After an extended absence it’s so good to be home. Having survived our build, spending time restoring a connection with the garden as spring unfolds is exactly the kind of therapy I need. I’ve started putting it all back together again in the places that bore the brunt of the renovation. Over a few weekends I managed to repair the most severely compacted 20 square metres of the front garden beside the house (pictured below early on in the build, before it got real ugly).
This turned out to be a much bigger job than I’d anticipated. On my first day back in the garden I made the unpleasant discovery that when the site cut was done, a generous layer of non-draining yellow clay was excavated from the sub-soil and helpfully spread across the entire area, forming an impenetrable cap. Unlike the heavy grey-brown clay I’m used to working with, the yellow stuff appears to be irremediable – no amount of organic matter will redeem it. So before I could even start on soil improvement I had to prise up the yellow layer – which amounted to about a cubic metre – using a mattock, and add it to the giant pile of shit-to-get-rid-of that was occupying our driveway. I spread gypsum over the remaining heavy brown-grey clay just in time for it to rain quite a lot, after which I had to wait a couple of weeks for the puddles to subside.
The ‘soil’ now bore a strong resemblance to asphalt. It was clear that the only way I could get the garden replanted before summer was to embark on a punishing programme of double digging. As most permaculture practitioners will tell you, double digging is a fool’s errand. The smart gardener will deep fork, mulch with compost and wait for worms to do the work. But I was too impatient to get my garden back – especially the olive tree that shades the front of the house on hot summer afternoons. So I got to work, digging a series of deep trenches with my mattock, loosening the concrete-like soil at the bottom of each trench and then backfilling with a slightly experimental combination of organic compost, perlite and coffee husks mixed with the exisiting clay soil. Given how out of condition I’d gotten in my year away from the garden, I played it safe and only attempted a couple of trenches a day, and ended up paying a teenager to do the last few.
The steel edging needs reinstating, and the olive tree and its immediate neighbours have yet to be repatriated to their home in front of the window, but otherwise the area has been mostly replanted with all the perennials I had tucked into my ‘stock bed’ 18 months ago (I like how luxurious that sounds but it was just a repurposed corner of the vegetable garden). It’s starting to look like a garden again.
Everywhere else I’ve been absorbed in the usual seasonal tasks of cutting things back to reveal fresh new growth, editing over abundant self-seeders, deep forking compacted areas and spreading compost and mulch. All of this spring busyness is setting the scene for the garden to unfold through early summer and into autumn over the next 6 months.
By the time summer arrives there will hopefully be time to lounge in the butterfly chair on the new deck and soak it all in.