The Original Blank Canvas

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I thought it might be worthwhile to show the original blank canvas to give a better idea of how the garden fitted together. In the first picture, taken soon after it became ours in 1996, the table is about where the extension now comes to, and the grassed area and greenhouse beyond that are now the paved area, the tai chi lawn and the sitooterie. The garden turns to the right beyond the greenhouse and goes behind the neighbours pigeon loft. Beyond the greenhouse is the grassed area that became the woodland, shown in the next picture with the holes dug ready for the trees in 2000.

Turning right from this area you would look straight down to the bottom of the garden – all grass, other than various fruit bushes dotted randomly round the edges. We moved the these loganberries, redcurrant, whitecurrant and gooseberry bushes to the bottom of the garden where they have fruited with varying degrees of success ever since. 

With such a blank canvas we didn’t have a clue what we were going to do with the garden back then, but with concentrating on renovating and then building an extension we didn’t need to think about it straight away – just spend HOURS (literally) cutting the grass! Once the time became available it was a gradual process, nibbling away at the emptiness, forming and reforming, until it became the garden I began to overhaul this year. If it wasn’t for the photographic record we have it would be easy to forget just how much it has changed over the years – but then so have we, as we have grown and developed alongside, bringing us and the garden to where we are now.

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12 Responses to The Original Blank Canvas

  1. paulinemulligan says:

    Love seeing the ‘before’ photos, you can see how much you have done. It’s good that you are taking your time, quick fixes don’t seem to stand the test of time!

    • Cathy says:

      And I am getting better at only buying plants with a specific spot in mind – AND being ruthless with plants I only tolerate because they fill a gap!

  2. Little Sis says:

    We have big expanses of grass that I have absolutely no use for and I’ve been nibbling away at along the edges to make the veggie patch bigger, put in more flowers here, a shrub there. Takes a long time and it’s easy to get discouraged, but I agree, there’s something really satisfying about chipping away at it and letting it come together over time.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, grass may be pleasantly green most of the time, but if you like plants, whether decorative or edible then they are of more value than grass and come in a more interesting range of colours! As the proportion of grass gradually lessened I did wonder how I would feel without it, so was quite pleased when I hit on the notion of having an area just large enough for my tai chi – it’s just a shame it’s not the most practical area for grass because of the shade. Perhaps I will look into reseeding it with a shade tolerant grass seed – is it effective, does anyone know? I must add, as well, that I am conscious of the effect of hard surfaces on rain run-off, and all my paths and paved areas allow for this.

  3. Liz says:


    I always love seeing how gardens have changed – no such photos here, as it hasn’t changed a great deal from when I arrived. The main structure is pretty much the same but it’s filled out a lot more 🙂
    Houses with such gardens are a rarity these days – that would’ve been built on by now! I’m looking to upgrade my house but there’s just nothing on the market atm. Out of about 100 I searched through, only 2 had a sizeable garden that made me want to pack up and leave asap.

  4. Cathy says:

    Hi Liz – It was the first house we looked at when we were about to get married in 1996 (second marriage), and knew immediately it was for us. It had been on the market for 2 years and the price had dropped considerably, but there was clear potential and it was pure serendipity that it was still there waiting for us. The configuration of the land at the back of the houses on our lane is quite strange due to their different ages, but you are right about so many ‘big’ (is ours big? it’s all relative) gardens being built on, although they would have to knock our house down to gain access! Being in a village means that there isn’t the same sort of pressure on land, I suppose. Keep looking yourself – and BELIEVE it’s out there for you – send the intention out to the Universe! Oh, and thanks for the advice on photos – I will experiment!

  5. Cathy you have brought structure to your blank canvas, I’ve read both posts and thanks for posting these original photos as it helped put the previous warts and all post into perspective, I’m amazed and envious of how much your birch trees have grown as I planted downey birch and many other trees in 2002 and none of mine are any where near as tall as yours, just shows what different soil and weather can do, you have fitted so many different areas into your garden with much contrast and I noticed your hard landscaping is mostly cobbles with plenty of room for drainage and for plants to self seed into, they give a feeling of always being there, look forward to seeing more in the coming months, Frances

    • Cathy says:

      Hi Frances, thanks for dropping in. I think one of the reasons for the height of the trees is the relative lack of light, and they are not very ‘bushy’ as they seem to have put all their effort into trying to see the sun! Mind you, looking back at some of our earlier photos we realised just how much trees (and hedges) GROW, as the garden has become increasingly shadier since then, something we have had to address recently by taking out some hazels on the boundary and trimming the hedge regularly. There is a very tall plum tree on the boundary and a beautiful variegated holly by the shed (with fantastic berries in the winter) that both need to be severely lopped, as does the magnolia – we have realised we can’t let Nature always have the upper hand! I agree about the cobbles – the circle is from reclaimed ‘real’ cobbles, but the paths are all Bradstone carpetstones, which come in a strip (like a carpet!). They may be discontinued now, as the ‘Cotswold’ coloured ones were bought at a knock-down price, otherwise we’d have had more of the grey ones. In this revamping of the garden I have relaid them over a membrane on a layer of sand, after having spent HOURS chipping mortar off them when they were lifted from their previous locations – I learned a lesson from that! I shall be popping back to have a look at your blog soon as I wanted to see if you embroidered, as I assumed you did.

      • hello Cathy, I haven’t done any textile work for a long time, I seem to be concentrating more on gardening, there is stuff in my achives though from years gone by, we learn lots of lessons the hard way I find, my trees are all more like shrubs as the wind prunes them for me every winter, Frances

  6. croftgarden says:

    Thank you for posting the “befores” I now have a much clearer picture of how your garden works.
    Nothing like a look at the original to restore the spirits, it is often easy to forget how much can be achieved in a short space of time. Fortunately one also tends to forget the back breaking agony of the hard labour and the disappointments along the path.

    • Cathy says:

      I think the bags of rubble and prunings that mount up and have to taken to the skip in journey after journey have perhaps been the most wearing – if you don’t count the hours hacking mortar off cobbles. But it has all been good for the soul – another reason why the garden is so much part of who we are.

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