Gardening at 1000 feet
Five years ago, we bought a garden. Like the house that came with it, it was a project, with established structure, but with a lot of work to be done. It had, in the language of estate agents, enormous potential. Most of what was there when we arrived was mature trees and shrubs bordering four lawned areas, one at the front, wrapping around the house to a narrow strip on one side, and three tiers at the back, the top-most of which is flanked by flagged patios outside the backdoor and the sliding door from the living room. The middle and lower lawns are connected by an extremely steep bank. A larger, equally steep bank climbs to our neighbours’ fences behind a large, often leaky, barn. Beyond the fence at the bottom of the lower lawn stretches half an acre of field, roughly the shape of a triangle, with an electricity turbine at its most distant point.
Since we have moved in, in addition to starting the renovations on the house, holding down full-time jobs and caring for our two school-aged children (including the dubious pleasures of home-schooling during the pandemic), we have been working to develop this rather neglected South Pennine space into the garden of our dreams. We have chopped up and stored an enormous pile of leylandii left by the previous owners, removed several other large trees and shrubs, planted a small orchard and added to the wind-break along the perimeter of the field, created a three-bed veg plot and removed a huge amount of ivy that was smothering the attractive dry-stone wall at the front. We have cleared a small wilderness where there was once a pond and turned it into a rose garden, added a swing set and a playhouse for the children, planted a blackthorn hedge and created what may, some day, become a herbaceous border.
There has also been some space to observe, particularly the weather and the wild life. The view, one of the main selling points of both house and garden, looks south over the Calder Valley towards the monument at Stoodley Pike. Clouds gather in the valley on autumnal mornings; in winter, the rain often falls sideways, blown in on the gale. On clear nights there is no better place to view a low-hanging super-moon than the patio, and the one compensation for the six am start to get our son to school are the glorious sunrises. The garden is home to dozens of birds – crows and magpies, goldfinches and great tits, swifts and swallows – but perhaps most notably a cock pheasant and his harem of two hens. A couple of bats enliven the summer twilight and hedgehogs have been spotted on the path, the children’s great delight. Less welcome are the deer, which eat the young fruit trees and the moles, which are steadily turning both the top and bottom back lawns into something resembling Ypres c. 1917.
It is, of course, a never-ending project. There are still a chicken run, a greenhouse and fruit cages to be built. The large sloping bed that borders the driveway is a wilderness of horses’ tails. The barn, where we store tools and wood for our stove still leaks, although less so since the acquisition of a small cement mixer has enable some serious drainage work. The new border is very much a work in progress, and the vegetable patch is expanding, this year with a new asparagus bed.
This blog is our diary of this project, an opportunity to write about and reflect on building our garden. It will contain stories of past project, reflections on current undertakings, and discussions of plans for the future. Each of us will contribute our own diary entries, reflecting on the different strengths we bring. Matt is superb at infrastructure, construction and maintenance. Jessica is happier weeding, planting and harvesting. We will make mistakes – the climate on our Pennine hilltop is eccentric and unforgiving – but we hope there will be more successes than failures as we go. We look forward to chronicling our progress in the days, weeks, months and years to come.