Reality Gardening


Terraces 005 Wm

The bare bones of winter


Winter, as many have said before me, is a time for planning.

Especially this year when the ground is so wet that if I step on it I feel that I’m about to sink without trace.

Perhaps the best way to cope with a garden of this size is to focus on one area at a time. Over the last couple of years the terraces have been progressively cleared of weeds and an excess of Crocosmia. A few things got shifted around and some new plants were added, but I’ve not got to grips with it in any meaningful way. The main challenge is the extra dimension of relative height, provided by virtue of the three levels. To complicate things further, the planting needs to look good from three sides. Getting this right, or at least closer to right, is the task that I have set for this year.

There are new shoots pushing up already and as soon as conditions are more favourable I’ve got a few things still to move.

Relocations will create gaps. Opportunities for new planting. A wonderful juxtaposition of colour, shape and texture awaits. Err-hmm. 


Terraces 001 Wm

August 2013

Apart from the re-emergent crocosmia, the palette is overwhelmingly green. Could do better.


Hellebore 012 Wm


There will be less of the close up photography I’ve retreated to up to now, with more attention on plant combinations and that all important matter of height.

I want to make it more of an all seasons garden too. After all, it’s these borders that we look out at from inside the house.

There are now Hellebores, chance seedlings brought with me from my last garden, otherwise little of interest in mid winter as it stands.


Galanthus nivalis 006 Wm

 Just a lonely patch of pheasant pecked snowdrops close to the top path.


And to really keep me on my toes I want to show you how it all goes, however it turns out.

Linking up with Helen’s End Of Month View at The Patient Gardener’s Weblog, where many other garden projects are kicking off this month.



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86 thoughts on “Reality Gardening

  1. Janet/Plantaliscious

    Hi Jessica, what a great focus for the EOMV posts, taking just one project in hand is the only way to stay sane with a large garden, I think. Your terrace beds seem perfectly balanced between challenge and opportunity! I will be watching your work with huge interest, because planting to look good from all (or most) sides is a challenge I face in my front garden, and I am scared. And excited, but mostly scared! I always find plant heights really difficult, I never feel I get a good grip on them until I have had a plant myself for a full season and seen what it does, height varies so much depending on the prevailing conditions, I have ceased to believe overly in the labels themselves. But then you get the “peek-a-boo” effect! Good luck, enjoy the planning, I am sure you will end up with something beautiful. At which point I will nick all your best ideas…

    1. Jessica Post author

      I think this is going to be a work in progress for some years to come. Perennials seem to grow tall here, compared to the guide height on the label, I suppose it is the relatively mild moist climate. But if I can get it broadly right this year then tinkering in the future will be quite fun!

  2. the veg artist

    We have a very green and wet garden in West Wales, but ours goes up on a slight slope behind the house – our problem is avoiding staring at the ‘ legs’ of the plants while the sun makes the tops a blur. I often wonder if there is any such thing as the perfect garden. It seems more like making th best of what we have!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Staring at ‘legs’ is a problem I have up on the bank behind the house (postman aside!!). And this is where relative height comes into play. My aim is to have plants lower down the slope that grow just sufficiently to hide them, but it is hard to achieve in practice. Much trial and error, and moving of things around.

  3. Pats.

    I suspect cabin fever! Prevalent on the farm too…. Feet up plus tea and seed cats. for another week or so before we get the plough out! Love the hundred shades of green!

  4. countrysidetales

    Signs of Spring. It’s all ahead pf us….

    I really like stems with colour for winter gardens- hillier gardens near us is fabulous for that- their winter garden is beautiful. Might be worth a visit if you haven’t been before?

    1. Jessica Post author

      It is all ahead of us isn’t it.. every time I go out I see new signs of growth. It’s keeping me going. I haven’t been to Hillier, thanks for the tip.

  5. islandthreads

    Jessica as I said before you do have a variety of greens and textures in those borders, I even see a small patch of blue foliage towards the top left of the august 2013 photo, are they perennial beds mostly? I know there are some bulbs but what about shrubs, if the beds are seen from multiple sides then you could treat that as a release from the standard small plants at the front tall at the back, like Janet says ‘peek-a-boo’,
    I love the A. Mollis flowers draped over the wall, Frances
    p.s. love your little map in the previous post, I’ve been trying to ‘like’ it but wordpress won’t let me, nor this post either,

    1. Jessica Post author

      I’ve got a few dwarf shrubs in there, mostly azaleas, but yes they are predominently perennial beds. I am thinking at the moment of a cascade down from the top, with smaller plants (under 30 cms) in the top bed, but with some plants in the middle and lower beds that grow taller and ‘break the rules’, to add a bit of interest. The A. mollis is now an ex plant. Mike is a lover of things that are tidy.. so he hated it. Sadly. I do have lots of babies though.. they’ve gone up on the bank where things are less formal. We’ll see if he spots them. :)
      Not sure what is wrong with WordPress, I’ll investigate.

