Keyhole Surgery

The bank 6 Wm


 The Precipitous Bank, this weekend.


The bank 3 Wm


The Precipitous Bank, back in June


It’s not a done deal by any means, but it is coming on.

The constant effort needed to remain aloft has strained muscles in the weirdest of places. But I’ve cleared a vast quantity of weed and revealed the old structure beneath. There are a couple of berberis hedges which need to stay for now. They’re holding back the soil. They could be further reduced in height though and I’m tempted to make a return visit with the shears.

Over time some of the ferns will probably get shifted. We’re a bit top heavy on those. But the main job for autumn is to replant.


Have I mentioned the wire?

Our predecessor tried to stabilise the slope by covering it in chicken wire. How effective this has been is open to doubt. The soil fell down behind the wire and collects in a bulge at the bottom. The weeds continued their onward march regardless and grew up through. Imagine the fun to be had, trying to tease a large root ball through your average chicken wire sized hole.

Keyhole surgery. Hard on the nails.


The bank 7 Wm


Looking along the face of the bank, this weekend.


The bank 2 Wm


 The same view taken at about this time last year.

The wire is applied most assiduously at this end of the slope. And much of the greenery you see above is ground elder. I don’t suppose for a minute I got every bit out. But maybe the presence of the mesh might at least restrict the activity of the mice?



Oh, don’t I wish.


To see what other gardeners have been up to this August, link up with Helen for an end of month review.

The Patient Gardener


2018-02-08T10:18:03+00:00August 31st, 2013|Tags: |


  1. Pauline August 31, 2013 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I think mice, voles etc can get through chicken wire, in fact I know they can! One year I put chicken wire all over the tops of pots that had tulips in them and placed them on the balcony upstairs. Did it work, no, lots of mice/vole sized holes and no tulip bulbs! How did they get up there?!
    That is certainly a serious slope that you have to cope with, although I do think the ferns look nice! The wire netting must be a pain to weed through and round, are you getting rid of it or will it stay?

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 6:44 pm - Reply

      I’m a bit cautious of taking it all out in one go. Thinking that maybe the best thing to do is take out a chunk each time I plant something, and then once the plant has established its roots (and bound the soil) take out a bit more from around it.

  2. Denise August 31, 2013 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    When you took on the cottage, Jessica, did you envisage it would be such a labour of love? (Raises a cup of tea and Cornish fairing in admiration!)

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 6:47 pm - Reply

      It was always intended to be a project, but the chicken wire I hadn’t spotted!

  3. Jo August 31, 2013 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    It’s looking good. I can only imagine the amount of hard work it’s taken so far.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 6:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jo. It needs planting up quickly now, the large areas of cleared soil are already sprouting new weeds!

  4. BadPenny August 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    The clue lies within the name surely…CHICKEN wire !!!
    I can see how hard you’ve worked – what a job.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      Weeding through MICE wire doesn’t bear thinking about!

  5. Crafty Gardener August 31, 2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I think you have done an amazing job. As the plants fill in they will hold the soil in place. Perhaps some large rocks added to various spots will stop erosion … but that requires lots of muscle work to get them into place.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 6:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks! The bank used to be home to 30 odd trees, so the old stumps help too. Planting has to be the right solution to binding the soil, the roots will do a much better job than the wire.

  6. 1gus1 August 31, 2013 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    The slope is looking amazing – it will be wonderful when you’ve planted what you want on it – but, oh, your aching muscles and torn nails. A labour of love? Torture, more like.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      I am aching a bit for sure. But it saves me a fortune on the gym..!

  7. justjilluk August 31, 2013 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    I think you have done an amazing job. Our garden has to be at least 40% ground elder, also called Bishops Weed, dont know why. Perhaps to counteract the swearing trying to get rid of it.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      Apparently it is a cure for gout and was widely grown in monastery gardens in the middle ages. Perhaps bishops were particularly prone to gout?

  8. wherefivevalleysmeet August 31, 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Each garden presents it challenges, and you have faced yours full on and are making a wonderful job of a very difficult bank.
    When I read the title of the post I thought at first some serious hospital procedure was being undertaken.
    Our challenge in the garden is one of having very little soil which sits on the top of a hill of oolitic limestone. We were advised by Rosemary Verey, when she was still alive, to pick axe our way through it, and then fill the residual hole with good soil and compost. This we have faithfully done, and everything has come up and flourished well.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      I visited Barnsley House a few years ago, sadly after Rosemary died and it became a hotel. The garden is absolutely lovely. You have quite a challenge of your own. I thought I was bad enough having wire cutters in my gardening trug.. although as we’re on clay a pick axe would be handy in dry weather too.

