Memories shape a garden by Alex Lowery

Living in our own home for just over 12 years. We have prioritised travel and life experiences rather than investing in our garden, which has left it looking somewhat on the wild-side.

It is something we tackle every year, just trying to get it back to some sort of normality. When I say normality, I mean, removing the neighbour’s chickens and the previously undiscovered tribe out of the 6ft tall undergrowth for another year.

To give you a clearer picture of what we are tackling, our garden is narrow but long. Thirty metres long to be exact. It used to have outhouses running the width of the garden, which the previous owners decided to knock down and cover in top soil to create some incredibly uneven and unmanageable levels. They also chucked a living room carpet and other household items into the area for good measure. Our garden had been a dumping ground for many many years. With nature doing what it does best, this project was a daunting, never ending, ivy and weed infested mess.

With a massive help from Laura’s Dad, Mike. Laura and I have made it our mission to get the garden habitable. Not knowing where to start, we decided to start from the back and work towards the house. Easier said than done.

Luckily, my grandparents had green fingers and created a horticultural master piece of a back garden, that we can take inspiration from. There are many things I remember from my grand-parents garden. The natural shape that was created from the landscaping to the smell of my Grampy’s garage.  

Looking back at how their garden was laid out, it had very distinctive areas, themes and purposes but all blended naturally together. This is something we want from our garden, but maybe easier to manage.  
From the vegetable garden, where I stood for hours picking and eating runner beans fresh from the vine. Greenhouses holding tomatoes, seedlings and workbenches where the magic happened, to the secluded grassy area where on a summer day you could sit out have your egg and cress sandwiches. That was just the back of the garden. 

It widened following a curved grass lawn with borders filled with beautiful shrubbery to the right and on the left was a path diverting around an island where the Alpine plants lived. Perfect for Hide and Seek or Tig. This corner is where you would find Grampy’s passion…his Bonsai collection. Growing them from a seedling, nurturing them, delicately shaping them into amazing specimens. He had 100’s, sitting proudly on the homemade shelves, in their Bonsai Pots.

Back into the main garden heading back to the house, you had two options to get to the patio. Left past the second Alpine island into the kitchen, where inevitably there would be a plate of Granny’s freshly baked cakes. Or, you cross the bridge over the pond onto patio doors leading into the living room. The pond was filled with wildlife. Goldfish, Newts and Frogs spawned every year and the insects that they fed off.

One of my most vivid memories was how much the garden welcomed nature. The garden had a hedgerow near the patio doors, which was just full of noise from the chattering sparrows. Bird feeders the whole way down the garden enticing tits, finches and sometimes animals that fed on them. Nothing was unwelcome. Apart from maybe the heron, who liked to try and take the fish and frogs form the pond. Shrubs and flowers were selected not only for colour but for how they would provide for nature. Bees and butterflies covered most of the plants and the shrubs were perfect for the nocturnal rustlings of their hedgehog neighbours. There was even a family of foxes that lived in or near the bottom of the garden.

Our focus in our garden is to make sure that the space we create for ourselves does not impact on the habitats of the animals that call our garden their home. We are lucky to provide shelter for not only birds that nest every year in our trees, but to toads who use the abandoned ground covers as their hideout and the wood mouse stores that we have found under every paving slab and brick pile. For now, these things are staying in our garden until we know how to recreate these habitats in a more sustainable and appealing way. 

For now, work continues at the end of our garden. Where the level increases by 3 feet from the house and will eventually create the private sun trap. Like in my grand-parents garden this is going to be our secluded sanctuary. We have already provisioned in spaces for pollinating plants and researched the perfect place to create bat boxes and bird houses. Maybe this time next year, I can update you on the middle section. 

Though they would shake their heads at the state the garden was and probably still is. 
I hope Granny and Grampy would be proud of how we have turned out and be encouraged that their passion to create their own piece of paradise in the back garden of an Oxfordshire village has inspired their grandchildren to follow their example.

We would love to hear your childhood garden memories. What has inspired your own garden? You can share on either Facebook @TheFlowerGardenBarton or Instagram: @TheFlowerGardenBarton

Memories shape a garden by Alex Lowery