Whilst the building refurbishment and extension had been going on, a few flowers had survived in the garden:
Regrettably we had had to trash the original garden so that the builders could store all their materials and also move around the site. We managed to save four clematis however and here are a couple in all their May 2014 glory:
Brightening up a scruffy corner:
A new design for the garden
Probably for financial reasons, Powell & Moya never did make provision for the landscaping on the site, although there exists a sketch in the 1950s article (seen here), which is probably no more than a tidying up for publication. Besides, as the early photos show, the property was inside the garden of no 15 and at that point did not have any independent land around it to speak of.
Through my contacts at the Chelsea Fringe, I had heard that Dominic Cole, (he of Land Use Consultants no less), was working on the revival of the plantings on the Powell & Moya Churchill Estate in Westminster which was being built at the same time as our property. I approached him as President of the Historic Gardens Society to see if he would be willing to sketch out a plan for the site to integrate the new building with the other two styles through a 1950s concept Modernist garden.
Luckily he said yes! And came down to Chichester to visit the site and submitted a series drawings of how such a garden might have looked had P&M designed it at the time.
To illustrate his inspiration, and as is common in his line of business, Dominic submitted several style sheets. These showed a properly Zen modernist plan and were a great help in helping us to imagine the finished product:
We were very keen for the garden to start from the entrance and Dominic proposed this bamboo pergola to act as a kind of tunnel entrance; a fun idea which we have yet (2016) to install, as we are waiting for the neighbour to build a dividing wall along our joint boundary.
Not exactly a blank canvas
Armed with our plan and once the build was complete, we engaged a local gardener to put the scheme in place. The builders vacated the site on the 22nd December 2014, we moved back in in time for Xmas, and work on the landscaping began in January 2015.
This is the sight that welcomed the gardener on day one! As can be seen from these photos the builders had left a Somme battlefield of a mess. After very tactful negotiations with the neighbours however, they had arranged for a lot of the excess soil to be removed, which was a fantastic help and you could definitely see the shape of things to come as in this picture.
This pile of soil we left however, since the garden would need levelling and, given our challenging access problems, we erred on the generous side as we did not want to have to bring in a lorryload of topsoil. Needless to say a lot of this did have to be carted away in the end.
Finding the right materials
We agonised some time over the paving. An exchange of emails led Dominic to tweak his designs to help us decide on materials. In the period concerned, not long after the end of the second war, brick and concrete would have been common choices, cheap and accessible. We agreed that sharply cut stone from outside the region and even stone lookalike would not look right with the vernacular mix of the property with its 1750s stable block, a 50s extension and a C21 one.
Was it to be concrete with a more finished surface then? We found these pavers but the surface-dressed finish was more 60s than 50s, even though it did echo rather nicely the frontage of the Powell & Moya Grade II Chichester Festival Theatre (1962) which was also in the process of being refurbished and extended just down the road.
The answer of course was staring us in the face, good old council concrete paving slabs! These pavers also would work well to Dominic’s spec. He informed us that the paving would not have gone right up to the house and would have been laid butted short end to short end out from the house, with facetted gravel infil along the longer side, as shown in the photo of the finished article. Facetted because it tends to lock down well and does not jump out once settled.
The retaining wall
Needless to say, we started with laying the dominant shape, the “sitting wall” with an Aco drain around its perimeter to drain surface water off the patio. We used the same bricks as had been used to face the new extension as these would be painted white when the wall was completed and blend in well with the rest of the house brickwork, old and new.
The shed will have to go
You may have noticed in the background of this picture, the old shed. Pretty-looking though it was in its 2012 paint job, this had been but a temporary measure. As part of the design the shed would be replaced and put in another spot to free up the old hawthorn tree.
Our neighbours had suggested we advertise the shed in the allotment community and sure enough someone called and said they would come and dismantle it and take it away. A woman duly arrived with her husband who happened to be a builder with a big trailer and the right tools! In next to no time the shed had been taken apart and carried off to grace her new allotment.
Here the pavers have been laid. Now we finally had the shed cleared and the patio laid, it was time to get all the planted pots out of the nursery corner where they had been parked for nine months and royally neglected.
At the same time the gardeners began levelling the ground ready to lay the grass turf that would give us an instant finish, a bright green lawn! But there was a job left to do – getting rid of the surplus topsoil.
Once again the builders came to the rescue and negotiated with the neighbours to allow for a grab truck and a skip to park the other side of our wall and lift the surplus earth over and away. Of course the grab driver could not see over the wall, so the builders’ mate very helpfully sat on the wall and directed operations. Here he is on the left of the picture, perched like Humpty.
After a pretty tense time moving all that earth the final levelling could begin. It had been a very wet winter and this was not easy. We looked at the state of the earth and wondered if we would ever get back to the fine tilth we had known when it was what we called the Old Lady Garden.
Finally everything was as flat as we were going to get it and the turf came and was rolled out. Hey presto! Instant garden just like Alan Titchmarsh.
And what a difference a day makes. Finally the finished landscaping, complete with turf and the tree in all its splendour, at last free and the only major plant left from the old garden. We could hardly believe it.
The landscaping was completed in three months.
I can’t say that the local gardener was all that good but with a lot of supervision he turned in a tolerable interpretation of the drawings although the finish has left a lot to be desired. He admitted to being a poor bricklayer once on site, but it’s not too bad really and once they are painted white no-one will know.
Most of these botches are entirely invisible in fact and only I can see the joins where none should be. Along with our serial difficulties with the plumber, this was to be the second time on this build that we were to have real difficulty convincing local tradesmen of the quality of the build that we were seeking, only to have them recognise it at the end but not without several annoying mistakes having been made by them in the process as they tried to get round our stringent requirements.
The silly thing is for them is that such behaviour left us very unlikely to recommend any of them to anyone else; and indeed architects, builders, plumbers and gardeners have all been done out of several jobs since, as we felt unable to recommend them. That’s no way to run a business, guys.