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A Garden from (almost) scatch


By JohnOz


As I told you in my intro. we inherited a Leylandi hedge when we moved into our house about 5 years ago. Now if there is one plant I cannot tolerate in a small garden it is a monster, and in my view Leylandi are monsters. My garden is not small, as in the pocket handkerchief size that comes with most modern Barratt type houses, but it’s not the rolling acres size either. Our little plot is approximatey 50m long X 25m wide, with an extension up to house about 7m wide X 20m long.
Most of the large end of the garden was laid down to lawn (or rather moss and clover) with an established conifer bed on the right, a beautiful Taxus baccata (yew) in the far right corner. In between, down the right hand side of the ‘lawn’ was an ‘extensive’ herbacious bed all of 12 inches wide and 30 m long. It’s one saving grace was a mature Ceanothus, the type with the striking bright blue flowers not the boring dull grey blue dust trap.
At the far end of the garden the original owner (the house was built in 1973) had dug a pond and (horror of horrors) had piled the sub soil on top of the existing top soil to form a raised bank at the back and sides of the pond. The pond is concrete, so options are limited. Then, all the way down the left hand side of the garden, 55 meters of it, was the Leylandi hedge. When we arrived it was about 30 feet high and 3 m wide at the base. The soil was so dry and impoverished over a further 5m that even clover and moss would not grow and the grass was fighting a losing battle.
We moved in in November 2002. For 3 years we debated what to do about it. We fed the lawn; we aerated the lawn and raked in grit and potting compost; we re-seeded the lawn. We lopped about 20 feet off the top of the Leylandi. It still took 2 days to trim it three times a year to keep it under control and produced enough trimmings to require 3 trips to the tip in the family car.
We considered cutting them down and erecting a fence on the boundary. But neither of us wanted acres of bare fencing while the plants were establishing, only to be knocked back every couple of years when we painted the fence with preservative. We didn’t really want to remove the hedge because there was so many wild birds in it.
So my dear wife Zina came up with the idea of cutting off the green bits, adding a bit of trellis between the now dead tree trunks and growing a green fence with all the climbers we liked.
So in the summer of 2006 we took the chainsaw to the Leylandi and gave them a short back and sides. I then constructed a trellis with about 600 feet of roofing laths. We burnt all the brash on site and added the ashes to the farmyard manure. In the autumn of 2006 we traced out a new mixed bed in front of our stark new ‘fence’. The soil was so compacted, impoverished and dry it almost needed a road breaker to turn it over. And I double dug it and added umpteen barrow loads of farmyard manure that had been festering away for a year at the bottom of the garden.
Late last autumn we started to plant.
I had fortuitously bought most of the stock from a small nursery from a neighbour, who was liquidating the assets of a deceased reative, for the princley sum of £25. Most of the plants were conifers (NOT Leylandi) and many were infested with vine weevil.
I spent a really filthy week washing all the old compost from the plants, disinfecting the roots with a pesticide for vine weevil, and repotting in new compost, in summer of 2005.
But it paid dividends. When we started planting we had very few other plants to purchase, so I was able to concentrate on buying prime specimen plants. Must not forget the soil. We live on land in the East/North East Derbyshire coal measures. The soil pH is fairly even over the site at about 6.5. So we are slightly acidic. The land was formerly farm land, the home farm paddock judging by the deed plans, so we have a deep silty, loamy soil, over a reddish yellow clay. Depth of topsoil ranges from 200 to 500mm. So it’s great stuff to grow carrots on.
In the bulk lot I had a beautiful Hibiscus syriacus “Diane”, an Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’ , an Aucuba japonica ‘Marbled White’, several Lonicera, several Magnolia, several each of Berberis, Pyracantha, Vitis, Euonymous, Elaeagnus, Cotoneaster, Forsythia, Cornus, Parthenocissus, and more.
I bought a Ribes odoratum, Arbutus unedo, Drymis winteri, several Clematis and lots of narcisus bulbs.
Planting went on until first frost last winter and I started again early March this year.
That’s the background of what’s gone on to date. In future blogs I’ll keep updating how things progress.

