Root And Branch

Terraces 003 Wm


The terraces having been looking a bit sad over the last couple of weeks.

Frost has now clobbered most of the flowers and some of the foliage has turned to mush.  So, with a few days of dry weather in the offing, it was time for a bit of a clear out. Some things got away with a haircut, others came right out.


Terraces 004 Wm


Better. But there are now a few gaps!


I shall spend the winter thinking about how to implement ‘Phase 2’. When we first moved here the terraces were totally overgrown. The middle level had been entirely subsumed by tightly congested crocosmia. It was difficult to find a space to even insert a fork. I did my best to dig it all out and added a few plants on an ad hoc basis. But it isn’t right yet. What it really needs now is a complete overhaul and a proper planning out.

The terraces present both an opportunity and a challenge. It could look spectacular. But plants rarely refer to the height guideline printed on their label. Difficult enough to get them to sit comfortably together even on the flat. Throw in the need to adjust to the differing levels and the likelihood of getting it right falls very sharply indeed. Nor does it help that these beds are viewed from three sides.

How would you approach it? Is there a better way than constant trial and error?

The first thing, I think, is to reshuffle the cards I’ve already been dealt. Some of the plants I want to keep are still in the wrong place. I was hoping to do it this Autumn but now that the ground has been frosted it might be better to wait until Spring.

I plan to put the photos on the blog. However it turns out. Oh-er!


2018-02-16T17:54:46+00:00November 26th, 2013|Tags: |


  1. Amy at love made my home November 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    I’m a trial and error gardener, it goes in, if it’s wrong it comes out, it might move, it might move out, sometimes they move out of life of their own accord! That is annoying – one of my large forsythia earlier this year, grrrr. It is nice to have some idea of what you want I think, but accept that it might need a tweek. It would be a nice way to spend the winter, curled up with the gardening books and plant catalogues choosing what to plant! Looking forward to seeing whatever happens. xx

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      I have a backlog of gardening publications and it will be a good way to spend the winter. Quite looking forward to it now..

  2. ournewlifeinthecountry November 26, 2013 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    I love this time of year when the first hard frosts kill off the weeds and then necessitate a good tidying up of the beds. I find the heights promised on the labels and seeds packets rarely are spot on, so I’ve always resorted to trial and error.

    Your place is looking lovely though, and isn’t it nice to know that the bare soil will at least sprout no weeds for a few months.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      I am truly hoping that the weeds will slow down a bit now. They surely need the rest?!

  3. Denise November 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    I really admire the careful thought you give to your garden planning. You create in reality the kind of thing that gets no further than my brain. But then in my brain, weeds never appear and everything grows exactly how it should! Looking forward to seeing more pictures.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:31 pm - Reply

      Wait and see… I am quite expecting that the reality will be very different to the picture in my head.

  4. Crafty Gardener November 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    I love your terrace gardens. I’m sure you have plants that bloom in all seasons along with photos of all seasons and what blooms etc. A good comparison of the photos might show you where there are gaps at certain times of the year. The planning stage can be very rewarding and I’m sure you will come up with some fantastic ideas.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      That’s another dimension of course.. the seasons. Things wax and wane at different times of the year and yet the terraces need to look coherent throughout..

  5. countrysidetales November 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    No advice from me I’m afraid, except to say that I reckon trial and error is more fun and allows for creativity plus an in-built excuse if the whole thing goes tits up! 🙂

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Tits up is a very likely scenario!

  6. starproms November 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    I find it very hard, if not impossible to rationalise! I have to really force myself to pull things out and almost immediately want to fill the gaps. You could plant some nice spring bulbs in the gap for starters? The terraces look stunning, with or without the overflows.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      Me too. I prefer to move things to somewhere else rather than throw out. Spring bulbs are tricky on account of the mice.. but I am working on a cunning plan.

  7. wherefivevalleysmeet November 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Sometimes our trial and error works out better than planned and other times visa versa, but how very pretty your house and terrace are looking in such an idyllic setting.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      I’ve had that experience too. Maybe the solution is a bit of both. A bit of a plan that I stand ready to adapt. Thanks Rosemary.

  8. Janet/Plantaliscious November 26, 2013 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    I shall really look forward to following your progress Jessica, I find it really helpful to “watch” how other people approach planting challenges, and what plants they use – and what works and what doesn’t! I keep trying to remember to post about the things that don’t work in case they help someone else, and because it is frequently amusing, but the temptation is always to put pretty pictures and successes “out there”.

