That "leave the garden for a year" rule
Running two blogs is trickier than I thought. When I started up this blog, about life in Bibury, Gloucestershire, I thought I would use my old blog, Victoria's Backyard, to write about gardening in general, and my new blog to write specifically about my own house and garden.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but only a couple of months in, I find myself writing about a subject that would sit equally well on either. So ... it's going on both! Apologies if you feel cheated. What can I say? I'm a cheapskate.
The classic advice when you move into a new house and garden is to leave the garden for a year before you make any changes. This allows you to see what is in the garden - to identify trees that may not have been in leaf when you moved in; to discover what bulbs come up in spring; to find out where the hot/dry spots and the cool/damp spots are; to determine the best place (shady or sunny, depending on your personal taste) to put your garden table and chairs; to see how your views of the neighbourhood (or their views of you) work when trees are both in leaf, and bare in winter.
Indeed, there are a whole host of good reasons not to rush into making changes in a garden you have only just acquired.
What the experts don't tell you, however, is that it is incredibly frustrating simply to sit and look at a garden if you are used to pottering happily outside, cutting a new lawn edge here or replanting an area there. Luckily, my garden is under a blanket of thick snow at the moment, so that has meant a few days less in the year when I am not driven mad by the urge to go outside and CHANGE THINGS!
However, it's still only January. What on earth am I going to be like by the time I've been to the Malvern Spring Show, to the Chelsea Flower Show, to Barnsley House down the road, or to the local gardens that open under the National Gardens Scheme? Even a visit to the garden centre is sometimes enough to inspire me to rejig a part of the garden completely. Must I completely ignore all these sources of inspiration and temptation?
Then there is the long list of plants that keep metaphorically poking me in the ribs, chorusing: "Plant us, plant us!" Must I really go a whole year without putting in Rosa 'Ballerina', or Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Lanarth', or Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo', or Dianthus carthusianorum or the whole host of other things on my wish list?
Yes, there are snowdrops coming through, which is very exciting (at least, it would be if I could see them). Somewhere under all that snow, there are primroses and bluebells waiting in the wings, and I'm looking forward to their gala performance later in the spring.
However, there are other bits of the garden that I really don't want to see in their current state this time next year - or indeed in six months' time. One is the gap between the two terraces, at the back and the side of the house, and I have already had a new walkway built that connects the two. "Now you can follow the sun right round the house with a drink in your hand," said the builder. With a drink in my hand? Are you kidding? With a heavy load of plants in my wheelbarrow, more like.
Running alongside the terrace at the back are two small borders. One is full of marjoram (where it isn't overgrown with grass, nettles and perennial weeds such as plantains). The other has a huge clump of what looks like Iris sibirica at one end, and a matching selection of grass, nettles and weeds.
When I first viewed the house, in late August, the irises had long gone over, and the borders looked a bit of a mess. I thought then that tidying them up would probably be my first project.
I've already made the borders deeper and deturfed the bits that were completely overgrown. They are full of bulbs - lots of snowdrops, by the look of them - so a full-scale replanting can wait until March. Technically, spring is too early to split the iris, but I'm going to take some of it out next month anyway, and pot up the divisions to plant in the other border or elsewhere in the garden. If they don't take, it's not the end of the world, and if they do, they will help create a sense of unity.
The experts say Iris sibirica should be divided in summer or early autumn, but the experts also say its spread is around 30cm to 90cm, depending on the variety. This particular clump, or cluster of clumps, is about 6ft in diameter. So much for experts.
I want a classic cottage-garden look here, with billowing clumps of hardy geraniums, lavender, Verbena bonariensis and roses, followed by sedums, grasses and rudbeckia to carry the torch on into early autumn.
Work on the new bit of terrace got under at the beginning of December. It's a basic block wall construction, with a traditional dry stone facade.
It's now finished, but for the first couple of weeks, I couldn't bring myself to walk on it. I was so pleased with it, I didn't want to spoil it with muddy footprints!
Making a start on the borders at the back of the house. Oh, for lighter evenings! If you do something in the garden at this time of year, you have a daylight window of about four hours. And by the time you've remembered to take a photograph, it's dark.
Ooooh, look - there's a paved bit hidden away underneath here. How lovely - almost as exciting as snowdrops.