Headlong Into The Abyss


In winter the view from this spot is really rather pleasant. Without the leaves on the trees it’s possible to see the river at the bottom of this slope, meandering off into the distance. In the fullness of time I want to put some National Trust type informal steps through here, giving us better access to the woodland. But in a garden of steep slopes this one could yet be the steepest. Ordinarily in summer this ravine is choc-a-block with weeds and brambles almost as a tall as me. Recently this middle section of it has seen the benefit of a visit from Mike and his strimmer.

It’s one of those areas of the garden which, in spite of its proximity to the house and us walking past it at least once every day, remains firmly on next year’s list. Or rather.. it did. And with countless other projects on the go right now I need another one like I need a hole in the head.



The view back up the ravine, from about half way down.

When I look at this just two words come to mind. Oh shit. Low Maintenance!


I’d always envisaged that one day I’d create a shrubbery down here. Plants that could pretty much look after themselves and over time would spread their limbs to exclude light from the soil and ultimately, if I was really lucky, save me the job of weeding. It seemed like a plan. Especially when it was always next year’s plan. But then along came COVID-19 (I can blame that for everything now can’t I?) and with it an even grander plan: to rescue the raised beds from the plant dumping ground they’d become and restore them to their original purpose as a productive kitchen garden.

And all the time I was shifting the ‘easy’ perennials across to the new terraces and replacing them with salad leaves it was all going swimmingly thank you very much. Except that the nearer I came to the far end of the first bed the larger became the elephant in this outdoor room. Shrubs. Left to linger in the raised bed far too long because they had nowhere else to go.


Hydrangea paniculata 'Wim's Red'


Hydrangea paniculata ‘Wim’s Red’. The white phase precedes the gradual fading to red.

It may yet forgive me. Still a certain droopiness to the leaves, understandable I suppose if your roots are wrenched from their established home on a warm day in the middle of June. It would be a crying shame if it doesn’t make it though, covered as it is in blooms. We brought as much soil as possible along with us, making it heavy to lift and extremely awkward to align to the right position in its new hole.



L to R: Just visible behind the low hedge, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Wim’s Red’; centre, ex raised bed Hamamelis mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’; right, Molinia caerulea ‘Transparent’; and just below the molinia, ex raised bed Crinodendron hookerianum. It was nice to find the molinia again, one of the few original plants still surviving in this spot. Entirely smothered as it was by brambles it hasn’t emerged in the best of shape. Much the same could be said of my arms.

The stage is set for more planting further down the slope but that really will have to wait, at least until the autumn. In the meantime leaving the remaining brambles in place as a barrier is deliberate because not long before we started the work this turned up:



Fallow deer. One of a pair.

We’re well used to seeing roe deer in the garden but this is a different beast entirely, beautiful creature though it surely is. Bigger. No doubt hungrier. And I could find no reference to any of my newly planted shrubs on the deer resistant list.



Clearing of brambles and tidying up existing shrubs has created a new view through from the terraces, giving them a welcome depth. A week ago a wall of green closed off this space, from the azalea far left through to the philadelphus above the seat.



From a viewpoint roughly behind the seat, the steep side of the ravine is formed by the bank leading up to the lawn.

The bronze grass to the right self seeded here, an escapee from the terraces. Carex dipsacea ‘Dark Horse’ came with me in a small pot from my previous garden where, although attractive, it never did particularly well. In the mild damp Devon climate it has mutated into a thug. I’m wondering if I can use this to my advantage. It shows no sign of halting its progress so why not let it just colonise this bank creating a continuous waterfall of burnished gold? At only 18 inches or so in height it won’t obstruct the view over the low hedge and it’s semi evergreen. Maybe a comb through in early Spring being the only attention it needs.


Carex dipsacea 'Dark Horse'


Carex dipsacea ‘Dark Horse’ with its distinctive dark seed heads


And finally.



The first of the two raised beds is done. Shrubs and perennials relocated, a vegetable garden arises once more.