Our back garden is wide, square and a good size, for these parts. It's surrounded by tall trees - laurel, firs, juniper - and there's a lot of bird activity. There is space for a small shed, a ten foot trampoline and a generous decked area where we sit and eat, when it's warm enough. Two long washing lines run diagonally across the lawn which is covered in weeds and abandoned footballs. Propped up against the house is a pile of chopped wood and an large empty planter. One day there will be a proper wood store and a lovely herb garden in that empty planter, maybe this summer, but probably next. But the main hurdle for me has been the lack of character. Our garden in Leeds was tiny but it had an apple tree and a dry stone wall, it had features and history. Our new outdoor space feels bland and featureless in comparison but what it lacks in charm, it makes up for in flexibility and possibilities.
The kitchen, dining room, spare room, office and the childrens' bedrooms all look directly out onto the garden. This is lovely in so many ways, but means we wanted it to look nice, interesting even, because we're always gazing out at it. Straight ahead lay an expanse of wooden fence panels which ran along the back boundary and one the first things we did - with the help of my parents who are handy with a spade - was create a flower bed to run along that fence.
Did I mention that everything we're doing in this garden is on a very tight budget? We are trying to re-use and re-purpose wherever possible - not through choice, but because moving house (especially from the north of the country to the south) is an expensive business. We were given three blackcurrant bushes and one redcurrant bush by my sister when she moved house and didn't want to take them with her, and luckily they have transplanted from pots into the earth beautifully. The other plants and the stone edging were taken from a "rockery" in another part of the garden. I call it that, if a load of shingle dumped on top of soil and covered in barren planting, Dungeness-style, called be called a rockery. It was sad, and these plants look better and are growing nicely in their new sunnier spot.
Two months later, the plants already seem to be filling out that flower bed, providing interest and colour where before there was nothing. (Mental note: cut the grass.)
The next task was Operation Trampoline. In the bottom left corner there was a dumping ground which might have been a compost heap once, and a leaning, half painted fence. It's not a good look, I'm sure you'll agree.
We cleared and leveled the ground in that corner, covered it in anti-weed matting and a lot of wood chip, pruned the tree branches a little, and set up a trampoline in that space. I am very happy with this. I do not much like the look of trampolines slap bang in the middle of the garden but this means I can see the kids on it from the kitchen window and it's tucked away neatly in the corner. It feels like a good compromise.
The bottom right hand corner of the garden has been decked. When we moved in, we wondered why on earth they bothered to create a decked area here when there was already plenty enough decking by the patio doors from the dining room. Then summer came and the sun rolled around the edge of the house and we realised.
That spot is a sun trap, a delicious patch of sunshine in an otherwise shaded north-east facing garden. I have plans for a bench to go where that barbecue is right now. Me, that bench, a few cushions, a cup of tea and a book have a date planned for sometime in July or August. We're not putting pressure on ourselves, just taking it slow.
Sadly the larger decked area (like so many things in this house) is half finished, and badly finished at that, but it'll do for now. Whoever built it just chucked all kinds of rubble under it and put the decking on top, not even bothering to finish the edges properly or take off the barcode stickers. Anyway, don't focus on that, look at this lovely table and chairs. When our friends in Leeds moved to Australia, they were going to take this furniture to the tip. "Don't!" I said, "There's life in that yet!" and quick as a flash I was round there with the car, back seats down, ready to load up. One chair was beyond saving, but John has sanded and oiled the table and remaining three chairs and I think they look fabulous.
I reckon there's a few years in them yet. I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when the rhododendron bushes were in full, magnificent bloom. They're fading now, but still looking good.
Last of all I'll show you the shed. It's another generous freebie, from my brother in law who no longer needed it, and it's just big enough for the gardening things and lawnmower. While we have a good sized garage, there is no access directly from the garage to the back garden, and it's much easier to keep gardening things in here. John plans to build a wood store in that space between the shed and the bush, and the groundwork in front of the shed needs finishing.
So, there we go, I finally got round to giving you a tour of our garden. It's probably the kind of garden that a lot of people in the UK have, in terms of size and layout. A square of lawn, a square of decking or patio, a shed...very normal, very practical. And so far our spending has been limited to woodchip, compost and a few plants, very, very little, for all the work we've done. Plants have been moved, stones re-used, furniture and sheds rescued or donated - it's all about saving money right now.
Sorry, these photos aren't very pretty, are they? There seemed little point in trying to photograph this garden artfully when I just want to share with you what it looks like. You can see I haven't tidied anything, and you can't style a garden, it's just too big. Anyway, don't you sometimes just want to see what people's actual, normal gardens really look like? I do. Is your garden like this?