More blog posts by JohnOz

Next post: November 30 2007



Hi JohnOz, I am feeling tired just reading all that :o) I did a tiny amount of double digging earlier this year and am thinking twice about even doing more on my tiny plot. Glad your hard work is paying off and looking forward to hearing more!

1 Dec, 2007


Thanks for the encouragement. I would not even contemplate double digging as a regular form of physical exercise. It took me about 3 weeks to dig the lot. Thanks not only to the compacted nature of the soil but also to the huge network of Leylandi roots. I was amazed how far they went. In a future blog I'll illustrate how far they go when I tell you all what they did to the pond. Digging the first meter next to the Leylandi I used the felling axe (to cut the roots) as much as I used the spade.
I think it pays dividends to double dig in situations like I inherited or where you want a deep topsoil to grow good root crops. Although double digging breaks up compacted soils and can be used to break any subsoil pans that may be present, it could be that being too enthusiastic when digging could actually damage the soil structure. I tend not to dig deep once a bed is going (either with veg or herbacious), just what is necessary to remove the nasty weeds (dock, dandelion or nettle - that kind of thing). Otherwise I just mulch and let the worms do the digging. I have one of those tools with the short spiral tines and just use it to stir up the top inch or two to keep the ephemeral weeds down. It also breaks up any surface crust so that any rain can soak in straight away - not a problem we had last summer!
Best Regards

1 Dec, 2007


Wow! Hubby and I have 4 connifers to take out of our garden - 2 leylandii and 2 crinoline lady, they are compromising a very big brick wall that divides us from a row of garages. Each is about 40 foot tall. We are seeking professional help with these because of where they are. I must say I'm really excited by what I can now put into the garden and reading your blog has spurred me on to get hubby to get the garden man in and get going, it will be a good way to work off the Christmas excess.

One thing with your soil type there have you thought about Rhodderdendrons they love acidic loamy soil and are so beautiful. I can't have them as have good old Essex potters clay as my sub soil that they hate.

2 Dec, 2007


Hi Lisa
Since you are a rhododendron lover have you thought about planting them in tubs?
We have neutral to alkaline soil here so next year I am planning on tub planting Pieris and Azalea to go with my Acer pots. All acid lovers. Give it a go then you can enjoy these beautiful plants as well as the ones you already have.

2 Dec, 2007


Hello Lisa
Thanks for the comments. And I'll encourage you, get out there and get those monsters out. I can remember people like Fred Sowerbutts, Clay Jones and Percy Thrower telling us what wonderful plants Leylandi are for hedging. Maybe they are, if they are kept within bounds. Trouble is you just turn your back for a year and they're off like a Saturn 5 rocket.
With regard to the rhododendrons, we have 3. The one in the photo of the Leylandi skeletons, which is a beautiful large flowered pink variety of unknown provenance. One is a very pale pink with smaller flowers. The third has large white flowers and has velvety brown covering on the underside of the leaves, (I know I should remember what it's called but I'm afraid it's the age of the brain). I inherited them all with the garden and none have name tags so I have no idea what variety they are. In spite of having an acid soil I do monitor what is happening with the soil round my acid lovers and give the soil a treatment with sequestered iron or similar if it reaches pH 7.
And also I'd go with Maple's suggestion of having a rhododendron in a container planted in ericaceous compost. They are as hardy as steel so you could use a big container that you would not have to move inside in winter. Or even build a brick raised bed type container (say 2 feet high) against the wall where the conifers are, dig out the soil and fill it with a good acidic growing medium. You could even put a seat on top of the small wall.
Best wishes

2 Dec, 2007


I've got virtually neutral ph so I have a beautiful Camellia in a pot in ericacious compost -, it's very happy there and has flowered each year, I can see the new buds getting fatter ready for 2008 now! I have really run out of space for any more pots, (I've got rather a lot...) or I'd be planting Azaleas and Rhodos as well!

2 Dec, 2007

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