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The Creation of a Garden

by Les Jack, SGS Treasurer for Dumfriesshire 

We moved into an old Victorian house in 1989, in open countryside about ten miles from Dumfries, which had the bones of planting from the late 1800s, with a giant redwood, mature chestnut, field maples and some large conifers. The garden ground was about ¾ of an acre, and along with the mature trees which mostly ran alongside the driveway and the boundary, quite a few self-seeded downy birch, ash and rowan, with spreading clumps of rhododendron ponticum taking over. The garden had not been tended to for many years. We are at 450ft altitude.

There wasn’t much space for creating lawns or borders, but we were fortunate to be able to purchase over an acre of adjoining field. However this field had a burn running through it, which was run-off from the surrounding hills, with about a meter of silt covering a clay basin, so essentially a bog full of reeds. Nevertheless, the ground had great potential.

Nothing much happened for a few years as the house required extensive renovation, but the boggy area was worked on and the reeds dug out to allow field grass to take over. The time came to put in drainage to carry the run-off away to a nearby burn – 200m of central draining pipe was put in, with many channels leading off in a herring bone fashion.

Once the ground had dried out, grass seed was sown, and that’s the way it stayed for another few years.

Work slowly progressed, putting in gravel paths, and some small borders. There was little point in trying plant into the silt, as the water table was not that far below the surface in the winter, so many tons of sharp sand and whatever composting material I could find were added to beds and rotovated in, lifting them about 35cm above the grass level, eventually settling to about half of that.

Some years later…

With the house renovation and work commitments, the garden was not a priority, but progressed slowly in evenings and weekends, extending paths and creating borders with many more tons of sharp sand and chipped bark. A large rose pergola was erected by the local blacksmith from solid round bar, and several rambling roses ‘Wedding Day’ were planted – great rose, lightly scented and vigorous.

Rambler ‘Wedding Day’

Present Day…

The garden has filled out now, with the early plantings maturing, rhododendrons, acers and trees all developing well. The herbaceous borders were filled with root divisions, and cuttings from other beds to keeps costs down. Some rhododendrons layer well, and can be cut and placed elsewhere, more difficult species may need air layering. Hydrangeas root easily either from layering or cuttings, and I tend not to cut them back, but allow them to fall forward, root, and extend the beds. I had originally planted a dozen hydrangeas at the bottom of the garden, but the cold rolls down the slope to create a frost pocket, and there were cut back by frost each year. They were moved up the slope and do much better there, flowering profusely when there is no late frost to brown off the flowering tips. There are about 20 maturing acers which were bought as small plants from the supermarket for a few pounds and grown on for three years before planting out.

Present day photo gallery:

Early planting and the first gravel path
Putting in the steps in front of the house
My source of chippings and mulch – prunings from the garden
Looking up the garden to the rose pergola and the rhododendron beds

Our many thanks to Les, for sharing this wonderful and inspiring garden transformation.

Wedding Day along the path

Erythronium White Beauty in the woodland area


Clematis viticella Etoile Violette does well along with border geraniums. The large flowered summer clematis are too prone to clematis wilt, so I only plant viticella, alpina and montana varieties

Steps now greened over, the banking planted with species rhododendrons, having pulled out the ponticums



September colour with Hydrangea serrata Blue Wave, much happier out of the spring frosts

‘Parottia persica in autumn colour’

The path leads on past clumps of lysimachia and hostas

Primula japonica bulleyana in May underplanted with Sweet William


Dahlias, geraniums and nasturtiums fill the border next to the rose pergola in the late summer evening sunshine. Copse of downy birch in the background, transplanted from seedlings.

Season’s End