July project: A reclaimed brick path

This week's project - up the garden path.
This week’s project – up the garden path.

So, this is this week’s project. Of course, it had to be the hottest week of the year, in a South facing garden. Lots of sun cream needed! But, hey, we need paths, right? Can’t get from A to B in a garden too easily without one, and you might as well do it in style.

The choice of pathing is endless. You only have to take a trip to a garden centre, builders merchant or local DIY centre to find a crazy and bewildering array of pathing options. You can have pebbles bedded in cement, crushed glass, slate, wooden decking style paths, gravel, grass or other low-growing plants, and of course all of the usual paving slab options and arrangements. I’m sure there are more options still. I’ve decided on old, reclaimed bricks.

My trusty gardening companion and all-round enthusiastic handyman, Alan, is here to help with this project. Phew. We’re using weed membrane underneath a bed of builders sand, with the same yellow builders sand used to point and fill in the bricks once they’ve been laid out. We aren’t cementing the bricks in – no need. I want to create a nice, laid-back, natural path, with irregularities and bits of brick missing, all of its foibles taken into account and used to create an overall naturalistic, ‘cottage garden’ effect.

Any gaps in bricks along the path will be filled over time with a bit of Saxifraga or Thyme – perhaps Thymus ‘Silver Posie’ or Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus’. These mostly stay small, very low growing and neat, with some flower and scent interest.

Some might turn their noses up at a higgledy-piggledy reclaimed brick path, full of gaps, slight drops and rises in level. Well, in the wrong situation they’d be absolutely right to do so. You have to choose the path for the garden, and even the area of garden, in question. In this case, there is a slightly formal design of deep herbaceous beds on either side of a straight-down-the-middle, one metre wide path. Whilst a neatly trimmed grass path works well in that situation, and gives the right impression of relaxed and laid-back yet still relatively formal, this path leads straight on from a pathed patio area and I felt it required some harder landscaping to connect the two areas.

Hard, machined slabs straight to soft grass wasn’t working for me. A brick is man-made and yet much softer to the eye than a square slab of concrete made to look like stone. Bricks crumble and soften at the edges. They can, indeed, look quite natural; they are, after all, made of a natural substance. Old, reclaimed bricks are the way forward (pun intended).

Corrr, just look at these sexy bricks with their bits of grout and chunks missing… Makes me think of Lego blocks, and makes me want to build stuff.

A pile of lovely old bricks.
A pile of lovely old bricks.

Two days in. Turf stripped, ground levelled, membrane down, bricks going in…and this is what we look like today. Wahey!

Me laying an informal, reclaimed brick path.

The key to a successful path is to ensure the ground is level first. In fact, I’m going to use that word a lot in this paragraph just to stress the point… Lightly dig out the ground with a border fork and level using a rake. Use a spirit level to check ground levels. Use a single layer of weed membrane above your base soil level, and use at least an inch or so of builder’s sand above this. Bed each brick in lightly, tapping it in and ensuring that each brick is level with the remaining bricks. Check levels all the time. Even with a more rustic, relaxed path, you still want to ensure that the path is relatively level throughout. You get the idea – level, level, level! The end result will be so much better.

Once the bricks are bedded in, fill in all gaps with completely dry builder’s sand. Be prepared to have to go over the bricks again with more sand in a few weeks, once the path has settled and sand has seeped into cracks and holes. Pointing may need re-doing annually, depending on rainfall and usage. There are a few coloured sand options available now. This could be used to interesting effect when pointing bricks in a path.

Well, today we are almost finished. The weed membrane ran out at exactly the end of the last row, which was fortunate, and we seemed to have exactly the right amount of bricks. I finished off the path that leads into the rose arch using less bricks per row, and using broken half bricks to create a worn away/eroded impression, which then leads straight into lawn. This seems to work nicely, but we have had to raise the level of the ground where turf has dropped over time with heavy footfall. This needs to be seeded so that it grows seamlessly into the turf already here, and back into the half bricks and brick path. It will take a few months for the final result here. Otherwise, all that we need to do now is spend a lot of hours brushing sand into all of the gaps between bricks! This always seems to be the most time-consuming and mundane part of the job!

This was Alan earlier, having reached the quarter way mark!

wpid-wp-1406034885212.jpgTomorrow I will post up the finished product.

