Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Gardening Race Begins

It's Sunday lunchtime, it's pouring with rain, and we are in The Porterhouse pub having a pre-lunchtime drink, and discussing our plans about how to incorporate a chicken run into the design of our garden at home. Before that, it was Iran's nuclear capability and potential threat, and before that it was what sort of challenges Boris Johnson faces as mayor of London. Our conversations are never about mundane things. After grabbing a few things for dinner from M&S, we headed back home, and spent a rare afternoon crashed out and watching TV, firstly Jane Eyre, and then Ireland and France in the six nations rugby. Later, I shall be preparing a batch of yellow split pea soup, but in the meantime I have been wondering what part of the week to blog about, as there has been quite a lot going on business wise, and settled on a bit of a 'mish mash' of everything.

It's been a bit tricky doing all that what planned, what with a mashed up finger. On Wednesday, I have to go to hospital to have the stitches removed, and some physiotherapy done and hopefully all will be ok from then on.
March signals the start of the years main contractual work for me, and every work day from tomorrow will now be filled from start to finish with regular maintenance. As a result, last week saw both Amanda and myself racing to get as many of the small jobs out of the way. Of course we didn't manage to get it all done, but we made a good headstart anyway. In some cases, she would work on one part of the garden, and I would be somewhere else, as was the case here, with me looking down on her from the top of a tiered terrace garden as we talked and worked.

The rhododendron, now bursting into flower, was particularly beautiful.

One of the jobs back in this post required a little extra work to finish things off. A clear difference between the tastes of two different people, which shall be obvious to you in a second. We first had to go to the nursery to gather provisions of a loads of small pebbles, bark mulch, stepping stones and weed-proof membrane. Once loaded, we grabbed a quick coffee in the stores cafe before setting off to the task in hand.

I quite enjoy this sort of work. Although not working with plants, it's not exactly hard landscaping, but is satisfying. Once the membrane had been pegged in place, the stepping stones were put down, and then the remaining areas filled with pebbles. I think pleasing enough to the eye, although perhaps not something that I would plan, but the customer knew what they wanted and so who am I to argue?

Their neighbour simply wanted bark mulch laying. Again, I wasn't too happy with the result, but when other ideas were suggested a while ago, they were adamant. By now it was lunchtime, and so back to the garden centre for some warm soup and more coffee before setting off to the next job.

Another of the small 'one-offs' that needed to be ticked off the list was a tidy up of the small back garden of a delightful elderly couple that we have known since starting Four Seasons some fifteen years ago. Up until now, they have tended this small plot themselves, but alas, old age and illness has finally caught up with them, and they have asked us to tend to it now and again. 

It was mostly just a case of clearing away all of the numerous pots etc, cutting down any dead herbaceous perennials, trimming back the few shrubs, and then freshening up the soil.

Not a lot of garden, but enough for them, and now a little tidier.

And yet another small garden that we get asked to freshen up occasionally, this time in Barton-on-Sea, and again the owner is now a little too old to look after it herself. None of these are anything like the huge regular contracts that we have to tend on a weekly basis through the normal work schedule, but they are just as enjoyable in their own way, and take us back to our gardening 'roots' if you like.

Just a lawn, small hedge and some tiny borders, but very pleasant to do on a sunny afternoon.

The dominant task this last week has been the house in Sandbanks. Now that the re-landscaping is slowly taking place, we have to start getting the plants needed to bring together the various areas as they are prepared. Firstly, a trip to Marchants Nursery, to see what we could pull together in the way of specimen shrubs. Again, a wonderfully sunny day, and the drive into the nursery is so picturesque.

We spent ages walking around, 'umming and erring', weighing up the various plants in this huge place, but only came away with a specimen Hamamaelis mollis, Sambucus Black Lace and three Cistus Silver Pink. Given that we will probably need around a couple of hundred shrubs, not a very productive start.

And so we went back to the house and continued to prepare some more areas for replanting etc.

This area, now with the turf removed and the ground roughly levelled, will have a display of very specific and individually striking specimen shrubs, all finished with the ground being covered in membrane and finished off with blue granite pebbles. The Laurel hedge, although low at the moment, shall be allowed to slowly reach the top of the fence, and be hand pruned to maintain it.

At the moment we are planning to just have this small area covered in blue granite pebbles as well, but maybe with a small shrub at one end, and a large chrome sculpture in the near end.

We finished that day in the middle of the afternoon, and so stopped at the end of the road that the house was on to enjoy the view across Poole harbour, and to crash out on the grass for a while as we discussed how best to proceed with the garden.

We made the decision to postpone the following days work, and instead head out to Lees & Co Nursery near Beaulieu, so that we could continue our selection of plants.

