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

When we first had the patio done we had a step between the side of the house and the back. There’s quite a big drop and we had to do something. Anyway, as time progressed, and after a couple of other plans for the back 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, although it does occasionally put a long runner under the soil in an attempt to start a whole new colony. As I was working on this corner I found one runner of about 1m length coming out under the lawn and another of 1.5m that ran alongside the old retaining wall of sleepers. That one had come to an abrupt end when it met the brick wall at the end, but it hadn’t actually put any shoots out.

Back at the plot, we had a bit of planting bed on one side of the bamboo that wasn’t really big enough for much to grow, and it does tend to suffer from shade in the afternoon. So 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, so long as we can find some plants that can cope with only having direct sunlight in the morning. Shouldn’t be too hard.

So back at this bed, the plan was to frame it with the new retaining wall and also to have a low wall all the way across the back that frames the square bit of the patio. Not too difficult apart from having to build a wall in a straight line all the way across the back of the house, but with a 3m wide gap in the middle until I’d laid the new patio there. There were some strings involved, and some swearing because the string kept getting blown around in the wind. To do the new little bit of wall here I had to shore up what used to be the edge of the patio (as I’d undercut it), so I laid a bed of breeze blocks fairly roughly onto a concrete bed, safe in the knowledge I could lay decorative bricks on the top along the right line. I knew the breeze blocks would be completely buried, so if they didn’t quite align with the bricks on top it wouldn’t be a problem.

When excavating in this area it turned into an exercise in remembering previous phases of the garden and fishing out heaps of old materials. I can’t remember whether it was me that buried all those old bricks or whether it was the original layers of the patio. 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 quite a lot of back-filling with soil and sand, but hopefully now it’s got a decent base to work with. That’s been a feature of this rework. Because I’m working on patios, whenever I am working on a bit of the soil I have found myself with a handy pile of sand, much of which I’ve dug into the soil, along with the old compost from a load of empty plant pots, to try to improve the condition of the soil. When I say “improve” I actually mean “turn it into soil” – many areas of our back garden consist of a substance that could be used directly on a potter’s wheel. It seems to have an infinite capacity for absorbing compost and sand without ever turning into something which doesn’t clump into massive balls that are sloppy in the winter and rock-hard in the summer. The term “prefers free draining soil” that’s found on the labels of many plants does not apply in our garden. Clay is quite fertile, but it’s very heavy and is not good for things which like to put out a load 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.

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.