Alan’s tips for constructing a brick path:

  • Select a pattern for layout of the brick path
  • Level the area out well to firm ground
  • Use weed membrane to keep weed growth in check
  • Use a decent inch or two thickness of fine sand as your base for the bricks
  • When using reclaimed bricks, choose each brick carefully as you lay them, selecting thickness and size according to the specific spot and allowing for old grout attached to bricks
  • Use broken bricks to fill smaller gaps and awkward areas
  • Use a spirit level with each row and each section of bricks, in all directions, to ensure they’re consistently level
  • Keep lines parallel and straight
  • Fill in and point bricks with fine sand

If you would like a consultation with a view to professional construction of paving or paths in your garden, please contact us using the form below.

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June: Herbaceous beds

Here’s a quick update of the growth and development of the two herbaceous beds on either side of the main path.

Right-hand bed, containing all the cool colours. As can be seen, there is a lot of growth.

Herbaceous border: Cool blues
Herbaceous border: Cool blues

And the left-hand bed, containing all the hot colours.

Herbaceous border: hot bed
Herbaceous border: Hot bed

The hot border was only planted at the beginning of April, yet is already starting to fill out. I admit to leaving quite a lot of gaps and spaces around each plant. I’ve been both criticised and applauded for this. One friend admired my constraint (her garden is full of plants and each new plant gets shoehorned into the tiniest gaps imaginable). It is entirely deliberate. I’ve planted up many gardens in the past (my own and others), often without leaving space for each plant to grow to its fullest potential, and have regretted it within one to two years. Plan them too close together, and you both limit the space for larger shrubs to expand to their natural and glorious size, and you choke out light for the plants next to them to thrive.

I’ve lost too many smaller plants this way; I’ve found myself wandering around the garden a year after planting, remembering specimens that used to be in the border here and there but which have disappeared, then realising they’ve been reduced to a small space deep beneath a shrub’s lower branches. I’ve found too many much-loved and treasured perennials reduced to one pathetic, weedy stem, desperately searching out the light and failing, and I’ve lost quite a few plants this way. It is now my rule #1 when planting – always take into account the final size of a plant, when you put them in, and allow them a decent growing area accordingly.

Having said all of that, I still make the same mistake now and then. Just look at the Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ in the first image. That plant grows! I’ve put a number of smaller shrubs around it, some of which will have to be monitored to ensure they don’t become overshadowed, quite literally. I’ve also put a Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’ right next to it, within around two feet. That’s going to have to come out and move at some point. Moving mature shrubs is never a good thing. Planning is everything.

Please welcome to the world: Lilium ‘Blackburn’

Last year, I bought some specialist lily bulbs at Gardener’s World Live. They sat in their little brown paper bags for some time – long past planting time – until I finally succumbed to the guilt induced by looking at two sad paper bags of lily bulbs, and finally put them in nice deep, wide pots. Just in time for winter! Derp. So, they sat in their pots all winter, putting out lots of root and not much else (naturally).

This spring, the first shoots appeared from the abyss of barren soil, and I got a little bit excited. I might actually see these lilies flower after all? They have put on growth since March, slowly, endless pushing upwards and outwards until they have filled their pots with countless stems of lush green leaves. They started to look tired around May time, with the leaves turning pale and a bit sickly, and they have been mercilessly attacked by Scarlet Lily Beetle since the first sprouts appeared. My partner took on the thankless task of locating each beetle with deadly precision, and taking them out, one by one. It took about a month to remove all traces of Lily Beetle, including finding their eggs on the undersides of the leaves, and removing them. We also used a couple of doses of organic bug spray. At the same time, I commenced with a weekly liquid feed (Tomorite or Miracle-Gro – either is good).

All traces of Lily Beetle removed, and feed taking effect, the lilies started to look incredibly green and lush once again. Juicy, fat buds started to form at the ends of each stem. Some of these stems have grown to about a metre long! Each day, I briefly inspect each stem, looking to see how far advanced each flower bud is, waiting patiently for one to pop. For the last week, three of the stems on my lily ‘Blackburn’ have been loaded with ever-darkening and ever-expanding buds, all ready to burst. I’ve felt like an expectant father. This morning, this happened.

Lily 'Blackburn'
Lily ‘Blackburn’
Lily 'Blackburn'
Lily ‘Blackburn’
Lily 'Blackburn'
Lily ‘Blackburn’

The best rose?