I have mentioned in some previous post about this place, but let me say it again......IT'S HUGE! Being one of the main suppliers to landscapers and garden centres in the area, they normally only take orders over the phone, and then deliver by lorry. They kindly let us walk around the whole site on our own, as long as we give them 24 hours notice, so that we can browse, ponder, and select our own plants. The two pictures below show half of one tunnel, of which there are nine......and then there is the outside stock!

Staff don't walk, they use quadbikes and bicycles, often decorated with union jack flags during the six nations rugby or major football match......quite extraordinary to witness I can tell you.

We wandered......and we wandered........and we wandered. The dangerous thing about being in such a place is that the owners of the Sandbanks house have given us complete freedom in what we do, but more importantly an open ended budget. Quite literally money is no object! Very dangerous indeed.

Plants range from Lavenders etc at three inches high, to fully mature trees in vast planters. We dragged so many shrubs into the centre road for the tractor to pick up that we had to keep reminding ourselves whereabouts in the nursery some things were.

It's so hard not to get tempted to pick things up for ourselves, but the profit margin soon disappears if one gets tempted, and so not good business. These Edgeworthia chrysantha that Amanda is checking out were the smallest available. As we are a little hesitant about whether they will survive a long and full blown winter, we decided not to get a giant, and so went for a four foot high one instead.

Amanda took great delight in watching the way in which I would emerge from the undergrowth with yet another plant for collection.

Some of the Cordylines already reserved.

Like all trade nurseries, these people have areas where they chuck spare pots, only here they are on a bigger scale.

Only two more tunnels to work through, and then we were done. These people really know what they are doing. Everyone very knowledgable, helpful, aware where everything is (very important), and really nice to talk to.
Finally, the tractor, with trailer in tow, and escort of bicycles, worked it's way through the tunnels, picking up our stuff and took it to our van and trailer. All just managed to squeeze into the same with no room to spare and the suspension on it's limit. After paying for the stuff and chatting a while longer, we set off for home, only to realise a mile or so down the road that I had left the trailer brake on. Luckily the wheels hadn't locked, but WOW did the brakes smoke and smell! All in all quite a nice week. I will let you see the results of our nursery visit when the stuff is in the ground.

See you all again soon!


  1. Busiest bees in the UK-make me feel like a big slacker over here.

  2. I certainly hope your finger heals well.
    There is something about cleaning up a garden in the spring. All the hope of a new season. A clean slate with which to watch the new growth appear.
    The older couple's garden is nice. I really like the round stone patio space.
    That nursery is huge. They probably don't let people wander on their own much because they get lost! Do you have a map of the place? Ha!

  3. Gary,
    I am always taken with Lees & Co when you post about a visit to them for plant needs. I marvel at the shear expanse of the operation, what fun I could have with an electric cart and a credit card, lol. Also love the picture of the spare container storage are, guess it appeals to the nursery container hoarder in me, but they always come in handy to have around, lol. – gary

  4. I can't wait to "wake up" my garden! Thank you for sharing your journey.

  5. It is very interesting to see some of the processes behind landscaping work. I would definitely be overwhelmed in such a huge nursery, and would probably give in to the temptation of buying some things for myself!

  6. Hi Gina,
    Looking at the size of some of those antique places you go around, I don't think you can be called a slacker.

  7. Hi Sherlock,
    It is a lovely time of year, especially when you cut back any dead growth and see the fresh new shoots starting to emerge.

  8. Hi Gary,
    We really do love going there, and feel quite priviledged that they allow us. As for the containers, they were quite a sight, and that was just one of three areas. Maybe I will do a 'photo' thing next time.

  9. Hey Angela,
    Thanks for dropping by, nice to see you here.

  10. Hi Prairie Cat,
    Thanks for visiting. Although most of the projects are quite small at the moment, they do at least include a few ideas to share I think. As for the nursery, it's best to leave the old personal credit card behind.

  11. What an enormous nursery! I can't imagine trying to make selections with so much variety.
    And I love to watch how you and Amanda clear up and reorganize untidy gardens. Another interesting post Gary.

  12. Hi Sharon,
    We really quite enjoy doing the small garden tidy ups. As for the nursery, it gets really difficult to not get side tracked, and end up changing a design because of what's on offer.

  13. Hey Gary, it was great to hear from you! You SOUND busy. That nursery is do you keep your focus when shopping for the perfect plants for a job? I have such a hard time with that....I'll have my list...but then sometimes I'll throw in a couple fun plants for an experiment:) Busy time of year for us as well....lots to do before the summer heat and not enough money to get it all done:) Hope you get a little time to relax. Enjoy the split pea soup....sounds tasty! Chris

  14. Hi Rohrerbot,
    lol....who said we kept focussed? There are usually a couple of things added to the customers list, if not ours!

    1. I'm quite exhausted by the size of this nursery!
      Keeping gardens tidy for folk who can no longer manage it themselves is really important. It must lift their spirits.

  15. Hi Linda,
    It certainly lifts ours at times!