Realising the Vision

Creating a Garden 2: the Grand Tour

Although we have clear blue skies, the sun still slinks low over the horizon and its weak winter rays are insufficient to penetrate the frost. This is a garden tour that bears no resemblance to a wonderful Sunday afternoon amble around a perfect English Yellow Book Garden. There are no riotous extravaganzas of herbaceous borders, not a whiff of the perfume from rambling roses cascading over walls and arches, and sadly no tea and homemade cakes on the terrace.
We are held firmly in winter’s icy grasp so there are no plants to distract us. The winter is one of the best times to look at the structure of the garden, to examine the bare bones which form the design framework and underpin the vision. The structural colours are muted to blend in with the bleached hues of the winter landscape and to fade into the background in the strong light of the summer.

1 – Through the garden gate

Entrance to the garden
The entrance to the garden is via a farm gate, which opens behind the fence on the right next to the big shed. The house is on the left and the small green shed is the log store.
Through the garden gate
2. Looking east, with the big shed on the right, the rock garden to the left, greenhouses and alpine house straght ahead.

2 – The lean-to

Lean to garden

3. The lean-to is a garden in a shed. It is built on the side of the big shed, has a wooden framework clad in larch and a polycarbonate roof. There is a large window at the far end. The east side is partially covered with mesh which is open to the elements and partially “glazed” with polycarbonate.
There is a central large raised bed which is used for growing, bulbs, succulents, alpines and small plants which cannot withstand our wet and windy climate.

Originally the area beween the big shed and the “in-between garden was a general depository for wood, driftwood, fencing stakes and assorted other bits and pieces “that might be useful”. When the idea of a lean-to was proposed I was expecting another shed. However, although the Head Gardener’s building projects are never modest or predictable, this one took me by surprise.

3 – The in-between garden

Looking east across the garden
4. Looking south towards the hills (the Benns) .
The garden is enclosd by the lean-to, with breeze block walls of varying heights on the south, north and east sides. There are raised beds on the perimeter, apart from an alcove on the east side where we intend to build a seat.
There is a path which runs between the eastern garden boundary and the large fence which gives access to the solar panels.
Greenhouse compound
6. Looking north east across the rock garden with the alpine and greenhouse compounds beyond. There are raised beds on either side of the low breeze block wall.
In-between garden
5. The west side of the garden is sheltered by the lean-to. There is a low level raised bed running along the front of the lean-to. You can also see the two ground-level flower beds in the centre of the garden.

This is the oldest part of the garden, and has been re-designed a number of times. The boundary walls give some shelter from the wind, but it is too exposed to grow shrubs, unless they are very small or prostrate.
Breeze blocks are a pragmatic option for wall building. Bricks are not available and our granite is not suitable for building supporting walls. I have managed to get some honeysuckle to grow on along the walls and I might try some ivy or even a clematis.
The raised bed on the south side was originally desiged for ericaceous plants and housed some beautiful sculptured driftwood logs. Unfortunately, the plants did not like the exposure to the north wind and the mice decided that tunnelling under the logs would make a very safe place for raising a family. So this bed is scheduled for redevelopment.

4. – The alpine house

The alpine house sits in a fenced compound, with the solar panels on the south side and the greenhouses and garden shed to the north.

Alpine house
7. Some of you may remember the construction of the alpine house in 2014 (Birthday Project). It has survived some very big storms, and has some problems, but it is still greatly loved.
Inside, on one side is a raised bed which has been converted from a plunge bed to a garden. On the oposite side is a bench used for potting, raising seeds and cuttings
Bulb frame
8. A series of bulb frames runs along the northern edge of the alpine house compound. These were built in 2020 to replace a line of cold frames. The cold frames were never a success – the hinges rusted and we never found a satisfactory method of securing the lids in storm force winds.
shade bed
9. This is the shade bed which runs between the alpine house and the solar panels. Shady areas are few and far between in this garden and this narrow corridor is the ideal place for a border for shade loving plants. Unfortunately it is also a wind tunnel, so it has to be protected by netting. It is a pity that this type of netting is always a lurid shade of green, but it is very tough.