This is, without a doubt, the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'The Lady of Shallot' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘The Lady of Shallot’ (David Austin Roses)

It’s vigorous, resistant to everything, blooms constantly, the blooms last for quite a few days, and it smells gorgeous.

Um. This is also the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'Boscobel' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Boscobel’ (David Austin Roses)

Likewise, it’s vigorous, resistant, covered in blooms and buds, and smells delicious.

I thought ‘The Lady of Shallot’ was unbeatable, but clearly not so. These two are the stalwarts in my rose bed. However…

This rose is almost the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'Princess Anne' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Princess Anne’ (David Austin Roses)

She flowers constantly, and her flowers change colour, which leads to an amazing grouping of perfectly matched colouring. The older roses fade to a lilac colour, while the new buds open as a deep pink colour. The effect is impressive. Put Rose ‘Princess Anne’ with Rose ‘Munstead Wood’, Rose ‘Darcey Bussell’, Rose ‘Sexy Rexy’ and Rose ‘Boscobel’ (as I have), and you have an impressive grouping of perfectly matched colours (see below).

Raised rose bed - June
Raised rose bed – June

Rose ‘The Lady of Shallot’ looks nice planted behind Rose ‘Indian Summer’ and Rose ‘Shine On’, all David Austin Roses (I really should get paid for all this good publicity). Always plant ‘The Lady of Shallot’ behind others – it’s vigorous and will grow high and wide. Ideal for the back of a border, not the front. Can also be grown as a climber.

All the yellows
All the yellows

Speaking of climbing roses, I have a new best rose in my garden. Hopefully, she will prove just as strong and resistant as all my other best roses!

Rose 'Teasing Georgia' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Teasing Georgia’ (David Austin Roses)

Sadly, this rose (below) has so far proved not to be the best rose in my garden.

Rose 'Boule de Neige' (David Austin Roses)
Disastrous Rose ‘Boule de Neige’ (David Austin Roses)

Rose ‘Boule de Neige’ has suffered from either the early cold snap, thrips or aphid damage. The buds have turned yellow before fully formed, in some cases, and dropped off. The rest have remained on the plant and tried to develop, but have produced stunted, tiny flowers. I have sprayed twice with Rose Clear Ultra (active ingredients triticonazole and acetamiprid – acetamiprid is considered to be one of the neonicotinoids to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder in bees), and I’m reluctant to do so again. May try a washing up liquid mix and see if that helps. I suspect it’s too late for this particular rose to benefit from much help now. Hopefully, next year it won’t suffer the same fate. It’s obviously not particularly resistant. In the same bed, behind Boule de Neige, is Rose ‘Wollerton Old Hall’, and that seems to be thriving and starting to produce plenty of flowers.

Rose 'Wollerton Old Hall' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Wollerton Old Hall’ (David Austin Roses)

Chaos Vs. Order – the conservationist gardener’s predicament

My plan for the garden here always involved leaving the top section of the 200 foot length to grow slightly wild and unkempt. The initial idea was to have a shady, slightly Japanese inspired oasis of bamboos and Acers, long grasses, a meandering path of slightly shorter grass, leading to a shallow ornamental pond and raised deck with a summer-house. Sounds good, right? So far, all I’ve managed is some seriously long grass and a ridiculous section of rotting turf at the very top of the garden. Yay (that was sarcasm).

Amongst the long grass, I’ve planted three fruit trees (two apple and one pear, all on semi-dwarf root stock) and three dark foliage ornamental trees (Prunus ‘Royal Burgundy’Prunus cerasifera Nigra and Malus ‘Royalty’. These aren’t showing much growth yet, but it’s the first year. I look forward to seeing these trees flourish (hopefully) and fill their allotted space in this section.

Last year, after moving in, I left the dog’s paddling pool in the long grass at the top of the garden. It filled with rain, then dried out, then filled with rain, and so on. It has been almost full for some time now, due to the rains we’ve had in May in the UK. I moved it to empty the nasty water over the trees a few weeks ago, only to spot a small newt plop out onto the soil as I poured. I was amazed, and horrified. I quickly put the paddling pool back in its previous spot in the long grass, then scooped up the newt (with difficulty – slippery things), and put it back in the water. In my panic, I put a large rock in the water with it, and a plant in a pot. I’m not sure why – something for it to do? In all seriousness, I was ecstatic to find this single example of unusual UK wildlife in my garden, and immediately went into action to encourage it to remain. The odd bank of rotting turf, weeds, long grasses, and self-seeded saplings popping up behind the paddling pool have obviously attracted small animals and birds. It is a rare area of uncultivated and undisturbed wilderness – small as it is – in an otherwise ordered and highly maintained row of urban gardens.

