Walking round the garden, I decided that part of my problem with it is that there are so few defined hard edges to things. This means that if I am not able to do much maintenance for a few months for any reason, things get out of hand. Grass creeps into the beds and is hard to remove, and brambles creep into everything.
Another problem is that many of the shrubs planted by the previous owners are very large and many of them evergreen, so that the garden feels very dark in the winter months (though admittedly, this does mean that things don't grow so much) Some of them are straggly and brambles have climbed into them.
First, the Middle Garden. This is the area above the patio with a little lawn and a rose bed, surrounded by a mass of Shrubbery.
I'm going to get the area currently occupied by a very straggly japanese quince and forsythia cleared. There are some nice big rocks under there which would look good with some new shrubs, and complement the rather lovely acer behind (that's staying: it looks fantastic in the autumn and is generally a nice shape).
Next to that, there is an annoying conifer, which is quite ugly and keeps getting too tall. That can go. Also, a very fine small leafed deciduous azalea, which is a lovely specimen, perfect in almost every way, except that it flowers are a virulent germolene pink. I was torn over that, but it looks terrible with primroses, which I like much more and flower at the same time.
I'm going to get rid of that too, and plant new azaleas all along there in golden colours instead, if I can find a dwarf yellow one. I love golden azaleas, and the soil is clearly just right for them. But a blue dwarf rhododendron might also do. On first research, most of the golden azaleas seem to be a bit on the large side.
Next there's an awkward area occupied by some rather poor rhododendrons which I suspect have self-seeded - they can go - and a mahonia. I am torn about the mahonia: it's a fine tree with a good shape, which flowers beautifully and it has a lovely strong shape to it - but it's right in the middle of the garden, fast growing, evergreen, and it casts many prickly waxy leaves right onto the steps. I have not yet decided the fate of the mahonia. Possibly it will stay. There is definitely an argument for retaining it while the new plants get established at any rate.
Then there are the steps, and to the left of that, a monstrous berberis of particularly horrific form and malevolent habit. It looks terrible, grows with terrible speed, is a nightmare to prune, and doesn't even burn well. It can go, and I will rejoice at its passing. I'll leave the underplanting of lonicera nitida: if that just has a trim so you can see the stone wall underneath it, it'll look very lovely. It's great ground cover, lonicera nitida, and the bees like it too.
Then next to that is a huge 10ft+ tall mass of camellia, pieris, and a couple of other overgrown evergreens that I forget the names of just now. There is an apple tree in there somewhere, and a rather elderly twisted willow.
At the moment I'm thinking clear everything but possibly the apple and maybe the twisted willow if it looks like it will be able to stand up when the other things around it are removed. Then I'll plant up with birches instead - I'm thinking perhaps
Betula jacquemontii 'Snow Queen'. I think I have space for perhaps 3-4 of those, underplanted with spring bulbs. I've always wanted an area of birches underplanted with bluebells.
Behind that is a sort of rough fence I built from hazel offcuts. That is getting a bit fragile, and really needs replacing. I'd love a stone wall but I don't think I can afford one, so at the moment I'm thinking probably beech hedging, maybe with a fence in the middle to keep the dogs in till it is reasonably dogproof. I don't need more hedging, but beech is so much more manageable than hazel.
The pond can stay. I like the pond, one of our best projects, and now quite mature and full of frog spawn. Behind the pond is an awkward area that I think was once a herb patch, and is now a steeply sloping and very stony morass of grass, mint, the odd bramble, and a very very old and decrepid sage bush. I really don't know what to do about that area, so I'm going to ignore it for now. Fortunately, you can't really see it unless you go and stand right next to it.
Sort of plopped into the lawn towards the top is a random small crab-tree. It's not a very good example of a crabtree,doesn't fruit or flower particularly well, and I suspect it would really like more light. I have a soft spot for crab trees though, and also I have some solar-powered lights dangling from it, so I think that can stay for now - possibly it will come into its own once some of the evergreens to the South of it are removed.
So much for the middle garden. But there is more. Oh yes. I fear there is quite a bit more.
The Upper Garden
In some ways this is less important because you can't see any of it from the house, but it still needs sorting out. Fortunately, a lot of it is fine. The beech hedge on the right is good, the mature apple trees are good, the rhubarb (mulched with grass cuttings) is hugely successful, and the area of random plum trees is a bit of a mess but does at least conceal the compost heaps.
Things that do need looking at include the path up above the steps. It always gets muddy in the winter, even if I don't go up there much at all. It's supposed to be a grass path, but it's not a good one. I would like to extend the steps past the steepest point of the path, as far as the strawberry patch. The strawberry patch is a tad overgrown, but it's basically OK. I am wondering though whether to make it into a raised bed, just to provide an additional rampart against the weeds.
The area on the left of the path has always been a bit 'what shall we do with this then?' I tried making an asparagus bed there, with striking lack of success. The ground is strangely uneven - there was a trench there when we moved in, which philmophlegm thinks looks like a grave, and brambles tend to come creeping down from the bank into it.
The plan for this area is to install some raised beds - I'm thinking probably 3, stepped down the hill. This will give a more controllable space that I can use for growing squashes and beans, that will be clearly separated from the grass and should be easier to keep weed-free than a bed that's just trenched into the ground. I'm not sure whether to just have grass around them, or go for something like a membrane covered in bark chippings, to make a wider weed barrier. It's going to be a right git getting topsoil up there to fill them, given that I think I'll have to wheel it up from the car in the wheelbarrow - though with a bit of luck I can use some of my own compost.
The area right at the top is also strangely nothingish. It used to be very brambly: we cleared it quite successfully, but we still have this large strip about 15 feet wide right across the top of the garden which is stony and lumpy and unfinished looking. At the moment there is a good colony of snowdrops in one corner, and I think possibly it might just be light enough to establish more across that whole area, so I'm going to get a big load 'in the green' and distribute them around a bit. Apart from that, I'm thinking ferns. There are already a certain number self-seeded up there: I'm going to try a few others. It is the north side of a stone wall with a line of tall hazels on it, so everything will have to be rather hardy and shade-tolerant.
I think bluebells might cope there too, but I'm not sure about buying them in the green. I did that before once and I think it stressed the plants: they took a while to establish. These guys: http://www.bluebellbulbs.co.uk/ - reckon they are better bought fresh in August, so I might try that instead. Also, I think some Japanese painted ferns might liven things up a bit - http://plants.thompson-morgan.com/product/1021/2
Finally, there's the Area that is Supposed to Be Redcurrants. Several attempts have failed to clear the brambles out of that, and although the bushes do currant up, the currants seem to be rather small and pippy. I think it may be time to accept that those bushes have had it, and clear the area. I don't know what to put there instead though. Hmm.