to see if that helps.

The frogs have been sheltering under the bricks and tile the butt is resting on. A well-shaded spot for them. They’ll hopefully return the favour by eating the slugs to protect my hostas.


The limelight has filled out nicely over its first Summer. It is a bit floppy but it will start to thicken out over the next few years. The flowers have been great and far more than I expected in this first year. Not as spectacular as the paniculata hydrangeas we saw at Exbury but a good start.

It is starting to gain the pink tinge before it browns off.

The help

Alice helped briefly before she lost interest. She enjoyed herself until she got her dress wet then she wanted to go in. Amy and Alice returned to supervise later and check I wasn’t doing anything stupid.

There is still more work to go and it will be a few years to fill out but I’m happy with the progress so far. The next big job will be edging the path to stop soil going onto the path. Then I have some ophiopogon to plant along the edge to keep it smart. Then I’m probably going to put bark down to improve the soil conditions, suppress weeds and help moisture retention. For months I’ve had plants sat on the patio at the back but now they’ve largely been planted I can set my mind to arranging the remaining pots.

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Front Garden update 2

The front garden has moved on a bit further. Yesterday the heavens opened and it rained turning the garden into a pond. The new water butt was overflowing so waterproof trousers and wellies went on and I went out. I emptied the top 1/4 of the butts water onto newly planted shrubs. By this point, the rain was only coming down lightly and as the ground was soft I thought I’d take advantage and try and get a few more plants in.

I’d mentioned in the last update that the ground was solid compressed clay. This has been churned in with the mattock. I’ve dug in some calcified seaweed and some Dalefoot compost. This is supposed to help improve soil structure aiding root growth. I’m planting mainly for foliage. I’ve selected a variety of plants to give different colours, shapes and forms making the garden more about textures than about flowers. As it fills out it should become less maintenance with many of the plants helping suppress the weeds.

We’ve had a quote on getting the path replaced and he thinks he can do this before the end of the month. We also want to do a bin tidy but that won’t be until the Summer holiday. We might also get the wall at the side replaced as it’s set to collapse. Until this is completed I’m leaving off planting along this side of the garden so the plants don’t get damaged. I’ve got lots of ophiopogon planiscapus to edge the path. This will give a layer of short evergreen plants throughout the year. It will gradually grow thicker helping suppress weeds.

I started with the Ilex crenata and the hydrangea limelight. The hydrangea limelight has gone right in the middle. With a long flowering season, this seemed like a good choice for a centrepiece to plant around. This can grow to about two metres and a half. The flowers start lime and fade to cream then brown off. I don’t expect much from it this year. I just want to get it well established this year. The clay soil with it’s added organic matter should suit it well. The garden is North facing. Hydrangeas like shade and the colours should stand out well even during the darker periods of the day.

Four ilex crenata Stokes have been planted along one edge. These replaced the hebes. This form of holly grows into small domes. It’s often used a box alternative. This will give an evergreen mass along one edge of the garden for year-round interest. These are the plants I’m least sure of how they’ll perform. They will take quite a while to fill out so I don’t expect beautiful cloud pruned hedges for a good many years. I’ve moved a few self-seeded alchemilla mollis to fill gaps while it fills out.

The plan is to have the path to the house replaced and then another line of paving along the edge of the house so we still have access to the windows for cleaning and the water butt. Then I want stepping stones curving between the path and the corner near the water butt. This will give Alice a nice path she can jump between and spots for me to walk on when I’m weeding and watering. This will help the soil improve and avoid it becoming too compressed. I’ve used some spare log cuts to mark out roughly where this will go. To the side of the path, I am placing plants that should be able to handle being brushed past. Then more fragile plants will go further back from the path.

I’m only planting up the back 1/3 for now so there is still space to dig the old path out and replace. But I want to start getting some of these in so they have a chance to root in before Summer. The Japanese Anemone Honorine Jobert is one of the few plants I’ve chosen with flowers of any note. They have a reputation for spreading quickly but as I like these lots I don’t mind dividing it to plant elsewhere.

I bought lots of Hosta Fortunei during winter when they were dormant. As they look like pots of dead plants at this point they only cost £1 and £2. I took a chance buying them this way but they have all grown fine. I now have double figures worth of hostas for at least 1/2 the price. Behind is Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Angustifolia’. This fern grows with long thin wavey fronds. It is evergreen so will keep some structure when the hostas die back. I’m planting them in groups together. These came from plants for shade. They came well packaged and were delivered fast. All the plants look strong and healthy.

Around the hydrangea, I’ve planted two small patches of Hakonchloa macra ‘Aureola’. Forest grass, as it is also known, is a grass that likes growing in shade. While only small at the moment it will hopefully settle in and spread. The blades are striped and turn orange in Autumn. This will add a bit of contrast in shape, colour and form to the surrounding hydrangea and hostas.

These ferns have been divided off an existing fern clump. The neighbours have it growing near the pond and it works its way under our fence. I think it is possibly Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘ostrich fern’. It grows tall and upright like ostrich fern and dies off in winter. But as I didn’t plant it I can’t be certain. Either way, free plants. They will probably droop a bit for being moved but will come back fine next year.