  9. Simone August 31, 2013 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Oh. Have a nice warm bath to rest those aching muscles and a large glass of wine. Maybe you could open a wildlife sanctuary on your plot of land? They seem to like it!

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      I’ve had the wine. Now about ready to crash into bed!
      I’d always intended it would be a wildlife sanctuary. The mice are testing me though..

  10. snowbird August 31, 2013 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Heavens above….that is one sheer bank for sure! And RESPECT for keeping on top of it. It is different though and I must say that I love it.

    Ground elder….sighs, that and mare’s tail are the bane of my life.xxxx

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      I have been spared mare’s tail so far. Or maybe it’s out there somewhere and I’ve still to find it!

  11. Suzanne Dutchess County, NY, USA August 31, 2013 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    You are doing a superb job! Oh what fun you’ll have buying new plants. It’s all so exciting at this point isn’t it?

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 9:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks Suzanne. Plant fair tomorrow… but most of the plants will come from elsewhere in the garden. The terraces are full of perennials that are too big for their space. But they’ll look fine on the bank.

  12. Eleanor from Stitches and Seeds August 31, 2013 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    It’s looking great! Have you considered ivy for ground cover? You can just pull it out by the handful if it spreads too much and the roots would be great at holding the soil together. And a cat….

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 10:02 pm - Reply

      There’s a lot of ivy up there already, and it is great for binding the soil so I’ve left it in place. We had some that had climbed to the top of a telegraph pole. Until Mike accidentally severed the stem. We now have lots of dead ivy climbing the telegraph pole..

  13. vintage jane August 31, 2013 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Your garden is looking great despite the constant challenges you have faced … and just think how fit it has kept you!! 😉

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 10:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks M. It was a great psychological boost to finish the face of the bank today. As I get higher up, behind the house, it flattens out and will become easier. I hope!

  14. CJ August 31, 2013 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    It does look lovely. Little by little I am sure you will get it exactly how you want it.

    • Jessica August 31, 2013 at 11:09 pm - Reply

      It’s already changed from the first photo. I did go out again with the shears and reduced the hedge that runs through the middle. It no longer slopes up to the right! Thanks CJ.

  15. haggiz September 1, 2013 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Very impressive Jessica. Looking at that second photo I think I would have given up at that point it looks like a huge endeavour, but your hard work has really paid off. Look forward to seeing it next year once you have planted it up. I wouldn’t be too quick in getting rid of the ferns I think they look lovely. Julie x

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 9:06 am - Reply

      Thanks Julie. I won’t get rid of too many ferns just thin them out by moving one or two elsewhere, in the early Spring. They tend to get very big and swamp everything else if left to their own devices!

  16. Alison September 1, 2013 at 9:16 am - Reply

    The precipitous bank is rather wonderful even if it is a challenge. I get a lot of mice problems too, usually in my greenhouse where the cats cannot get to them. Your garden is looking great this month.

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm - Reply

      Thanks Alison and welcome to rusty duck!
      It now desperately needs some colour. But that’s the problem with garden renovation. For a while when it’s being cleared it does look very dull and green. I’ve high hopes for next year though, especially as I’ve just bought some of the plants that are looking so wonderful in your own garden.

  17. Chel C September 1, 2013 at 9:25 am - Reply

    That looks like a lot of hard work! My old neighbours from my previous cottage had half an acre of land that was on a slope. They were in their 90’s and still went up to the top every day to start their gardening and by the end of the evening were back down again – very impressive. Their solution was separating the slope into large steps. Chicken wire was only used to keep the rabbits out, not that it helped! I can imagine the chicken wire would tear you to shreds and could restrict the growth of some plants. Good luck and I’ll see if I can crochet you some chain mail gloves!! Take care. xx

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Our predecessor was 90 too. I am hoping that hill climbing and longevity are linked!
      In other parts of the garden terraces will be the answer I think. The terrain feels a bit complicated here though, with slopes going off in different directions and quite a significant vertical drop vs horizontal distance. So I’ve decided to go for ground cover and have a cascade of perennials coming down the hill. I hope if I plant densely enough the weeds will give up!

  18. Cathy September 1, 2013 at 9:53 am - Reply

    A slope and a half, Jessica, but progress is being made, I can see! having just had a few days at my Mum’s in W Scotland we passed lots of gardens with slopes like this en route and I wondered what we would have had done if we had acquired a garden like that. Mind you, if the slope is only part of your plot you can always keep the slope over your shoulder and avoid looking at it if needs be (or perhaps not, with all those steps…). I do like challenges, so will be interested to watch your progress and have a few more chuckles (sympathetic ones) as I read your posts 😉

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cathy and welcome to rusty duck!
      The whole site slopes, sadly, but the precipitous bank is the worst bit of it. We were house hunting in Scotland as well as Devon this time around… I was destined to have hills!

