Transforming an Unused Space in Hackney into a Flowering Garden
I’ve just moved to London Fields in Hackney and I have a plan to transform the dusty, sad patch of ground at the front of my house into a scented, flowering garden that is peaceful and beautiful and good for the soul. We all need a little soul food in this hectic, urban life of ours, right? I have a busy bus and delivery truck route on the other side of my fence. I want that to melt away when I come through the gate. I also want my mood lifted every time I walk through the front door and I’m going to do that with plants.
If you have some outside space, however small, you can do this too. From a few square meters of ground, to containers on balconies, I’ll show you how to create a haven for yourself, as well as our friends the birds and the bees (let’s not mention dogs, cats or foxes in this paragraph, I’ll do that later).
There are a few easy steps needed to create a well structured planting scheme, which I’ll show you as I do them. I know I want to fill the space with pollinating plants to attract bees but they only flower at certain times of the year. My plan is to apply the successional planting method so that there will be something in flower all year round. At this point I have to admit that I don’t actually have a ‘plan’ on paper, so no pdfs for you to download. Sorry. It’s all in my head and the garden will develop organically. I will tell you the principles as we go and you can transfer them to your own space.
Step 1: Preparing the Ground
So this morning I woke to find a lorry load of rubbish in my front garden. Some kind neighbour had fly tipped old carpet, bags of rubble and other detritus in the space I was planning to fill with my favourite plants. I especially appreciated the uneaten pizza base! Time to google rubbish collection. £200.00 that I could have spent on plants, later, the garden is cleared. I’ve even bought a few plants to get me started.
Before you put anything in the ground, it’s important to assess the state of the soil. No point spending money on plants if you’re going to stick them in a container full of ten year old soil, or even five, actually, or even two. They will not thrive. It’s better to tip it out and start again. Same goes for my front garden. I can’t dig it all up and replace it, but I can add lots of organic matter, like well rotted farmyard manure (well rotted so it no longer stinks like a farmyard) which I can buy in 50, 35, 15 or 10 litre bags from my local garden centre. If you are replacing container soil, use multi purpose compost, unless you have ericaceous (acid loving) plants, then you will need peat but more on this later. Being in London Fields, I shall now plug the very excellent N1 Garden Centre on Englefield Road, because the people who work there are all gorgeous! Plus, if you have a big area of soil that needs improving and your only mode of transport is a bike, they deliver.
What Can I Save?
I have two boundary hedges. One Privit – ligustrum vulgare, with a yellow flowering Forsythia intermedia in the mix, the other Mexican Orange Blossom – Choisya ternata. I want to use both to soften the fencing but they are old and overgrown and the lower leaves are splashed with white paint from an over energetic decorator cleaning his brushes. I’m going to turn them into small trees by thinning out, pruning the tops and cutting off all the lower branches to the same height. This will immediately give the garden a Japanese feel. Not really what I’m after but hey, you can only work with what you’ve got. I’ve also transplanted an Elaeagnus X Ebbingei Oleaster shrub that I found buried under ivy in my wreck of a back garden. It needs the same treatment but looks like a totally different plant once I’ve finished.