This is what we started with on the lower side of the house. It's rough concrete, a bit cracked, and with no fence or gate onto the lane on the right-hand side.
I strung some wire across the driveway so I could at least let the hounds out without them running for the hills, and put down a roll of sheeps-wool garden felt — I was intending to put some compost under it and plant things into it, but the winds here are fierce, and even when wet, the garden felt won't stay put! I still intend to use it, but will need to put some rocks on it to keep it still. The wind also knocked the wire fencing over a lot.
Step 2: I bought some huge recycled plastic planters to anchor my fencing, and some sedum carpet, which is sold for green roofs. I reckoned that if it could grow on a roof, it would probably grow on a concrete driveway, and that this would allow me to green the place up without having to get a lot of concrete removed (plus, I'm not sure there is actually soil under the concrete. I suspect it's just rocks.)
I filled the planters with coir compost, which comes in big compressed dry blocks. You then soak it and it triples (or more) in size, giving you a relatively small amount of packaging for a lot of compost (and a block that is much easier to move around than big piles of topsoil or bags of wet compost)
You do need to soak the coir in a tub trug or something, I discovered. It takes forever to inflate properly if you just put it in the planter, because it drains too easily. The shells were collected by the previous owner / builder of the house, who was a diver.
In the planter, a tamarisk bush, chosen as a plant with a high tolerance of wind. I bought three of these, and so far they are doing pretty well. The two planters nearest the house have Philadelphus 'Lemoinei', a Mock Orange, which was also supposed to be good for windy positions but I have to say the poor little things look terribly sad and windburned at the moment. I am wondering if I'm going to have to replace them with more tamarisks. It may be that I've put them the wrong way around — I assumed that the planters nearest the house would be a little more protected, but the most savage winds so far seem to come not across the water from the north, but up the wooded valley behind us from the south.
So here is progress at the bottom of the house so far:
The lovely herb bed on the right was already here, and is full of chives, thyme, and that big flowering rosemary bush which is all over bees, when the wind and rain drop. You can see that the sedum carpet seems to have settled in well and is greening up very nicely (and it hasn't blown away!). I've added a path of bark chippings along the fence, because I thought Theo would probably run up and down the fence there so no point putting the sedum right up to the fence. But in fact he doesn't seem inclined to do that, or not yet anyway. I felt that the bark chippings will (if they manage to not all blow away) eventually create a soft edge to the path that the sedum can spread into, and maybe also provide a shallow foothold for other plants to seed themselves into.
That terracotta pot on the right holds a very vigorous blue-flowering climbing campanula. I'm hoping it will climb up onto that bit of ruined wall on the right, which I think is one of the two bits of wall left from the original house, which was destroyed during WWII. The other bit of original wall is the one you can see behind the archway at the back.
I have five of the biggest most vigorous lavender hybrids I could get my hands on in the pots under the ground-floor garage window, which also contain a generous number of rocks as a pot topping, to try to stop them being blown away. So far it's worked!
Here's the archway area. You can't really see my new fence here, but those posts on the right are ones I put in to support more wire fencing, and the steps are currently fenced off because there's no gate on them and so Theo wants to whiz up to them and onward to gallumph wildly around the place. I am planning to build a gate, then I can take the fencing off the steps. The shed in the corner by the pink house is going: it annoys the neighbours, who are worried it will blow off onto their shed, which is right underneath. Am not really a fan of sheds, things always seem to end up getting damp and webby in them.
The really big orange pot (it's HUGE) has a young grape vine in it, which I was hoping to train up the brick pillars, if it survives the wind. It was looking really happy and cheerful until the last storm, with its giant pot that was sheltered from the hottest sun by the pillar. Now it's looking more than a bit windblighted, poor thing. We will see if it's tough enough to make it through!
The wind has blighted the lavender-tips a bit as well, but I'm pretty hopeful that these lavenders will be able to adapt.
Here's that old shed again, and the rather lovely tiered wall, which has a lot of sedum and cotoneaster, and being south-facing, is much beloved of bees. I am a bit worried that Theo will leap the wall, shoot up the tiers and through the hedge at the top to FREEDOM, but we shall see.
I'm losing that strip of grass on the right of the path. It's only about a foot wide, and I want to put fence posts on it anyway, to contain the Theo from bouncing down the steps on the right and into the neighbour's garden. At the moment there's no very clear boundary: the top paved step belongs to us, the wall at the bottom of the drop belongs to the neighbour. Neither of us want to paint and re-paint the steps and wall, so I'm going to try planting a line of rambling roses in that foot-wide strip and let them fall down the steps. This will reinforce my new fence, and should look a lot more decorative and be more wildlife friendly than weedy concrete.
The coir matting in the foreground, carefully weighed down with a selection of old bricks, is to get rid of the grass that was there, so that I can plant an apple tree. The variety I have chosen is a robust Cornish version called Pig Snout, which I hope will be tough enough to endure the wild winds, and will make a bit of a privacy screen between us and the neighbour's house at the bottom of the step, which is currently terribly overlooked. The coir will rot down over time and form a mulch, and then I can get some wildflowers into that patch, but I need to let the tree establish a bit without competition first.
This is what it looked like before I put the coir matting down. It really is right on top of the neighbours house. They were quite keen on the idea of putting a small tree on it, which will fill this photo, and make a screen directly between their windows and our bit.
Here's the top of those steps. Not quite sure what to do with this area yet. Maybe more sedum carpet, to cover at least some of the concrete. I would really like to connect the balcony above the arches to the fenced bit by the house, so that we have an exit on the middle floor that isn't the front door — but that may have to wait. I was going to include this into the dog-fenced area, but am now having a rethink about that — maybe it will just stay as parking, if Theo manages to restrain his desire to scale the tiered wall and break out into this bit.
I have taken some action on the concrete up here though. I have filled the cracks and holes with coir compost, and planted Erigeron karvinskianus seeds into that. It's a plant that really loves dry sunny walls and windy spots, so I am hoping to see pink-and-white daisy flowers dotted everywhere in a couple of years time.
I don't seem to have taken pics of the cliff at the top of the house, which has a few raised beds built into it, where I have sown cornflowers, corn poppy and ox-eye daisy. But here is the cliff at the bottom, which isn't ours, but is home to bluebells (on the top) and some really gorgeous tufts of thrift straggling over the red stone down to the waterside.