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Beneath the bamboo? What’s he going on about now?

When we first did the patio we had a step between the side and back of the house. There’s quite a big drop and we had to do something. As time progressed we made a couple of other plans for the garden. We moved a massive black-stemmed bamboo so that it was against the fence and near this corner of the patio. It’s fair to say that the bamboo has thrived – its tallest stems are now a good 4m high. It’s a clumpy one rather than a spready one, which is also a good thing. It does occasionally put a long runner under the soil, but not very often. I found one runner of about 1m length under the lawn and another of 1.5m alongside the retaining wall. That one came to an end where it met the brick wall. It hadn’t climbed into the light.

Back at the plot, we had a planting bed near the bamboo that wasn’t big enough for much to grow. The area tends to suffer from shade in the afternoon. We decided to rectify the situation by extending the bed, and by removing the step. From the first photo on this page you can see how much we extended it. The area that looks like sand is, actually, sand. That’s because it used to be under the patio. So I guess we added about 1.5m. This will give us a nice big new area to plant up beneath the bamboo. I will need to find plants that enjoy only having sunlight in the morning, but that shouldn’t be hard.

The plan was to frame this new bed with the new retaining wall and with a low wall around the square bit of the patio. Not difficult apart from building a wall in a straight line all the way across the back of the house. Again not difficult apart from needing to leave a 3m wide gap until I’d laid the new patio. There were some strings involved, and some swearing because the string kept moving in the wind.

To make the new wall here I had to shore up what used to be the edge of the patio. I’d undercut it, so I laid a bed of breeze blocks roughly onto a concrete bed to hold everything. The plan was to lay decorative bricks on the top for that straight wall. I knew the breeze blocks would be buried, so if they didn’t quite align with the bricks it wouldn’t be a problem.

When excavating here I had flashbacks to previous phases of the garden and to fishing out heaps of old materials. I can’t remember whether it was me or the original pavers who buried all those old bricks. There was a lot of cack and not a lot of soil in the edge of that bed. And there was some strange stuff buried under the reclaimed patio. The completed bed needed a lot of back-filling with soil and sand, but it should now be good for planting.

That’s been a feature of this rework. Whenever I’m working on the soil I find myself with a handy pile of sand. I’ve dug much of this into the soil, along with the old compost from a load of empty plant pots. It improves the condition of the soil significantly. When I say “improve” I actually mean “turn it into soil”.

Much of our back garden consists of a substance you could put straight onto potter’s wheel. It has an infinite capacity for absorbing compost and sand without ever turning into good quality soil. It always clump into massive balls that are sloppy in the winter and rock-hard in the summer. Plants which “prefer free draining soil” just have to put up with it. Clay is quite fertile, but it’s very heavy and it prevents the spread of delicate filament roots. I kid you not, we’ve had plants in our garden that we tried to move after five years and their roots haven’t spread beyond the shape and size of the original plastic pots that they came in. How they managed to find enough nutrients to keep growing I’ll never know. Anyway, lesson learned. Make a really big hole and back fill it with something a young plant can grow in.

At the time of starting this post, in late September 2020, you can see I’d just reached the point of having put coping stones on the low wall. The retaining wall at the back is finished. It doesn’t need a lot of work doing on the bed before we plant it. I have still got to do the paving slabs in that corner though. That will be the next phase of paving, which I have lined up for the week’s holiday at the end of October.

By the end of 2020 I’d paved the whole area here and around the side of the house. The only part remaining is to find some plants for the new area of bed.