When we moved into the house, many years ago, we inherited an impossible, scrubby slope, infested with brambles, blackthorn, lonicera nitida, brambles, bindweed, couch grass, brambles and onion couch, all growing on a pile of building waste – mortar, stone, cement, corrugated plastic scraps, and entire roof’s worth of broken slates, from when the house was extended in the 1970s. Alan single handedly created two terraces from the top of the bank, using railway sleepers, and we both created a pathway and steps around the back of the house, down to a newly flattened section , which became the vegetable garden. I built raised beds with drystone walling wherever I could, and started laboriously establishing some shrubs on some parts of The Slope (as we call it). And so we continued for several years, while both working full time in our respective jobs: Alan as a picture framer and also renovating various aspects of our house, and me as a gallery owner and artist.
The photo on the right shows my attempts, a few years ago, to create a level(ish) border at the top of one part of the incline, and to plant the near 90 degree angled slope below. This could not be done in damp weather as I’d usually end up sliding all the way to the bottom.
These photographs show the colonised part of The Slope in full bloom
The drystone wall at the very bottom of the garden has been demolished here and there along its length by time, weather, and especially by cattle and sheep. Ken Next Door very kindly rebuilt one stretch which had lost the battle with a herd of sheep, and earlier last year, I raised the level and built a stepped area to the vegetable plot. By this time, we’d run out of large stones that were lying around in the garden, but I had some left over stones which were left over from rebuilding our front wall, and they should weather in in time. I’m hoping that the shrubs I’ve planted on the intermediate level will grow together to form a low hedge. During last year, the hydrangea I’d put there looked as if it may be a bit of a thug, so it’s been relocated.
Finally last year, we decided to sort out The Slope for once and for all. Alan had made the two huge terraces in the early 2000s and then, over the years had struggled on the remainder of the slope beneath them with an industrial strimmer and chain saw, trying to tidy the forest of blackthorn and damsons and brambles – not really a suitable job for somebody with heart issues. We’d run out of energy by last year, so eventully we decided to get some help, and asked a handyman that a friend had recommended to create some paths traversing the slope and to link up the other sections of the garden to it.
The top terrace has extended the lawn area – where the clothes dryer is situated used to be fresh air, as The Slope had originally begun a few feet to the left of it
This is the next terrace down. Where the pots are was also fresh air.
Before – July 2020
Late March 2021
This is The Slope in early April 2021. The hundreds of bulbs I planted in the autumn are coming with varying success. The daffodils are doing well, the grape hyacinths are vibrant, but the crocus bulbs hve been deparadated by the squirrels. Of the 180 I planted, they’ve only left 5……The pigeons ate the snowdrops, but I’m hoping the bluebells will emerge unscathed. The moles have also been running riot in the new soil and compost and have undermined a few things, and I blame them for the strange disappearance of my slate markers, which tell me what I’ve planted where. Many have been dug up and discarded, but about half have vanished with no trace. I’m waiting with great anticipation the flowering of all the foxgloves, many of which were already self seeded on The Slope, and replanted along with a few cultivated ones. Most of the shrubs have survived the winter winds, though some had a rough time of it on the edge, as they were also eaten by the young cows in the autumn. Once they take hold, their roots will start to stabilise the whole area.
The very foot of the slope still needs to be sorted out and tidied up, but we’re not sure how to approach it yet.
More photos as the garden develops during the year……
The vegetable garden has not been the most productive plot over the years. Not only is this little valley darker than the surrounding countryside for most of the day, but it’s also a few degrees colder. On one side of the plot is an enormous conifer, growing into the garden retaining wall, home to collared doves and wrens, and on the other side a large trio of trees, all growing from the same rootstock, and not only giving more shade, but also filling the beds with wiry roots. Fate took a hand last year with the trio – one gusty day, the largest of the three fell into the road alongside, narrowly missing Mark and his two dogs on his quadbike. It was decided that the other siblings posed an equal danger, so they too were felled. For the first time ever, my veggies have a fighting chance with loads more light! The photo shows the first tree to collapse.
Not only did we lose that trio of trees, but also our very special tree – a beautiful silver birch, directly opposite the back door, framing our view to the valley beyond.
We noticed a strange hole, near the bottom of the trunk, on the side of the tree facing the valley and the funnelled winds. Alan, being a male, gort out his trusty screwdriver and gave it a poke, and the screwdriver wnt right into the tree, which was spongy in the middle. As usual, Ken Next Door came to the rescue and was able to swiftly bring the tree down, with frighteningly little effort. On investigation, we found a nylon rope, tightly encircling the heart of the tree, which was completely surrounded by several inches of trunk. It had slowly been strangling the tree, which had started to rot from the inside out.
My theory is that the family who lived in this house for thirty years before we did, at some point tied thee rope around the base of the young tree, which , in those days, was at the beginning of The Slope so that the three sons could easily scale up and down the bank , and the tree had just grown around it when the boys had grown up and left home.
A couple of days after the tree came down, there were very strong winds. Considering the ease with which it came down, we had a very narrow escape. It will be much missed, but we are glad that it didn’t fall onto the house.