Inheriting the Earth
Moving house often
means taking over someone else's garden, their successes
and failures. Whilst the temptation to make your mark
may be overwhelming, Christopher Lloyd advises patience
and a bit of basic groundwork before beginning a grand
When you take over
a garden from a previous owner, you inherit the results
of their aspirations, which may be wonderful, and the
legacy of their neglect, which may be horrific.
If the whole place
looks a hopeless mess, the temptation may be to sweep
everything aside and to start again. Then it will be
all yours. I believe that a wait-and-see policy is far
preferable. Give the garden a year in which to show
what it contains. Build on what seems worth retaining
and gradually eliminate what is clearly rubbish.
The furnishing of
may be a great boon, helping to give the garden an established
appearance and to give it shade; we can’t do without
some of that. But too many trees are also a great nuisance.
They may make you feel shut in and their roots are competitive
for moisture and nutrients, which gives little chance
to smaller things. However, do go slowly with tree thinning
and don’t make hasty decisions. Patience is the
watchword but is the most difficult virtue to preach
to the majority of gardeners, yet it is necessary in
so much of gardening.
In the riddance of
weeds, for instance, such as couch
elder and bindweed,
if you try to plant where such as these are already
established, you will experience endless frustration.
A first step in taking over any garden must be to rid
yourself once and for all of these persistent weeds.
You need to get at them while the scene is not encumbered
by precious plants. Any of these that you need to retain
should be moved out - potted up, maybe, or planted temporarily
elsewhere. There will probably be some pieces of the
noxious weed lurking in their roots. You need to be
able to recognize these and extract them with religious
devotion. No one else, other than yourself, will do
this job so conscientiously, because you know that your
garden’s future depends on your thoroughness.
In the case of others set to do the job for you, their
attention will sometimes wander, their eyes glaze with
boredom. To them, being thorough won’t seem to
have the same urgency as it will to you.
That is the hand-weeding
side of the job, but in a larger area, once cleared
of anything precious, you should use the weedkiller
generally marketed as Roundup. You apply this while
the weeds are growing vigorously, so that they take
it up. After two or three months, you will be able to
see what has escaped the first dose and apply a second.
Very likely a third will be needed.
You must also ask
yourself what the soil in your new garden is like. In
many cases, the vigor or weakness of the plants already
there will give you your answers. If even the weeds
are growing weakly, something is seriously wrong. Good
drainage is paramount for a start; few plants will tolerate
The soil may be utterly
exhausted, especially in old town gardens where it has
been subjected to generations of pollution. In that
case you must replace it with good top
soil and with bulky organic manure,
which can be brought in, if necessary, in bags. But
first you will need to get rid of some of what is already
there, especially if the soil’s overall level
is quite sufficiently high. This often entails the removal
Set the top soil on one side, then dig out and remove
the sub-stuff, which usually looks disgusting. You may
need a skip for its disposal. Then back with the top
soil and the organic additions. Preferably get such
as are not full of weed seeds, like those of stinging
nettles. It is good to know the source of what you are
in with the planting of new trees (especially) and shrubs.
These are a garden’s long-term elements. If you
get the wrong kinds or plant them in the wrong place,
future adjustments will be difficult. Perennials
can easily be moved around. Even these can be invasive
and a nuisance, however; always be a little suspicious
of presents from friends out of their own gardens. The
plants they can most easily spare may be the ones that
can easily turn out to have aggressive habits.
All this may sound
complicated and daunting, but once you are bitten with
the joy of making lovely plants grow happily for you
and because of your own efforts, there’ll be no
See also the Helping
with problem soils
with persistent weeds
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com