A blank slate for the New Year

A blank slate of a garden, a bare patch of earth, is a complicated dream. On the one hand it provides a rare and satisfying opportunity for planning, pure creativity, experimentation, and the pleasure of transforming an unattractive area of land into your own personal Eden. On the other hand, transforming said land is time consuming, costly and hard, physical labour.

Last month the Brazilian and I took possession of a small front garden of eight by five metres. It is attached to a small flat on the Southside of Edinburgh, which, through a similar transformative process, is to become our home, once the right walls are knocked through, the dust has settled and we’ve worked out why the north west corner is so damp.

I’ve long had daydreams about what I’m going to do in this garden, but in my daydreams the soil was already lightly tilthed, the earth root- and rock-free, the paths laid out without breaking sweat. Needless to say, it hasn’t been like that in real life. Firstly I should explain that the blank slate wasn’t blank in the beginning. It was edged with a path of concrete slabs and had two dwarf rhodadendrons, an ancient rosemary, two cotoneasters, and various sad looking plastic pots of dead things. More concrete slabs had been laid to create a diamond shape in the centre, and the in-between bits had been filled with gravel. The whole thing was surrounded on three sides by a huge privet hedge that was far too large but at least gave a rare feeling of privacy and quietude for a street-facing garden in the city centre.

The garden as was. The hedge is overgrown, the concrete ugly, and the rhodadendrons unwanted. A huge cotoneaster near the gate has ideas above its station…
Sad looking pots of empty soil, self-seeded grass and a single lackadaisical rose stood about.
The enormous rosemary sadly also had to go: a path is destined to run right over its spot.

It all had to go. First out were the rhodadendrons. Forgive me if you like rhodadendrons. There’s nothing wrong about them, except for being invasive, but I just can’t bear them. There are so many more interesting things to plant in a garden, especially in Edinburgh where just about every other garden for miles has these grinning, shining things bursting across their iron railings. Next were the cotoneasters, a pity because I loved their red berries, as did the practically tame robin that tweeted volubly at me as I decapitated its prickly hideouts. Finally the rosemary, which though venerable was right in the path of my scheme. All this took a lot of lopping, sawing and an iron will pitted against tangled branches and steadfast roots. Then it all had to be dragged through the passage to the backgreen and incinerated on a rainy December Saturday, five hours of chucking branch after branch into the reluctant flames.(Lord, did the burning rosemary smell gorgeous.)

Stage 1: The slabs have gone, and a pile of cement rubble remains. The plants have also gone and the hedge has been trimmed. The pots are waiting in a corner to be put on Freecycle, save one or two useful ceramic pots which I’ll keep. The sacks contain horse manure courtesy of Emily the Haflinger.


The bench came from eBay and cost £16. It will go under the window where once the enormous cotoneaster flourished.

As for ridding the garden of the concrete slabs, I had a brainwave. ‘Concrete Slabs: free to anyone who can uplift and remove them,’ was the advert I put on Gumtree. The response was quite amazing; I didn’t have to lift a finger. Several different parties came and took what they wanted, and soon every slab had gone. Finally to go was the cement that had fixed the slabs. This was easier for me to crowbar up. A few trips to the tip and it’ll be gone (it’s half done already).

These cement pieces are heavy but manageable. There are about 4 carloads left to take to the tip.


Next task: to lay out the plan!

14 thoughts on “A blank slate for the New Year”

    1. Thank you! So much done already, far far more left to do. I’m looking forward to logging my progress here, just as soon as the ground has unthawed enough to dig!

  1. As overwhelming as the task is, it’s also exciting — especially when you’re able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. By the way, your idea to offer concrete slabs to whomever could lift them — GENIUS!

    1. Thank you! Well, desperation is the mother of invention… If only I could do the same with the cement rubble, but somehow I can’t see anyone wanting that, not even for free. I do hope you enjoy following progress.

    1. Thanks very much, Kathy. Yes, there will be a lot of follow-up posts as work progresses. In fact I’ll be using the tag ‘Blank Slate Garden’ for each post about the garden’s progress so that people can just click on this and bring up all the related posts.

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