In The Country and Town May 2024

I moved in February last year I realised I had no sun, but in March the sun hit the corner of the garden and I wrote that down. Those detailed observations will help you to work out where to put plants that need sunlight and where you won’t be able to put certain plants.”

Indeed, a month after moving in, a BBC camera crew came in to film her garden for Gardeners’ World, and she also had a greenhouse built which takes up about a fifth of her outdoor space.Although she had told neighbours, it took a bit of getting used to.

4. Take photos

9. Focus on your own needs

“Definitely take photos because that will jog your memory and you’ll see what was where. See how it’s comparing to what it was before.”

“Work out what you want or need as a couple or a family or if you’re on your own. For a lot of people it’s just a bit of fresh air and maybe a kind of outdoor room that they’re going to use to sit in, but a lot of people want to grow vegetables. Is that going to be what your garden needs? “Do you need storage, a lawn mower, a lawn, or a low- maintenance spot to chill out after a day of working at a computer? “Try to distil your own needs from the garden and combine that with your observations. I’d also write that down.What do you want from the garden? What do you need from the garden? You can probably take quite a few of the things off the want list. You might be able to combine some of the two.”

5.Test your soil

“Work out how alkaline or acid the soil is – soil testers are easily available from garden centres. Also look at how wet the soil is. Do a bit of a dig, see how many worms you have, assess the condition of the soil. If the soil is very wet in the winter it might be very dry in the summer.A lot of clay soils, for example, store the water in the soil in the winter and then bake solid in the summer.” “If you don’t want the soil to be quite as wet, add organic matter, either compost or manure, once the soil has dried. Never add organic matter to waterlogged soil because it then breaks down and creates lots of anaerobic bacterial conditions which will make it worse. Once the soil has dried out a bit, dig in organic matter that will slowly improve the structure of the soil.Adding grit can help but generally that gets sucked into the clay anyway and doesn’t make a huge difference.”

10. Keep it simple

“If you try to fit too much into a small space, it will look smaller and more cluttered.”

A Year In A Small Garden by Frances Tophill is published by BBC Books, priced £26.Available now

6. Choose suitable plants for your soil

“This is the best thing to do. On permanently wet ground you might grow bog plants like ligularias, filipendula, astilbes and ferns. If you have soil that is wet in the winter and dry in the summer, plant more of the floodplain plants like astrantias and veronicastrums.”

7. Don’t tidy up too much

If your new garden is totally overgrown, full of brambles and weeds, without any semblance of order, don’t clear it too vigorously,Tophill suggests. “You are going to want to clear, whether you get a brush cutter or just lay down cardboard to suppress some of the weeds and create some beds, or just mow parts through it, which can be a really nice way to give you access. If you must clear, do it with gentleness.”

8. Make friends with the neighbours

“That is really important, especially if you are planning on doing any kind of work. Get to know people first so they know you’re all right. I’ve learned this.” | 105

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