I have recently been working with a client near Camberley who has a very challenging garden. She contacted me a few months ago with some pictures of the site and it became clear very quickly why she didn’t really know what to do.
The garden is pretty much full with mature trees, three of which are Sequoia (Redwood). The others are pines and oaks and the whole site is subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) which means that the trees are protected.
The main challenge is the soil which is starved of water and nutrients. This isn’t surprising of course, with mature trees, but it’s been a challenge to get anything to grow or even to fork over the beds in the first place.
What’s adding to the challenge is the issue of compacted ground. Actually, the house was built within the last 25 years so I’m quite surprised that the development was permitted so close to the trees in the first place.
There are ways to improve the soil around mature trees and we’ve discussed the possibility of decompacting the ground using a piece of machinery called an air spade. This piece of kit uses compressed air to aerate the soil without causing damage to the roots.
The other consideration is to use plants that can tolerate difficult situations. Planting under mature trees is always going to be tricky, but it should be possible to grow something.
I’ve had some success with planting under a mature oak before. We used smaller 9cm plants because the soil was quite shallow and planted more per m2 than we would have normally done. Actually sometimes it allows you to grow species that would otherwise be a bit invasive!
So here is the concept design for the site and a few sketch views. Essentially I think we need to maximise the small area of the garden near the house which is furthest from the trees. That way, even if we’re not fully successful with growing plants throughout the garden, there will be an area that looks and feels lush and green.
I am proposing that the terrace is reduced in size a little to allow for some planting against the house wall.
I’ve also introduced some beds to separate the terrace from the lawn area. This will give it more depth and allow for more planting near the house.
We agreed from the start that the areas under the trees should have a woodland feel – to be honest, it wouldn’t really make sense to do anything different.
The boundaries could do with a little bit of screening so we’ve talked about some robust shrubs such as Fatsia japonica which is tolerant of dry shade, but the majority of the planting will be low with bark pathways throughout.
In order to spread the cost, the garden will be implemented in phases, but at least there is a master plan in place and an end goal in sight. I’m looking forward to hearing about the progress as and when it happens.