The autumn of 2021 started well in the garden. My first thoughtless purchase of trellis to separate us from the garden at number 31 was replaced by proper fencing that I painted charcoal grey to match the back wall. Defying the builder’s predictions of destruction, I then splurged on three jasmine officianalis (two white and a pink), a white solanum and a Blush Noisette rose to go along it.
However, in order to erect this fence we had first had to get rid of the last growth of ivy – a huge ball of it which had grown over the top of a brick pillar.
It was only when the brick pillar came crashing down along with its ivy crown that we realised that it was completely unconnected to the ground and could have crashed into my basement or that of number 31 at any point over the last goodness knows how many years!
Meanwhile, at the back of the house, things were not looking so good….
Most of the back of the ground floor and basement of the house had been removed and dumped in the garden! Amazingly, the mozaic topped table still sitting in the middle of this chaos survived with only a couple of minor dents.
Over the next few months the rubbish and the scaffolding gradually disappeared and a large trench (to accommodate the fire escape) appeared at the back of the house. In due course this got filled with concrete and turned into a walkway; the top of its retaining wall around a meter lower than the level of the garden.
This caused my wonderful Bulgarian builder much concern, especially when I announced that I wanted to order new soil to cover the slope on which, in due course, I hoped to grow lots of low plants. Since we are already half way down the hill from Highgate, he saw the first serious rain that came our way sweeping half the garden and certainly all of my new soil into his new basement walkway. The day was saved by Clarissa, the garden designer’s suggestion of loose coir netting which could be pegged over the new soil to keep it in place. In due course I could cut holes in it through which to insert the plants into the soil while, over the course of five or six years it would gradually rot away in a nice environmentally friendly way.
This proved to be a brilliant solution and we eventually used it not only on the bank at the back of the house but to hold the new soil in place around the holly tree and on the bank going up to what would become the new patio. And I am delighted to report that well over a year later despite some pretty fearsome downpours, not a single teaspooonful of soil has escaped.
Meanwhile, the back of the house was gradually being reconstructed.
First, a massive concrete platform was built to form the base of the steps down from the living room to the garden. I couldn’t believe that it really had to be this big – but the stairs needed (architecturally speaking…) to be as wide as the double doors leading out of the living room so the platform had to be wide enough to accommodate them.
The next big move forward was the construction of the patio. The back left hand corner of the garden was already raised so we drew a circle about 3 meters at its deepest point and built it up to about a meter above the height of the rest of the garden.This gave me a patio big enough accommodate the mozaic table with six chairs around it. We then created an earth slope running around the whole patio from its edge to what one day, hopefully, will be a lawn, covered in more new soil pinned down with more coir netting and paved the patio in grey sandstone. And, as you can probably see, the climbers along the fence survived the installation of the patio and are already climbing hard.
So, the house all but complete. Just one more construction job before I could start thinking about plants. The pond. The reason I wanted a pond was because the traffic noise of Hampstead Lane can be quite intrusive and I thought that the sound of running water might create a distraction.
A small digger had returned for some digging work around the side of the house so we used it to remove the remaining rubbish from the garden and dig a pond. This was to be roughly a metre across and approximately 1.5 metres long. But Clarissa had said to me to be sure to make it deep as the water in shallow ponds got hot very easily and soon gets covered in algae. However, I think we probably went somewhat deeper than she intended as, at around a meter and a half, it is more like a plunge pool than a pond. Given that it is also in the shade of the wall, it sure ain’t gonna get hot so we are at least safe from algae. However, lined with thick black pond liner and surrounded with York stone rescued from the side garden, it looks quite fine.
And so, at last, I was able to start thinking about planting. This will be for the last episode in this saga but just to prove that it was about to happen, here is my first planting. The fern bed under the steps and outside my bedroom window.