A Busy January Revisiting Old Friends

With a whimper and a bang – January is at an end!

Messy veg patch

Oh dear, look what happened, a whole month has passed and I’ve neglected to write on this blog even once!

In truth, I’ve been far too busy, which is surprising given the time of the year.

Winter is usually a quieter time of year for the business. With Christmas now a distant memory, the older clients in my books are less interested in keeping their front gardens in good order, so I would usually have more time on my hands for my own projects. However, it would appear that the older generations of Leeds have simultaneously taken on a raft of ‘get fit’ resolutions, leading them to demand my services much more than usual.

The first surprise of the year was receiving a call from one of my very first clients. Mavis was 65-years old when I first met her, 10 years ago. Even at the age she is now, she’s still making plans for the future and her garden is one of those. We’d met during the Christmas season, at an RHS Dinner & Dance and she’d admitted to me what a ‘frightful show’ her front garden had become. I told her that these things happen and I’d be happy to sort it out. Was there a reason why this, usually active, older lady had let her garden fall to pieces? I asked and the answer was rather adorable.

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At the age of 74, Mavis had found love…again.

She’d been twice married, twice widowed and had not expected to meet anyone in the 10 years or so that she had left.

Against the odds, however, she had bumped into a refined gentleman of 76 at a stately garden. They both shared an affinity for staunch independence in old age (they had each driven over an hour to get there) and a passion for the beauty and peace of a well ordered garden.

I can only assume that when you get to a certain age, you feel like you must make the most of every day that you have left. Mavis and David have spent 4 out of 7 days in each other’s company for the last year. They are refraining from moving in together; both value their independence too highly, but they are still revelling in each other’s company, discovering that they suddenly have a new lease of life.

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With so much of her time already taken up with socialising, Mavis found that her garden started to grow wildly out of control once more. When I arrived halfway through January to take a look, I barely recognised it. The hanging baskets had overgrown and begun linking together, somehow feeding off each other in a symbiotic fashion. Meanwhile, the small vegetable patch that I had carefully maintained for her for a number of years was a hopeless scrub land of rotting fruits and germinating roots.

When I arrived she was just being escorted out of the house by her new beau. She had an apologetic look on her face, as if she wanted to stay and chat for a little while longer but was just too busy. I told her it was OK and got on with the work, sighing at the sorry state of her once immaculate garden.

As I tilled the hard ground and cleared the dead vegetation I remember thinking that was the first time I’d ever seen a septuagenarian glowing.

You Can Just Call Me Charlie Dimmock

Always Make Room For A Water Feature!

It may seem like something that should have been left in the 90s, but there’s still plenty of room for a water feature in the modern garden.

 

A lover of the home transformation shows of the 90s; busy mother of two, Janet Armstrong, never had enough time to sort out her garden.

 

Her detached home in the outskirts of Leeds was perfect for her husband and three boys, but the huge back yard was simply too much for her to handle. Her boys, born a year apart from each other, had barrelled through the house for 12 years and torn up the forlorn back garden, that had been left to overgrow.

It’s often the biggest gardens that are the hardest to plan for. If you’re fortunate enough to have a wildly active young family, like Janet, you might have faced a similar problem yourself. Unless you can actively involve your kids in the gardening process, it can be impossible to get anything done whilst also keep a watchful eye on them.  Struggling for years, she just about kept her 3-bed house in one piece, whilst her husband was away on business for long stretches of time.

 

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In the 12 years she spent raising her boys, she’d had little time to do anything to her garden, which now resembled a rather battered recreational field.

Now her kids had grown up and the muddy yard was no longer big enough for their football games – Janet finally had her opportunity to reclaim her garden. She felt that it was the right time to orchestrate a major redesign of the back garden. Her plan was to create a peaceful sanctum that she could enjoy for the summer ahead where she would, no doubt, have even more time on her hands.

When I met Janet, for her initial consultation, I could tell that she was a woman who had a clear vision in her mind.

Throughout the last 12 years, she had been mentally planning her dream garden: free of dirty boys, abundant with wildlife and, at it’s centre, a serene water feature – reflecting the inner peace that would be emanating from within her.

asian-garden-designAfter the first meeting, Janet gave me so many ideas that I had no problem coming up with an initial design for her.

Taking the grand dimensions of her garden, a healthy 20ft by 40ft, I mocked up a design that incorporated her initial thoughts, with a few added accoutrements. An easily manageable stretch of lawn would lead to a pathway, which would stretch over a 3 ft by 20 ft pond – this would offer Janet the tranquillity that she had been yearning for, for over a decade.

Janet was thrilled with design. As money was no object, she was keen to ensure that the pond would not be a natural one. Although it would, arguably, not be healthy for any wildlife straying in – she requested that the pond be extended and transformed into a modestly sized swimming pool. It looks like my water feature might have just got a little bigger than initially anticipated!

I’ve not worked with swimming pools before but, after consulting a UK based company that specialises in swimming pool skimmers and covers; I think I’ve got to grips with how this is going to work.