  6. woolythymes

    i learn so much from this space…..i’m lucky to have anything grow, let alone a PLAN!!! I’d take ‘green’ any day!! I always start out in the spring like gangbusters…and then, along come the mosquitoes, the stifling heat and humidity, and the inevitable drought. (I’m a wimp. I give up without a fight)

  7. Helen Johnstone

    I covert your terraces, I have a similar sloping garden but finances mean I have had to resort to less glamorous retaining walls. I don’t think there is anything wrong with your greens, they are a good base for adding highlights to. Thanks for joining in with the meme, I hope you find it helpful

    1. Jessica Post author

      We inherited the terraces, which is just as well. My long term aim is to mirror them on the other side of the path, but it will need a lottery win first. The meme is a brilliant idea Helen, it keeps us focused!

  8. 1gus1

    You’re very brave – I dare not show more than selected and cropped views of my garden but then I’m not really a gardener. I shall enjoy watching your progress though it will make me even more ashamed . . .

  9. Jenny

    I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do with this area. So far we’ve just been focussing on clearing out what we don’t want from our flower borders (ivy anyone?), but soon we’ll be reaching the point of planting. Like you, I don’t want to just plant things that I like, but take into account the overall effect, colour through the seasons and a variety of heights. Definitely a challenge.

    1. Jessica Post author

      It is, but very satisfying when you get it right. It just won’t be quick, don’t be afraid to move things. It’s all about trial and error.

  10. Amy at love made my home

    Although you might like more variation in height, you are so lucky I think to have those terraces as that automatically gives you some variation, we are just one flat level, which is good in some ways, but makes for a rather boring landscape in others. I am hoping that after our trees are chopped next week we will have more light coming into the garden this summer which I hope will help things grow better! We can hope right? I am looking forward to seeing how you get on and what sort of things you decide to grow. xx oh, just popped into my head, how are those chairs coming along?

    1. Jessica Post author

      Hi Deb, thank you and welcome to rusty duck!
      Here it is just rain, rain and more rain. Weather forecasters threaten a cold winter, but so far it hasn’t materialised. That doesn’t mean it won’t, of course. And then all the plants that are growing in the mild conditions will perish. Climate change, urrgh!

  11. Wendy

    I do love those terraces, there’s so much opportunity to develop what you already have there. I’d like my garden to be more ‘all seasons’, too – I have an area that is but most of it looks pretty bleak in winter. I look forward to seeing how it all goes!

    1. Jessica Post author

      I think that may be the key, different areas taking over at particular times of the year. It’s a challenge to achieve a good balance in a small space like our terraces, yet this is the area we view most often.

  12. Pauline

    It’s good that we are all trying to improve on what probably to others seems fine. Sticking to one area certainly concentrates the mind and gets the inspiration working.Will really look forward to see what you do, we have a north facing rockery which is a bit of a problem, but I’m sure one day it will get tackled and who knows, I might get some ideas from you!

    1. Jessica Post author

      I suppose I am more critical of this area because it is the prime piece of garden real estate. It is what we and visitors see the most. And the only formal part of the garden really. I want it to be better than OK.

  13. Chloris

    I have a big garden like you and I think it is a good idea to focus on one project at a time so as not to get overwhelmed.
    The other problem is trying to have it all looking wonderful all year round. I have different parts looking their best at different seasons. Your terrace is always on show of course, so it is important to have plenty of foliage showing off whatever is in flower at the time. Have you thought of Genista Lydia to tumble over your wall in spring?
    I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with it, the planning is such fun.

    1. Jessica Post author

      I do need more foliage, it looks very bare at the moment. And more bulbs, to push up in between. This year I plan to bury the bulbs in wire mesh cages, to try and keep the mice from destroying them.

  14. Christina

    Hi Jessica, honestly I think your borders are looking great considering the photo of August 2013! I can’t help but thinking that you Brits are gardening by different standards, tremendously high standards that is, than the rest of this world. But probably that is the reason why British gardens are so unbelievable beautiful and we all can learn from you ;-)! What I love about blogging is that it is always reality gardening, not like in a magazine pr garden show where a garden designer comes in with a crew of helpers and an awful amount of money and “transforms a garden”. I am sure you will make your great borders even better and I am looking forward to follow your progress on your blog! Have a nice, hopefully more dry weekend!

    1. Jessica Post author

      I am my own worst critic Christina, and it is a challenge when there are so many fantastic gardens around to compare mine to! I enjoy the slow process of making a garden, trying a few things and changing it around. It is a constant process, never done. I hope we can soon move on from the concept of the ‘instant’ garden, on the basis that plants grow and change, there is no such thing!