    I find the height thing a real challenge, ‘cos no, plants never do seem to really obey their own labels. Its a lot easier when you know a plant well, but I frequently find myself wanting to try out new plants so then I absolutely know it is not going to work first time. That helps, knowing that it won’t, and that everything will need moving around again. I love the planning and dreaming, the making of lists, the pretty planting plans, but I rarely manage to actually follow my plans in the first place and they always need major adjustments! That’s the fun of it though, for me. Enjoy your dreaming!

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      It’s true isn’t it. Gardening is a lifelong work. It evolves. You can’t do an instant makeover like you can with a room in the house. Yours is a good way of thinking Janet. It won’t work first time and that’s OK.

  9. islandthreads November 26, 2013 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    I love your terraces Jessica, as I haven’t been reading your blog long it’s the first time I’ve seen them, all that lovely stone, I too find plants find their own height in my garden I reasoned it’s due to difference in soil, weather, etc. and so now ignore much of what is said they should do,
    if the beds are viewed from 3 sides then differing heights should not be a problem as it would give different views from each angle, make use of what you have and like and add to it slowly so you can see it develop, good luck and enjoy your planning, Frances

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      It’s very true that differences in soil and climate have an impact. Plants that I brought with me when we moved have reacted very differently here. With the milder temperatures and all the rain (!) things that grew to about 18 ins in the Home Counties have easily doubled that now. I’m thinking I should add about 30% to the height on the label and I’ll be about right.

  10. Laura November 26, 2013 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    I love trial and error. I would love it even more if my weather was like yours right now!

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:07 pm - Reply

      Oh no. Snow? How deep? Is the heating working? I do hope the move went well in spite of the weather.

  11. frayed at the edge November 26, 2013 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    I’m very much a dig it up and move it (or compost it) if it’s just not right for the space kind of gardener, but now that Malcolm is in charge, he’s more of a take the secateurs to it to make it fit gardener. (hope you could follow that convoluted sentence). We have a couple of areas that I would love to clear out and replant, but that’s not going to happen!!

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      Anne, there are ways and means. A ‘spilt’ bottle of weedkiller or an ‘accident’ with the mower? Mike is very adept at the latter.

  12. Sarah November 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    I am very much a trial and move gardener. Your terrace looks so lovely in both pictures. It must have been such a job getting rid of the congested crocosmia!
    Sarah x

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm - Reply

      I am still trying to get rid of the crocosmia. If you miss just one tiny bulb it will be back! And then I go to a plant sale and see something that looks identical on sale for £5 per pot.

  13. Simone November 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    You’re doing well Jessica. Gardens are always a work in progress aren’t they? I look forward to seeing how the terraces progress. x

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:16 pm - Reply

      They certainly are. And sometimes it seems that progress is going backwards. Thanks Simone.

  14. snowbird November 26, 2013 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    I do love your stone terraces and think they look good. How about lots of alpines on the lower one and tall plants on the top one with creeping plants bleeding into the lower level….I not the best planner in the world!xxx

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:18 pm - Reply

      That would be different… I did try having tall things that you can ‘see through’ and actually that worked quite well. It didn’t last the first winter but I might try it again.

  15. SeagullSuzie November 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    I try to plan and maybe I plan and the plants cause chaos instead! I love the old stone walls of your terraces, great for insects and birds too-but harder to manage for you. Estimating the final size of a plant is very hard and if they are happy they can go quite mad. However I would spend time planning it and perhaps visit the garden centres regularly picking what’s in season and planting it up slowly that way. I think because you don’t have a huge amount of room in these borders plants can quickly out grow their place-so maybe more digging up and dividing is needed than normal.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:24 pm - Reply

      I’ve had exactly that problem with plants outgrowing their space, even within a year. Already I’m noticing that plants start off in the terraces, do well because they are sheltered and in plenty of sun, and end up getting moved to other parts of the garden. It’s acting like a glorified nursery bed!

  16. CherryPie November 26, 2013 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    I am sure it will look wonderful when you have planted it as you wish.

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cherie. It may take a while to achieve, maybe one fleeting season when it is absolutely right!