I mean, I knew we had foxes. I’ve even fed them once or twice, and they have rewarded me with some lovely dusk antics (and the occasional harmless digging in my veg bed). I’ve seen the occasional bat swooping low at dusk, and some swallows darting and screeching across the gardens in the last few days. All wonderful, but none of these seem too concerned with the wild state or otherwise of my garden. I realise they are dependent on insects, and how I plant and maintain my garden will affect insect populations and, thus, affect them (e.g. pesticide use and planting insect attracting plants); but that is slightly different to the implications of the actual physical state of the garden.

Since then, I have seen the same common newt in the paddling pool, but we now have two Great Crested Newts, a male and female. I’m out of my tiny mind with joy. I’ve also seen Burnet Moths (loads) stopping to enjoy the long grass and sanctuary, and a small common frog. This is great! My son, who was reared on long walks in the countryside and respect and love for wildlife, has spent more time in the garden in the last few days watching the newts and moths, than he ever has in the previous eleven months. Now, I’ve realised I have a bit of a quandary.

‘The Plan’ involves clearing this top section of garden, removing the bank of turf, clearing away the unwanted saplings, and building a raised deck and summer-house. It also involves putting in a very shallow ornamental pond. ‘The Plan’ never took into account existing wildlife, nor did it take into account any wildlife looking for refuge from other gardens and locally cleared areas. It should have.

When I think back to the garden as it was, when we moved in, it was ALL long grass and wilderness. What creatures lived in it, back then? What wildlife did we disturb in the process of creating something ordered and cultivated, and pleasing to the human eye? What the hell do you do if you want a horticulturist’s dream garden – trimmed lawn, herbaceous beds, well-maintained shrub borders, cultivated veg and rose beds, etc. – and at the same time wish to attract and nurture some of the UK’s most endangered wildlife? It seems to me to be a very serious issue. There is and has been a long-standing war between humans and wildlife, with many of the minor battles taking place within the average urban garden. Wildlife is losing.

Now I find myself completely re-considering ‘The Plan’ for the top section of garden, and it is having an effect on my maintenance, too. There is a small section of wild scrub running alongside Flame’s lawn, and I had been planning to clear it this weekend. Then, I saw a frog in there, and that activity went out of the window. What if that is its home? How many other small mammals live in there? I’d really like to encourage frogs, as my Hosta ‘Blue Wedgewood’ (decimated) will testify, so do I really want to clear away its home? No. And, again, that leads me to ponder which animals’ homes I removed when we initially cleared the garden. Shouldn’t we all consider the implications to our local wildlife when we move into a new garden and make plans to cultivate and clear? Should it even be a legal requirement to survey and monitor wildlife in a garden before making changes to the physical layout? Probably.

That may sound extreme, but I’m really anti human arrogance – the idea that we have the right to charge into an area and do what we like with it is seen as a perfectly acceptable one, but it isn’t. We are a part of a whole – we are interdependent, and when we do what we like with an area of land, there are implications to wildlife populations, whether we are aware of them or not. There is a knock-on effect. Frogs and toads control pests, insects feed birds and bats, yet we are constantly striving to remove both from our gardens using our own highly questionable methods. Those methods are now being called to account for the catastrophic decline in bee populations, along with the general trend in drastic decline in small mammals and invertebrate populations. Organic gardeners know that we must use and encourage natural controls, rather than using lethal chemicals and destructive gardening practices which are ultimately counter-productive and disastrous for wildlife (and us).

‘The Plan’ as it stands? To hurriedly rush up to the silly blue, scallop-shaped paddling pool every morning and every evening to study the newts and search the long grass for moths and butterflies. Long-term, I’m thinking of building a much-bigger-than-planned pond, something deeper, with ledges for marginal plants and invertebrates. I’ll wait until Winter to start clearing the old, rotting turf, when hopefully most animals will have found somewhere to hibernate or hide. I’ll leave some of it undisturbed. We should still be able to build a raised deck area for  a summer-house, and the space beneath would potentially be ideal to locate a hedgehog hide, and for foxes and other mammals to nest in. I’ll keep the grass longer than planned, with the hopes that once the dust has settled from the deck construction, existing wildlife will make use once again of the hidden spaces and wild bits. I’ve cleared away the mental image of Japanese-inspired, ordered space, and come to terms with a different, wilder, less ordered vision of garden tranquility. It will be wonderful and guilt-free, the best kind of garden.