  19. Em September 1, 2013 at 10:23 am - Reply

    I once managed to eradicate Ground Elder from a garden where it was the only plant there, in a giant carpet. It took weeks of back breaking sifting but, amazingly, I did do it. You’re doing sterling work there! Do you have any Enchanter’s Nightshade? I’m battling with that now. Sneaky stuff.

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm - Reply

      Ground Elder is good at that.. it is its mission in life! Take over and swamp everything else.
      Enchanter’s nightshade does look familiar. I think it’s in the woods. Oh dear..

  20. Helen September 1, 2013 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    What a lot of work! I do admire your determination and your energy. A true labour of love!

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Helen.
      I do love gardening, but a bit of me is still rather relieved that we’re coming up to a seasonal break!!

  21. elaine September 1, 2013 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Goodness – that bank certainly is a challenge – well done for sticking with it.

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      It’s been awful. But if I can keep the weeds down until the plants take over it should be easier from now on. That’s the theory..

  22. Wendy September 1, 2013 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    I have chicken wire to weed through here – it does make a horrible job worse. Mine is all on the flat, though – I don’t have the challenges of your slope! Your ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics really show all the progress you’ve made.

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 10:59 pm - Reply

      Thanks Wendy. Before the blog I wouldn’t have thought about taking photos.. they provide a good record. Great to look back on as things progress.

  23. Anna September 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Talk about extreme sports 🙂 Look forward to seeing how it develops Jessica and in awe of your determination and energy.

    • Jessica September 1, 2013 at 11:06 pm - Reply

      Extreme gardening it is! I (mostly) have the determination, but the energy frequently flags. I can only manage a couple of hours a day on the steepest part of the bank. After that muscles are screaming.

  24. Jenny September 2, 2013 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Certainly an interesting problem. Well done with all the effort you’ve put in so far and fingers crossed you manage to keep going with gently removing weeds and planting more interesting things without it all collapsing!

    • Jessica September 2, 2013 at 10:31 pm - Reply

      It doesn’t help with it being so dry, the soil is like dust!

  25. Ronnie@Hurtledto60 September 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Gosh that’ some bank and a challenge! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Jessica September 2, 2013 at 10:41 pm - Reply

      I try and do a little bit each day, but can’t help noticing that the weeds are coming back already. I had hoped the dry weather would slow them down.

  26. Linda September 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    I’m full of admiration as you have worked hard and the before and after pics show the progress you’ve made. We are familiar with gardening on steep slopes as our local daughter has had two houses with
    such a challenge in some areas of it. Fortunately they were/are terraced with steps to help with access, but still difficult to work on when it comes to weeding and planting out etc.

    • Jessica September 3, 2013 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      Thanks Linda, it is very hard work. I am beginning to wonder if I’m too old!

  27. wherethejourneytakesme September 6, 2013 at 12:21 am - Reply

    Hi Jessica – you look busy!! We have a similar problem and a similar banking although ours is probably not as high but maybe a steeper gradient, almost vertical in some places. We have lots of ferns too mostly self seeded and I know what you mean about the ‘greeness’ but they do hold the banking well. The Mahonia Aquifolium (evergreen shrub with yellow flower) is a good plant for bankings as it helps to stabalise the soil. They are hard to find up here as the more popular Mahonia Japonica version is always on sale in Nurseries. The Periwinkles are good too and geraniums for colour. We also have Montbrettia everywhere but it does add a splash of colour and also grows well on bankings. The chicken wire sounds like it is making things harder rather than better and it definitely won’t stop the mice or anything larger, I would be inclined to get rid of it bit by bit too. Our banking is probably full of tunnels as mice just love making there home there because the soil is dry and easy to dig into. Best of luck – I will post a snap of ours on my blog so you can see you are not alone and perhaps we can encourage each other!

    • Jessica September 6, 2013 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Hi Viv, welcome back!
      I will look out for the Mahonia, thanks. Yes, mouse tunnels everywhere! On the vertical faces I want to encourage the ferns and try to remove the brambles somehow. Can’t dig them out, so I’m hoping if I keep them permanently cut back they’ll give up!

  28. knitsofacto September 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    I think I’d be worried about waking up one morning to discover the bank had slid into the bedrooms! You’d almost think there was less gravity in Devon, looking at these pics!

    • Jessica September 6, 2013 at 10:51 pm - Reply

      From a precarious position on said bank it does indeed feel as if there is less gravity in Devon!

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