  17. Linda November 26, 2013 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    Have you thought of adding some succulents to the terrace, Jessica?
    I have not seen your terrace at its peak, so not really sure what is what!
    I love that your climate is so forgiving….here, everything is as dead as a doornail!….except for a few evergreen plants!
    I assume you have Hostas….a very rewarding plant….and Lilies…
    Oh…I can only dream of summer blooms…we are expecting a strong storm blowing up from the US….
    Perhaps I should do another warm, breezy Summer post from Summers past♥
    Enjoy your week♥

    Linda :o)

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm - Reply

      I’d love to have hostas, but the climate is so damp we have an awful lot of slugs!
      The snowstorms in Canada featured on our main weather forecast this evening.. yikes! Take care.

  18. CJ November 26, 2013 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    You are right, terraces can look spectacular. Maybe you could find some inspiration from other ones that have been done that are to your taste. I’m such a novice gardener I don’t have any helpful advice I’m afraid, but I do quite like evergreen structure, like box, yew and bay. I’m sure you will make it beautiful anyway, I shall watch this space!

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:45 pm - Reply

      I have this Babylon-esque vision in my head of colour, shape and texture cascading down the levels. Making it happen is a different matter entirely. I’m still hoping that my skeletal yew might yet turn into a beautiful ball. That might take even longer.

  19. Rosie November 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Well, you can certainly see from your before and after photos where all your hard work has been done. It’s hard to know what to suggest other than agreeing with what you say in your last paragraph about moving the plants you already have into the places you would like to see them. I know that we’ve had to move plants that have got too tall for those behind and have also struggled with crocosmia trying to overtake everything else:)

    • Jessica November 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      Crocosmia is a real thug. The common variety anyway. And it can look like so many other plants when it is coming up. I’ve still got it growing through a clump of Iris sibiria and it’s not until it flowers that you can tell them apart.

  20. Linda November 26, 2013 at 11:52 pm - Reply

    I just googled Crocosmia…they are beautiful!!!
    I guess they multiplied…and over took your terrace…
    Here, the bulbs do not last the Winter…but…did you know…
    The Hummingbirds love them!!!
    Just so you know…hahaha!

    Linda :o)

    ps….the storm is South of us…more in the US…

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:13 am - Reply

      They are beautiful, in small numbers! If I had hummingbirds I might have let a few more survive the cull!

  21. nataliescarberry November 27, 2013 at 3:44 am - Reply

    What a beautiful terrace! I’m so looking forward to what you end up doing with them. I know it will be beautiful! Blessings, Natalie 🙂

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:15 am - Reply

      Thanks Natalie. In my mind’s eye it is beautiful, something to aim for at least!

  22. Wendy November 27, 2013 at 7:06 am - Reply

    The terraces are lovely.There is so much opportunity there for you and you’ve already made a good start. I think trial and error is inevitable given unknowns like how a plant will react to your climate, conditions etc and whether you still like it after you’ve planted it! Gardening is all about changing your mind about things!
    Have fun planning this winter and can’t wait to see how you get on next year.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:18 am - Reply

      I would agree re changing your mind about things. I think I have more work to do though in changing my mindset from “I got it wrong” to “I can make it even better”.

  23. haggiz November 27, 2013 at 7:55 am - Reply

    You are queen of tidying, the difference in those two photos is fantastic. I think the garden would get boring if we didn’t keep digging things up and moving them so I’m very much a trial and error gardener! Julie x

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Also, some plants have a relatively short lifespan. Things develop, mature and decline. At some point they’ll need replacing and you have an opportunity to try something new.

  24. Linda November 27, 2013 at 8:11 am - Reply

    Although the terraced beds needs some more planning and ‘tweeking’ to get it as you would like it I’m sure it will look lovely next year and I look forward to seeing what you choose to plant. I like this time of year when you can see the structure of an area and plan what to remove or add. The stone walls of the terraces are lovely.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:27 am - Reply

      Thanks Linda. I deliberately took out a lot of stuff this year, and trimmed back rather heavily, so that I could have a proper look at the structure. It does help.

  25. Pauline November 27, 2013 at 8:49 am - Reply

    I look forward to seeing what you introduce, inheriting a garden is more difficult than having a blank canvas to play with. I have found with our alpine scree, that some plants are too big or they grow far too wide and try to take over, I seem to adjust the planting every year! Next year I will be trying some tiny bulbs in between everything to make more interest in the spring.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:31 am - Reply

      The bulbs sound lovely, look forward to seeing that. The exchange of ideas that comes from blogging is such a great way for all of our gardens to develop.

  26. BadPenny November 27, 2013 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Perhaps visit some gardens which have planted out terraces & talk to the gardeners ? It would make some nice days out & might inspire you !