  15. snowbird

    A garden is a never ending project for sure, and I wonder how many of ever feel that we get it right….A real challenge for sure, I do love those terraces, they are so unusual….looking forward to seeing what you come up with! Crocosmia…..I do love it but it’s so invasive isn’t it, It runs rampant in my

    1. Jessica Post author

      I’m beginning to think it’s one of those plants that once you have it.. you’ll never be without it. I thought I had dug it all out last year.

  16. Alison

    Your terraces with their mossy stone walls are beautiful! I’m planning to do the End of the Month meme too this year, focusing on redoing one specific area of my garden. I also tend to focus on combos and closeup photos in my blog, so it will be a challenge to be brutally honest about how the garden looks and show some of the ugliness.

    1. Jessica Post author

      Hi Alison and welcome to rusty duck.
      Having popped over to your blog it looks like a wonderful space that you have to develop. Plenty of opportunity to showcase some really great plants. I look forward to following your progress.

  17. frayed at the edge

    Our last garden was decidedly low maintenance – it was a new-buid house, so we were able to plan and develop the garden an area at a time. No grass to cut, lots of different gravels with weed-suppressing membrane underneath, pretty things in pots, and some vegetable beds …… lots of ideas pinched from Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force programmes!!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Malcolm has your current garden looking beautiful too! I wish we could make more use of weed suppressing membrane. Possible on the terraces, but not on the slope.

  18. Cathy

    Christina is right about the reality aspect of our blogs – that is what makes them so interesting and enjoyable. Mulling our thoughts over with fellow bloggers rather than just with ourselves or our partners adds a whole new dimension. I know I would struggle with how to begin to ‘plan’ for terraces like yours – the different heights increase any planning dilemmas threefold!

    1. Jessica Post author

      It will be trial and error Cathy. Mike hates it when I move things around, he thinks a plant should go in and stay in.. perhaps I should give it to him to do?

  19. Jayne Hill

    You’re absolutely right and we have done the same thing at Bag End – slogged away getting one section under control before moving to the next. It does mean that the bits you haven’t got to yet can get horrendously out of control though. The area where we now have the Big Pond was once covered in thistles – head high and I could get lost in them, and I don’t even want to think about the ground elder that used to dominate another section.

    But keep at it and you will get there, and as others have said, those terrace beds already look pretty good – I think you are being too hard on yourself :}

    1. Jessica Post author

      They are OK, but not great. If I can get the terraces sort of there and the bank at least kept free of weeds I will be happy with this year. The woodland can look after itself for a bit longer. Ground elder, here too, uurrgh!

  20. wherethejourneytakesme

    Hi Jessica – it is wet here too and I have no doubt it will be just as wet in Scotland at the cottage. It is the best time of year to plan the changes so you can start the move around as soon as the weather improves, because as you know in a woodland garden when things get going they go at speed including all the wild flowers and weeds.

    We too have an abundance of Crocosmia – I used to fill in with it but now I am not sure that it was a good idea!! I do know that no matter how much work you put in, the garden will change from year to year anyway and what looks good one year can be thrown out of balance the next just by something flowering late or early or getting eaten.

    Our cottage garden always looks worse to me than anyone else but I have always had lovely comments from passers by and I suspect your garden will look fabulous to everyone but yourself! It looks good to me and all the people commenting above me.

    I think one area at a time is a good idea – it is how I started improving ours. This year I am going to be starting on the seaside garden in little patches whilst keeping the woodland garden from getting overgrown again. It is like keeping those plates spinning in the air!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Plates spinning about sums it up, there are not enough hours in the day… or dry days come to that! It must be even more of a challenge for you, being away from the cottage much of the time. I do think we are harder on ourselves than anyone else is.

  21. angiesgardendiaries

    Jessica – those terraces, well what can I say……even in winter, amazing!!!
    I will be looking forward to what you achieve – although to my inexperienced eye – it looks wonderful anyway.
    I tend to take more close up pictures but my reason for doing so is because many of the plants are still young – good luck on working on your combos too :)

    1. Jessica Post author

      Thanks Angie. You’re right, I will have that issue too in a developing border. I’m hoping to get much of the new planting done in Spring, so that it has a long season to establish. But it will be next year at least before the plants start to look mature.

  22. Sarah

    Your terrace looks lovely in both seasons and it is wonderful to see those first signs of spring. Just wish the rain would stop and we could get out in the garden! Sarah x

  23. CJ

    I do love your terraces. We had smaller ones in the garden when I was little. The height adds a lot of interest to the garden I think. A really great opportunity to display plants.