To landscape or not to landscape, that is the question. Think I’ll be pondering this one for a while. Perhaps we should all ponder… Ha, ponder? Never mind.

Almost a year old.

The garden is almost a year old. The right-hand ‘cool blues’ border was planted up almost a year ago. These plants have rooted well over winter and are now showing vigorous, healthy growth. It looks like a proper herbaceous border! Almost. A few gaps at the front, but not many. These can be filled in time with low-growing plants that suit the colour scheme of whites and blues. Amazingly, I didn’t lose a single plant over winter, of those planted in this border.

Cool Blues border.
Cool Blues border.

The clump of Dianthus in the background turned out to be pink, not white, so that is ear-marked for a move to the ‘hot’ side!

I’m planning to re-paint the fence a more natural pale colour (Harvest Gold) to match the new fence on the other side. This will set the colour of the border off far better than the horrible dark stain on the panels now (apologies to anyone who likes that colour for their fences). The Nordman fir is not a part of the plan, and is in a pot at the back until I’ve decided where (if) to plant it.

Hosta ‘Big Daddy’ is huge in the background, but not at its full size yet for the year. It is just starting to flower. Campanula persicifolia has formed a nice clump in its allotted space. It has around ten flower spikes on it, with many more to come. The bells are huge, and perfectly blue. The Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ is picking up pace and putting on some nice, new growth. Bit worried about the eventual size of these, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ has just formed some nice buds, and one flower escaped today (not shown).

Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate'
Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’

This is a dwarf  (low-growing) Tradescantia with amazing acid green foliage and bright blue flowers. The contrast is fantastic, and it works well in the blue border.

The hardy geraniums are all looking amazing, and I seem to have quite a collection. Geranium magnificum ‘Rosemoor’ has been a huge surprise (literally). It’s a big one, as the name suggests, and here it is.

Geranium magnificum 'Rosemoor'.
Geranium magnificum ‘Rosemoor’.

And here’s a selection of the other hardy geraniums in both borders, so far.

Hardy Geraniums
Hardy Geraniums

 

Roses in May

The first David Austin roses are budding and flowering. The first variety of the year to flower, three days ago, was Princess Anne (why I bought this rose I don’t know, as I don’t love pink and I certainly have no affinity with Princess Anne!). Here she is:

Rose 'Princess Anne' (David Austin Roses)
Rose ‘Princess Anne’ (David Austin Roses)

As it has consistently shown for the last two years, David Austin’s The Lady of Shallot is enthusiastically lush and full of buds in early May. It is the tallest plant in the rose bed, by about a foot, and full of stems, leaf and buds. She has flowered very closely on the heels of Princess Anne.

David Austin 'The Lady of Shallot' rose
David Austin ‘The Lady of Shallot’ rose

Despite feeding the roses, and giving them all a light prune in March, they haven’t looked especially healthy so far this year (excluding ‘Lady of Shallot’, which always looks healthy, regardless). I will need to keep up the feeding, and mulch the whole raised bed soon with rotted manure. Rose ‘Blue Moon’ is looking especially ill, and I don’t know why. The roses are all now affected by greenfly, some worse than others, and a third have black spot. They were sprayed once with Rose Clear in April, but now need a repeat spraying. I’ll keep up the spraying of Rose Clear every two weeks from now on. I’m picking off the leaves affected by black spot and putting them in the brown bin (I should burn them – I have no incinerator).

I’ve decided that – in the spirit of the Chelsea Flower Show – the ‘Lady of Shallot’ rose will be my rose of the decade! I am so impressed with its vigour and repeat flowering, it’s almost evergreen nature and strong, climber-like habit. Everyone should grow one of these roses. I recommend it all the time to our customers at work, as you can be a complete beginner or a rose aficionado, and you’ll still find this rose has endless merits and is unbelievably trouble-free to grow. It’s a rose to restore your faith in roses (we all know how frustrating and disheartening they can be to grow).