5 – The greenhouses

You can never have too many greenhouses or sheds. The greenhouses were built in 2018-2019 and sit in a fenced area with the garden shed. They have a breeze block base (to be timber clad this summer), a wooden framework covered with polycarbonate panels. Ventilation is provided by a series of louvered glass panels in the sides. Although they have an electricity supply, these are not designed to be heated.

Greenhouse for tender plants
10. This is the Head Gardener’s domain and is another covered garden. It is designed for growing plants which would not survive outside – mainly South African and Mediterranean bulbs and succulents.
Vegetable house
11. This is the vegetable house, used all year round for growing a range of vegetables, salads and herbs. It is in the early days of development and I’m still working on improving the soil. Last year it produced early season broccoli, beetroot, spinach, carrots, fennel and winter salad leaves. In the summer we had garlic, French beans, courgettes, cucumbers, lettuce, rocket, spring onions and more beetroot. It is amazing what you can grow in a small space.

6 – The rock garden

The rock garden is an expanse of glaciated Lewisian gneiss (Precambrian metamorphic rocks) with bands of quartz. It is a beautiful feature, which needs minimalist planting. There is no soil, so pockets have to be constructed. Predictably the weeds always seem to find a niche, while I struggle to excavate a planting crevice.

rock garden
rock garden

12. Looking north east across the rock garden. The garden slopes down towards the house, so the border of cobbles is not only decorative, it is functional. It channels the rain water run-off from the rock surface down and away from the house. In the top left corner in front of the fence is a built in garden seat, sheltered by the greenhouse and green garden shed.

13. Looking south west. The back of the house and log store are visble to the south. In the foreground, is a triangular raised bed. This has been planted for a couple of years, but is scheduled for a make-over.

rock garden extension
14. This is the rock garden extension. A pragmatic solution to getting a long stretch of fence over a rock outcrop – you go round it!
south east garden view
15. Looking south east across the garden. In the fenced compartment in the foreground is the herb garden.

7 – The periphery

When we put in the stock fence last year, we needed to have a gap between the fence and the house for purely practical reasons. The options were to do nothing and just strim the grass once a year, put in a gravel path or put in a low wooden fence and create a peripheral garden. The area between the wooden fence and the stock fence is the wild garden. This requires minimal attention, we just graze it with 4 or 5 sheep for about a month in the winter – the grass gets cut and a light dressing of organic manure is applied all at the same time.

north end view
16. Looking west along the north end of the house. This is a broad gravel path with one ot two “alcoves” to accommodate drain covers. These are good places to put pots during the summer, but it is too exposed during the winter. I think this may be the perfect place for some garden sculpture.
front garden
17. The front of the house looking west. There are two long narrow beds. This area is very exposed, so it will be very challenging and it might take a number of attempts before I get the planting right. Fortunately good old fashioned, robust kniphofias will grow here, so I could end up with a kniphofia hedge.
There is a garvel path along the inside of the wooden fence which is strengthen against the wind by small stub partitions. These provide a little extra protection for the plants and it is also a good place to put summer pots.

This is the end of the tour. In the winter the garden can look bleak and skeletal, but the eye is drawn beyond to the wider landscape – stormy seas, dramatic cloud formations, rosy dawns and golden sunsets. Today I can see snow on the hills of Harris and the Cullins of Skye – these panoramic views are an integral part of the garden and do more than compensate for the absence of trees. On days when the horizon is shrouded in low cloud and obscured by rain squalls, there is often something in flower in one of the covered gardens.
I deliberately chose a series of photographs taken on the same day at the beginning of January. If you would like to see more, the following photographs were taken in April last year and show a little more detail.

