by Dick Handscombe

In last month’s gardening article a long list of Mini-Garden features that can be fitted into gardens of all sizes were presented. This month the next steps are considered.

  1. Draw up a sketch master plan of how your chosen Mini-Gardens could be best fitted together as a jigsaw to provide an overall balanced and eventual exciting garden.
  2. The next thing is to mark out the boundaries of those that start at the front back and patio doors.
  3. The third thing is to stabilise the soil by laying temporary paths and terraces to avoid walking on and consolidating the soil areas where there will eventually be planted areas. I am reminded of the importance of this by my memories of what happened when we first took over a bare plot of land surrounding a new house 27 years ago and the heavy rain that fell all last night. When our house was being finished we asked to builder to plan for a 60 to 100 centimetre wide shrub bed right around the house and to make it with natural stone slab crazy paving laid on consolidated gritty sand rather than making with concrete. We had the idea of planting low growing herbs such as thyme in the gaps between the stones. When we came out for our first summer at the end of the first week of June we had a dry first week then eight days of rain in the next fortnight. Within a week of walking along the paths the slabs were dangerously topsy-turvy. We corrected this by relaying the slabs on a concrete base.
  4. Don’t walk on soil that will be used for planting things, especially after rain, as this will only consolidate the soil and make dried out red clay soils even harder to work. This is especially important in stony soils.
  5. If you are about to lay out a new garden, cover areas which will eventually be terraces with solid plastic held down by rocks and a light coating of stone chippings or sand until you have time to lay the final thick coatings of chippings or lay crazy paving or tiles.
  6. As soon as possible join these future terrace areas with strips of plastic covered with stone chippings to provide dry pathways even when there is heavy rain.
  7. Aim to have to work the minimum of soil into beds for plantings. Aim towards the following percentages of flower and shrub beds, including beds around trees.
  8. Once you have completed this initial lay out wander round it and look at the emerging network of paths and terraces aesthetically and decide where the directions, widths and shapes could be improved to make the garden more interesting while at the same time enable speedy journeys to the pool, garden shed and a compost heap.
  9. Recognise that working consolidated Spanish soil for the first time, especially after a long hot summer, is not kind to backs, especially if you set out to use English style tools. Go out and buy yourself a set of mattocks to use instead of a spade and fork for most tasks including digging, planting holes and weeding.
  10. Once you have worked over the soil for the first time obtain a load of horse sheep or goat manure and spread it deeply over the areas which will be your main planting areas and work it into the partially prepared soil to start to improve the soil and make it easier to work.
  11. The greatest disturbances to partially prepared soils will be the making of planting holes for trees, so make these as soon as the weather and soil conditions allow even if you don’t intend to plant trees until next spring. When we first decided where to plant trees we were still only visiting the property for holidays, so preparations and plantings had to be carefully phased. Starting at Easter and through the summer holidays we dug planting holes after any thunder storms that occurred and they were monthly in the early years before the extent of coastal build interfered with traditional weather patterns. The holes were then filled with green kitchen waste and weeds as temporary mini compost heaps which had rotted down within six months to then be worked into the bottom of the planting holes. All the trees planted into holes prepared this way grew well and before planting, some holes produced unexpected naturally grown melons, courgettes and potatoes from seeds that had been in the kitchen waste!
  12. When you start to lay the final surfaces to terraces and paths, slope them so that future rain water is directed and transported to where most required. There is a whole chapter about this in the useful book ‘How To Use Less Water In Your Garden’ which is easily available from internet bookshops such as The Book Depository (which advertises free postage worldwide) and Amazon Books.
  13. If you are in an area where it has amazingly not rained yet, and none is expected for a while, dampen soil before attempting to work it, or don’t start until heavy rain has finally fallen. Hard soil, like golf, can cause debilitating back aches that have ruined many gardening, working in Spain and retirement plans.

© Dick Handscombe