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:35 am - Reply

      Penny, yes! This year I’ve been focusing on woodland gardens for just that reason, but I am always on the lookout for terraces too. I’ve found many places in Devon have to contend with a slope.

  27. lizjwells46 November 27, 2013 at 11:10 am - Reply

    How lovely to have a terrace garden; it opens up a whole new dimension to gardening. I think it looks good even now in November. Of course it needs careful planning (which is such fun) but in the end it comes down to trial and error. I move my plants about so much that they duck every time I walk past..

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:38 am - Reply

      Lol. I think a bit of shifting about Spring and Autumn is going to become the norm. But that does make it more exciting doesn’t it? Every summer you have something new to look out for.

  28. Jo November 27, 2013 at 11:29 am - Reply

    There’s definitely a big difference in the before and after photo, I can see your hard work. I’m not a big planner when it comes to the garden, mainly because I see plants I like and then it’s a devil to find them in a garden centre. I tend to make lots of impulse buys too so it’s always a case of plant where I think and dig it up and move it if it isn’t right. I look forward to seeing what approach you take.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:51 am - Reply

      I tend to go to plant fairs, especially if it’s good value smaller nurseries, and buy a few at a time. Mike would have it that each new plant has to have somewhere specific to go, but it isn’t always that easy. Some of the plants in the terraces are things that I’ve effectively heeled in for the winter, knowing that they’ll be moving to proper positions in Spring. Most of those were impulse buys!

  29. Helene November 27, 2013 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Looking good! And isn’t it great with some empty spaces, so many things you can put there! I must admit I use the trial and error approach to most things and I am also frustrated by plants that doesn’t keep to the height and width described when purchased. I just dug out around 100 crocosmia corms, some with 6 and 7 corms in a row, so that’s how many years they have been in the ground, a few got put back but not as many as before, they will soon bulk up again.
    One principal rule I try to apply in my garden is that wherever I turn there should be something to see in flower all year round, every week of the year, and so far I have managed that – possibly easier in a sheltered London garden than where you live 🙂

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:56 am - Reply

      It’s my aim too, to have something in flower all year round. Especially in the terraces which are close to the house and the area that we walk past and view most often. With space at a premium every plant has to really earn its keep. Not there yet!

  30. Jenny November 27, 2013 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    I’m still too much of a novice gardener to have much advice to give you, but look forward immensely to seeing what you decide to do – and maybe learning from it!

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 11:59 am - Reply

      Thanks Jenny. I’m glad you said ‘maybe’! I don’t think you ever stop learning, I feel far from confident yet and I’ve been gardening for years.

  31. Em November 27, 2013 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Trial and LOTS of error for me Jess. What a shame the GQT visit isn’t now so you could ask them what THEY think.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:13 pm - Reply

      It is! Lots of error for me too. Our climate must have a lot to do with it. Things grow very differently here, and no doubt there are differences even within the same county given the altitude variability.

  32. elaine November 27, 2013 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Are you sure you’re not worrying too much – I am sure no-ones garden is perfect – if they were we would all be professionals.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm - Reply

      I will admit to a degree of perfectionism. But this area I do want to get right, it’s the only formal bit of garden there is and the only opportunity to manicure!

  33. Sue@GLAllotments November 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    When I planted our small front garden I looked for plants the flowered for long periods and then I went for a spread so that something was flowering for most of the year. Bulbs fill the gaps for when perennials die back. Even with all the planning there is still some trial and error involved as things don’t always behave as you expect..

    I can see how a terrace is a challenge though.

    • Sue@GLAllotments November 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      I should have added that last year I planted spring bulbs in pots so that once the perennials died back I had some idea of where the gaps were and just transplanted the bulbs then

      • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm - Reply

        Do you drop in the bulbs pots and all, or remove the pots? I’m wondering if this method might solve my mouse problem. I could grow all my bulbs in pots somewhere where I can protect them.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      I definitely want a spread of interest. After that, getting the heights right will be key. It’s the fact that it’s mostly viewed from the top that makes it tricky. The plants in the top level need to be tall enough to rise above the middle layer, but not so tall they look stupid from the top. Or maybe I just have the middle layer the tallest and have the top layer low. This is where the planning comes in.

  34. Suzanne Dutchess County, NY, USA November 27, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    You are making so much progress! This is a great time to look back and see what you like best in these beds.
    Have you made an inventory as to what is there? That helps me a lot. Over the winter I take notes, study the inventory and decide if anything else goes or if I move things around with what’s left.
    I’ve had to renovate older beds like yours and sometimes with invasives like your crocosmia it’s easier to extract, divide most of the plants and amend the soils and replant the choicer plants. This way you don’t leave behind so many of the corms, weeds, etc.