I always enjoy being thrust outside of my comfort zone.

What started out as a design built around the ideas of natural curves and plenty of wild flowers, has now transformed into a post-modern Buddhist-style retreat. Complete with pebble garden, bonsai trees and a completely still, heated pool that Janet will be able to dip her toes in.

Within just a few months, hopefully I’ll be able to deliver her the Eastern Modernist Peace Garden of her dreams!

Harold’s Allotment Project

Proof that a 125 squared metre scrub of land can be pretty

Although I love getting my hands on an expansive back garden space to design, sometimes the most satisfying jobs can be when I’m given the most limited resources. 

Harold is one of the many retired clients that my long serving friend, Mavis, has passed on to me. A veritable elderly social butterfly, her hectic weekly schedule puts her into contact with dozens of potential new customers and she’s always eager to recommend my services. She’s become so prolific at giving me work, that I’ve started to pay her some commission to say thank you – thanks to her I’ve never been busier!

plotting

Anyway, Harold came to me looking for some help with his half-size allotment.

He’d owned it for the best part of 20 years, taking it on when he retired at 65. Although he’d spent hundreds of hours pottering around his shed and planting the odd tomato, he’d let the little space run somewhat ragged in the past year or so and now it was in desperate need of sorting.

Winter is a great time to clean house and strip back.

Flash freezes and cold rains do a great job of breaking up soil, making it easier to till and pull up unwanted roots. Harold didn’t have a particular plan in mind when he hired me, he just knew that his allotment was a mess.

There’s a certain satisfaction I get from completely wiping a slate clean.

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In every allotment, every garden and yard – there’s the potential for some thing beautiful, nutritious and verdant. I’m often hired by people like Harold who have just got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that they’ve accumulated over the years. Gardening can often go hand in hand with a hoarding habit – pots, tools, seeds and ornaments are just a few examples of the detritus that a retired gardener can collect over the years.

Far from being a possessive magpie, Harold gave me full license to trash as much or as little as necessary from his cluttered shed.

It’s a good thing I brought a few bin bags with me – because there was a lot of things that needed binning there.

Cracked plastic plant pots, hideously scarred garden gnomes and a worrying infestation of sprouting seed packets – all of these were mercilessly trashed. Buried beneath the useless bric-a-brac were a few choice items that I kept, to make sure that Harold still felt at home in his little refuge.

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Amongst a few vintage terracotta pots, I found a mouldy copy of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac from 1973, an adorably small wind-up radio (which still worked!) and a smattering of old photographs  – which were in surprisingly good condition. I arranged these odds and ends with a few potted herbs from my own green house, to give the shed a lived in feel and fill it with a fresh fragrant odour.

Once the ground outside has been tilled and the shed had been sorted, all that was left was to reintroduce Harold back to his allotment.

Helping Out Mavis With Her Vegetable Patch

Winter Can Be Tough For The Elderly

Now that Daylight Savings have come into effect, the days can feel like they flash by in an instant.

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For the elderly, who live alone, this can be a grim dark time of year – this is why I like to dedicate a few hours each week to keeping my local OAP gardeners company.

When I first started out with Delphinium, some 10 years or so ago, I struggled to get hold of much design work. Having spent so long in the Science Industry, it might come as little surprise that the people of Leeds were a little uneasy about handing me creative control over their gardens – so I had to make do with some basic gardening work at first.

back-yard-gardenEveryone has to pay their dues, I suppose.

The first piece of regular work I picked up was for Mavis. 10 years ago she was a little more spritely, at 65, but still needed help keeping her unruly garden in order. Packed full of creeping vines, weeds and flower beds (that were crossing all sorts of boundaries) – her little yard was abundant with life, but had become too much for her to handle.

I spent that first summer struggling to find work and spending too much time in Mavis’ back garden.

She’s what my Father would have called ‘a strange old bird’. Fiercely independent, yet also wholly reliant on the company of others – Mavis had led a a sociable and active retirement up until the Winter of 2006 – when she broke her hip falling down the stairs. That’s when she enlisted me to sort her garden out and, essentially, keep her company.

Gardening is one of those fantastic hobbies that can entertain people of all ages.

From the very young, to those reaching the twilight of their years, simple tasks such as tilling or mulching can provide comfort and a sense of purpose to those looking for it – without exhausting the individual. This is all well and good in the balmy summer months, however, as winter approaches and the plants that you have nurtured throughout the warmer months begin to die, it can be hard to motivate these wonderful people to go back out into the garden.

yardMavis simply needed someone to get her out of the house a few times a week and sort out her flower bed for next spring.

Every week I’d let myself in round the back and tap on her window – within seconds, she’d be outside wrapped up in several layers of wool, with a mug of tea in her hand for me. I’d dig the weeds and rip the vines out of the stubborn soil, whilst she would collect the off-cuts and bag them up for the bin.

Mavis recommended my services to her friends, which eventually led to me getting my first design job – for that I will be eternally grateful.