18 thoughts on “Realising the Vision

  1. This is so interesting, thank you for the tour! It looks perfectly adapted to the conditions and to the gardeners. No, you can never have enough undercover space and I wish we had more! I love the ‘garden in a shed’, what a brilliant idea. And of course the stunning views..
    Did the greenhouses replace the polytunnel?

    • The garden developed as we began to understand the site and the environment. With hindsight we should have build a giant dome like the Welsh Botanic Garden, unfortunately we didn’t have the budget for the foresight! The greenhouses were built to replace the polytunnel and as an acceptance that as time progresses it will be more difficult to garden on such a large scale. We’re not sure how much longer the polytunnel will survive, it has serious corrosion problems. I am, of course, ignoring the age factor and planning how to use the space once it has finally been dismantled

  2. Luffy

    How remarkable. It’s amazing. I had no, idea that your garden was as big,

    • Luffy

      Or as comprehensive, far reaching and exotic! I’m quite stunned by what you’ve achieved 🥂

      • The garden has a life and character of its own and a Head Gardener who likes “project”. I just tag along help out and do the weeding.

    • I hope that the wooden boundary fence may have stopped the exponential growth, but I am missing a pond!

  3. Your alpine areas are simply to die for. I hope you are very proud to have achieved something so special? I need to come back later on, because many of your photographs would not appear, no matter how many times I tried refresh. Something to do with my connection, I expect.

    • Thank you Cathy. I’ve just checked the post on my phone and on a tablet and for some reason some of the images are not showing. Clearly a technical glitch. I’ll try and fix it.

  4. Apologies for the technical error. I have reloaded the images and you should be able to see them now. Thank you for your forebearance.
    Christine – aka Croft Garden apprentice.

  5. So wonderful to be able to see all the pictures. I am lost in admiration for what you’ve created. Alpines are a special love of mine but mostly impossible here. I’ll look forward to seeing much more of your superb spaces!

    • We will bask in mutual admiration as you have the French garden I’ve always dreamed of.

  6. Goodness me, I had no idea you had done so much work over the years. You deserve some praise indeed for making so much out of your exposed position in such a harsh climate. I love all the well-organized plots, some covered, some open, and all fitting to the surroundings. Those views and all that blue sky are wonderful too. 😃

  7. I really enjoyed the tour. As ever, I am overawed by the vision and application of the two of you.

    • I’m delighted to welcome you to the garden. Now you’ve done the virtual tour, perhaps when we arefree from “house-arrest” you can come and see the real thing.

  8. I first saw your post on my phone and some photos wouldn’t match up and others didn’t appear, so I have waited till I had time to view them on my laptop – but now read there was a technical issue. It has been a joy to see how much has been achieved in your garden since we were there. The alpine house was not a year old then, but I can’t work out which of the other large structures you had – was it just a polytunnel? I remember you grew some edibles in it but there were decorative plants too. I am pleased to read that the ‘Head Gardener’ still likes a good project but I know you are being more than just a little modest in suggesting you are a mere apprentice – your combined vision has created something special…and I agree you can never have too many sheds or greenhouses. Thankfully you have the space to indulge such ‘whims’!

    • Sorry about the technical glitch. I work on a big PC screen and tend to forget that others view the posts on their phones or tablets. In theory the images should respond according, but sometimes the fairy dust doesn’t work!
      At the time of your visit there would have been just the big shed. I can’t remember whether the fruit cages and orchard had been built. We really have to stop expanding, but garden’s have a life of their own and I expect that the Head gardner may have another project or two incubating!

      • I know what you mean about a big screen as I always write my posts on a laptop, carefully aligning photos when necessary, but realise so many people view on other devices which then play havoc with with the layout! I thought I remembered solid walls, so agree it must have been the big shed. You had fruit cages with soft netting I think, but not an orchard – what is in the latter now? Have you liked at Knowle Nets for your netting? They certainly have black in certain types, but it may not be what you need for your specific conditions ps hurrah for projects!

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