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks Suzanne. I need to note down which plants need moving and where to. By the time we get to March/April I will have completely forgotten what is there. Especially if I’ve lost the labels.
      The middle level I pretty well cleared out, because everything that was there was so badly tangled up with the crocosmia. This is where most of my ‘heeled in’ new plants now are, waiting to be moved in Spring. The larger shrub in there is an azalea. The previous owners left me a few acid lovers in pots. Actually I’ve discovered the soil is acid enough. The azalea has thrived, and a camellia that I put on the bank has turned from a scrawny, yellow pot bound thing to a healthy shrub in the space of a year!

  35. Cathy November 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    You have done a great job of the tidying up and no doubt it was very satisfying once it was achieved. You have got such a lovely space here to work with, and perhaps it’s a matter of establishing the general principle of what you would like to see and then look at what plants you could use to achieve it – but it’s that first decision that is the hardest, I think, and may involve lots of walking round the terrace or staring out of the window!

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      I ponder it often, because my study window overlooks the terraces. No doubt the plan will change several times over the winter! Thanks Cathy.

  36. Anna November 28, 2013 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Don’t think that I’ve seen your terraces before Jessica. They would look good even without plants. What an exciting project to tackle – have fun 🙂

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      I’ve been a coward Anna, and not really photographed areas of the garden I’m unhappy with. It’s so much easier to do close ups of individual plants! But I think we’ve reached a turning point now. So, for better or worse, you will see how it develops.

  37. Sue. November 28, 2013 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Can I make a bold suggestion? Completely clear out the bottom bed. Save all the plants or those you would like to keep. Replenish the bed, compost and FBB, it must have been in its present state for a long time.. If you are planning to stay at the cottage for a long time, you would be able to plant it up with your choice of plants.

    Hope I haven’t been to bossy!

    • Jessica November 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      I was thinking along similar lines but will do it in stages, as some is already done. Last year we hauled out (with a winch!) two full size hydrangeas, totally out of proportion, but leaving big clear holes that I could refill with good soil. The next area is the far end. There are more oversize plants in there which I will move come Spring, then dig over and replenish the soil. Not bossy at all, you’re right, it has probably lacked attention for many years.

  38. Jeneane November 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    Ooh a design challenge. Trouble is I see any English plantings through rose-tinted glasses. Everything looks wonderful to me. Practically, I’m like Janet – love the dreaming and planning but can’t bring myself to remove things for all sorts of reasons. Will watch with interest (and keep an eye out for your riverside irises 🙂

    • Jessica November 29, 2013 at 10:22 am - Reply

      I tend to relocate rather than remove, which makes me feel better about it! And I have some irises ripe for dividing next year, watch this space!

  39. Christina November 29, 2013 at 7:50 am - Reply

    With those beautiful stone walls it shouldn’t be difficult to create something truly wonderful. I wouldn’t worry if some things grow taller and blur the terraces I think that will add to their interest. Even choose something tall (Verbena bonariensis springs to mind) and plant on all the levels in a diagonal line, add some grasses for movement plus a limited palate of the plants you want to add.

    • Jessica November 29, 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

      Hi Christina and welcome to rusty duck!
      I’d definitely like some things to grow taller than the walls, but get the spacing right so they sit well with the planting above. I had some Verbena bonariensis in the bottom bed the first year doing just this and really liked it, but sadly either the winter cold or the dry patch under an extremely large tree saw it out. I should try it again. Like you I love grasses. They really seem to like it here too, if the self seeding is anything to go by!

  40. Natalie November 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    You do have a beautiful place there! Love your terraced garden.

    • Jessica November 30, 2013 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks Natalie. The terraced garden could be lovely, and at least each level is flat. Just need to do a balancing act walking along those walls.

  41. Knitsofacto Annie December 3, 2013 at 10:44 am - Reply

    I’m no gardener … I can only look on in awe, and watch with interest … I do kinda envy you the opportunity – we have half a postage stamp of ground here – but I really wouldn’t know where to begin.

    • Jessica December 3, 2013 at 11:06 am - Reply

      I do enjoy it, obviously, or I wouldn’t have taken it on. But on this scale it does rather take over and leaves me little time for anything else. Quite looking forward to a break from it over winter. I’d like to think that maybe it will get easier as the garden matures, but maybe that’s wishful thinking!

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