I’ve dotted a number of rocks around the planting. These were in a line alongside the hebes that have been removed. It seemed a shame to waste them so they are being scattered around the planting. The moss can reclaim them. The hosta was from a plant sale a few weeks back for £2. The lady selling thought it might be Big Daddy so I’ve left it a reasonable area around it for it to form a big mound of leaves. It’s had a few bites taken out of it but it’s largely looking good.

The water butt needs its overflow pipe sorting but it’s already proved useful. While it isn’t very pretty I haven’t had to bring any water around from the back garden tap. I’ve been able to water purely from the butt. With the garden being clay soil and North facing and in shade for most of the day the ground should retain water quite well reducing the need for watering. In addition, many of the plants I’ve selected should become quite self-sufficient once they’ve rooted in. The water butt is sat on a tile sample we’d ordered for the newly built garden room but didn’t use. It is meant to be suitable for outside. Amy thinks it’s a bit extravagant for a base for this but it isn’t going to get used for much else.

The view from above shows what I’m aiming at. The hydrangea is central with the house rather than the border. The bricks in the corner are just there for now as that is where all the rain is draining to. I’m just using them as a step across currently. The boxes along the edge are full of rubble that I will use for hardcore to lay the pavers along this edge. The drain pipe along the fence will gradually be covered by the Ilex Crenata. The plants have all got a little bit of space to spread. I may put some temporary planting inbetween while the main plants fill out. More A. mollis maybe. Looking from above I can see a few blue hostas and different coloured heuchera will add some more interest to the planting.

While it doesn’t look like much currently I’m confident it will fill out nicely to look good. It has ended up with quite a Japanese feel with many of the plants being Asian in origin and the rocks dotted around. Amy thinks we should add some fairy garden elements for Alice to enjoy but as it’s in the front garden I don’t want to put anything too expensive that might be stolen. I’m going to hold off on the rest of the planting until the path is done but it feels better now I’m starting to fill the space. Lots more ferns, hostas and heucheras to go in. I’ve also got some coleus seedlings on the go. I may try these for filling gaps to add some bright bursts of colour within the planting. I am off to open gardens today so I may return with some more plant purchases if anything takes my fancy. Even if I have no physical purchases I’m sure I will return with lots of ideas and a new wish list of plants. It will probably be another month until the path is done so it will be a little while until the front garden progresses again.

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Front garden update

The building work is almost at an end. The front of the house is rendered and the brick has been repainted grey. I’ve been hard at work prepping the ground ready for planting.

The ground was covered in pebbles and under this weed matting. Unfortunately, the pebbles have been covered and don’t really do a proper job of suppressing weeds. So I’ve worked taking this all up to get back to the soil under the matting to start afresh making most of this area into a planting area. The ground under is pretty solid clay so I’m working on breaking it up with the mattock. I’m improving the soil structure mixing in some Dalefoot compost in my bid to go peat free and some calcified seaweed. In theory, this should improve the plants chance of taking and growing in the clay soil as well as adding some nutrients.

The removed pebbles have been put down the passage behind the garden to create a more stable path through winter. This becomes a quagmire in wet weather so hopefully, this will improve access year round.

I’ve hammered out the stones that lined the border with the removed hebes. These have quite a bit of concrete still around them. I’m reckon I can still use them though scattered round the border. I’m planning to plant Ilex crenata along this edge creating dark evergreen domes. I’ve got the plants ready to go in. I’m just waiting on the builders to finish their last few jobs so planting can commence.

The path is getting redone with tiles. This should smarten it up from a cracked concrete path. I’ve got to weed it prior to the tiler coming.

While the builders are doing the pipes we’re having a water butt added. This might save me the odd trip round to the tap at the back.

Then the side border of the paths is going to become a bin hideaway and possibly a log store. Neither particularly interesting gardening features but necessary. We may not get a chance to do this until the Summer holiday though.

I’ve made a hanging basket ready. I’d looked into alternatives to the traditional basket of bedding plants and come up with this. The birdcage came from Amazon. It’s been lined with some spare capillary matting. I cut a circle out of a bin bag to put on top to help keep water in. The soil mix has some vermiculite in to help water retention. The plants are coleus, ophiopogon planiscapus and nepeta. The nepeta trails over the edge of the cage. The coleus and opiopogon I thought would contrast nicely in colour and leaf shape. Time will tell how it holds up through Summer but overall I’m happy with the look of it.

I’ve been building plants up for a while buying things up on the cheap. The main focus of the planting is going to be hydrangea limelight in the middle. This will have plenty of space to grow out. The long season of interest should make this a good focal point. Then I have a mixture of ferns, hostas and heucheras to fill around it. Currently it’s all sitting on the back patio.

Along the house wall, I’m planning to pave the edge so we still have access to the windows. Then I have two window boxes made up ready.

I’m itching to get going on the planting up now, but need to wait on the last few builders jobs. But hopefully won’t be too much longer. It’s going to be a slow process for the plants establishing but I’m optimistic that it will work out well.

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