  24. haggiz

    I think my whole garden is about the size of your terrace, but flat thankfully! so I think you are very brave to show the whole picture rather than pick out the interesting (and weed free) bits! Lets hope February is a dry month, walking on my little patch of lawn at the moment is like walking on a sponge.. Julie x

    1. Jessica Post author

      Yet more rain today. I heard a forecast that predicted the same old stuff for the next two weeks. Our lawn is just a mud bath, it’s never recovered from having the cow walk over it!

  25. Em

    I like green but I know what you mean. If you’ve got sun, then have flowers. Funnily enough, Crocosmia was the only flower in the garden when we moved here, other than what is a ubiquitous pink geranium up here. Not a huge fan but you take what you can get! It’s snowed over night here so all my primroses have transparent soggy leaves now. Can’t wait to see your swathes of beauty in the spring!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Crocosmia is supposed to tolerate shade. I shifted heaps of it into the wood the first year we were here, and then discovered there is shade.. and there is shade. It’s never done anything but produce anaemic looking leaves. Em, please don’t expect swathes of beauty..!! I’m not there yet. Not least because I’ve still to plant any bulbs that the mice don’t eat. There are definitely thicker bits in our rain today..

  26. Rosie

    Your terraces look wonderful to me but it must be hard work to get them how you would like them. This dreadful wet and gloomy weather isn’t very inspiring is it? Nice to spend the time indoors planing your garden for the next few months – Spring will soon be here:)

  27. elaine

    Well for all that you are not happy with your garden it still looks pretty good to me – I have just the opposite problem – my garden is totally flat – I could do with a few different levels to add interest – seems neither of us is satisfied with what we have maybe one day it will all come together.

    1. Jessica Post author

      I just want to inject more colour and interest into the planting. I do like the different levels, it’s just getting the proportions right that can be tricky. Especially when plant growth often bears little resemblance to the guide height printed on the label.

  28. knitsofacto

    Including the garden plan in a previous post was inspired, it’s much easier now to picture what you are trying to achieve and see what you are battling against.

    There is a four terrace garden near here where the terraces are distinguished by habit. from tall at the top to trailing and spilling over the wall at the bottom. Terrace two has spiky middling height plants and terrace three more rounded clumps. The overall effect is of plants that are almost falling down the slope and it works beautifully. Not sure if I’ve described it adequately but would something like that work for you?

    1. Jessica Post author

      It would Annie. I wouldn’t make the top level too tall because there is a narrow path running between it and the house. But the effect of plants falling down the slope is exactly what I want to achieve, and I like the idea of different habits on different levels. I’d love to see that garden..

  29. Jo

    Will you be continuing with your monthly purchases? I’ve given up now that I’ve been going for a year, I just don’t have the room, but I do think it’s great advice from Geoff Hamilton to buy plants which are in flower. They’re definitely going to add interest to my garden this year.

    1. Jessica Post author

      I thought I would, I haven’t done a full year yet and I can tie it in with the ‘bloomers’ posts that I do mid-month. It is a great way of spreading purchases across the year. The last couple of months have been a challenge, but it does make you go out and look for what’s there! Thank you for the idea Jo.

  30. Christina

    Planting on a slope or terraces is always challenging but I think it is a mistake to just think of the terraces in horizontal terms. You could have some tall plants that flow from one level to another; if you only plant things that are no higher than the terrace heights the whole thing could end up feeling boring or unsatisfactory. Or you could plant all of one level with something like Stipa tenuissima plus Verbena bonariensis (see through so you can see what’s behind it even though it’s tall) and some bulbs.

    1. Jessica Post author

      I can’t go too tall because there is a lovely view from the kitchen window, down the terraces to the river I wouldn’t want to obscure, but I think clumps of the verbena at the back of the lower bed, along with the Stipa, would be lovely. And there will be other places where I break the top of the wall to create some interest. Part of the fun of this will be experimenting to get just the right effect. Thanks Christina!

  31. Anna

    Must have been hard work getting shut of all the crocosmia – I’ve in the middle of trying to reduce a rampant spread of it :) Oh I hope that you have fun with this exciting project Jessica and look forward to seeing what you get up to over the next year.

    1. Jessica Post author

      I haven’t got rid of it yet Anna, I thought I had but it manages to come back regardless. It masquerades as irises, and until they all bloom there’s no way of telling..

  32. andreamynard

    I love those seating areas tucked below the terraces, can just imagine a summer evening drink or meal there with all the lush planting above. I’ve been a fan of close up pics in my garden too, particularly as I need to create a few more interesting structure/add more height to some areas – I love it when my bean teepees help in this department, but I find it tricky creating this throughout the year.

    1. Jessica Post author

      I’d sit out and eat all the time if only the weather would allow it. It’s a flat time of year, in more ways than one!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to have some white stuff instead of this continual wind and rain… even if it did mean the drops were delayed!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Thanks Cherie, more heavy rain forecast for this week. So frustrating when I just want to get out there and get started on it.

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