How I started
My garden was not looking very pretty and I was feeling very discontent with it overall. The lawn was on a slope so I couldn’t have any of the play equipment for my children that I wanted or the relaxing swing seat in the sunniest corner at the top. The grass was in poor condition because of the heavy clay soil and the plants weren’t doing much better. After wasting a lot of time and effort trying to treat the grass with expensive products only to find it ruined again every winter due to excessive water retention on the clay soil, I decided to do something radical. I decided to just get on with it. No more procrastination! The garden needed transformed and I was going to do it!
I sketched a few pictures of how I wanted my garden to look and function. Then I asked three gardening contractors round to give me quotes for the work. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was no way I could afford to get someone in to do it for me and also buy the play equipment, water feature, archway, plants, swing seat and trees that I’d sketched into my dream plan.
I decided to take on the challenge of doing it myself. I relish a challenge and thought it would be satisfying to be able to look at my garden in a few months time, knowing I’d done it myself – all the way from initial sketches and plans to the finished article. I also decided to save as much money as I could for the large luxury items I wanted by getting things like soil, sand, bricks, pebbles from freecycle. (a site where people give things they don’t want to others for free). I also salvaged some edging stones and plants that my neighbour was throwing away.
You need to set yourself a realistic time scale if you’re doing a big project like this yourself. Think about how much spare time you have, how much time you are willing to spare for the garden project and how many other people may help you (friends and family).
I decided to take a relaxed and flexible approach to my DIY gardening project. I didn’t want it to become a stressful event but rather an ongoing project. Since I didn’t have a whole heap of money to get started I just started with what I had but I also earmarked £500 as an emergency budget. I was hoping not to use it but I was soon to discover just how important that emergency budget was.
You also need to be realistic about what will fit into your dream garden and prioritise. If you have a very large space it’s not a problem but I have quite a small space. I desperately wanted a play area for my son with a chute, climbing frame and swing to fit next to his trampoline but no matter how many times I measured the space and no matter how many styles of play equipment I looked at, I couldn’t fit in all three. In the end my son had to choose which two were most important to him and as you can see from the photo below he chose to have swings and a climbing wall at the far side (you can’t see it in the photo but it’s there!) and he’s very happy with his choice.
Measure the garden so that you know exactly how big your lawn will be and how much turf you will need to buy. Put as much detail into your sketches as you want. Since mine was a flexible project my plan actually changed about 4 times while I was in the middle of doing it and in the end I got the garden I really wanted. In this way I could see the benefits of having done the garden myself because if I’d hired a contractor to do it and had the luxury of sitting back watching it being done for me within a week a) I wouldn’t be sitting on a balcony in Spain right now writing this because I’d have had no holiday money and b) I’d have ended up with a different garden (eg: the way it was in my first sketch).
My priorities were
- a play area for the kids
- a quiet, relaxing place for myself
- somewhere to eat in the summer
- a place for the dog’s kennel
- somewhere to hang the washing
Since I had a sloped lawn I decided to leave the top area as a higher level for me and decided to encircle a small lawn with trees and plants. It’s important when planning a garden to have a vision for the future and to be patient since things take a long time to mature and grow. I knew that within 2-3 years this area would be delightful and in the meantime I could still enjoy swinging on my swing seat with a good book, with a water feature gently bubbling next to me and watch the plants and trees mature.
Take photos as you go along as I did to create a story of your garden developing. It’s a great reminder of all your hard work.
The lower level was dedicated to being a play area covered in play bark for safety and next to it our small patio with a table and chairs. This still left enough room for the dogs’ kennel. Luckily I have a small area at the side where I hang my washing, out of sight. If you don’t have a side area think about a retractable line so you can put it tidily away when not in use or a whirly gig which can be easily lifted in and out of a shed or garage. If possible situate washing so it doesn’t interfere with the kids’ play area.
Bring in expert help if it’s required
After digging up tons of horrible,sticky,clay soil the ground flooded every time it rained and we couldn’t get rid of the water. The earth was beginning to smell like a bog and when the water started spilling into my neighbour’s garden, which is about 9 inches lower than mine (at the other side of the fence), I knew I had to do something about it. I didn’t have the expertise or strength to do what was required to solve the problem so I had to call in drainage experts. I wisely got 2 quotes, the first for £600 and the second for £450. It’s always wise to get 2 or 3 quotes for big jobs. So, you can see the importance of having an emergency fund as a back-up. It meant I had to wait another three months before purchasing the climbing frame for my son, but if the ground work isn’t done properly you could end up with a heap of problems.
image by author
It took several months but finally my garden has turned out just the way I want – I can sit and relax on my swing seat while the kids play. My dogs have their kennel on the patio but usually join me up the top and sit under my seat.
There is enough space on the patio for potted plants and a small paddling pool in the summer.and dog’s kennel. My washing is hung up round the side out of the way.If you don’t have a side area think about a retractable line so you can put it tidily away when not in use or a whirly gig which can be easily lifted and out into shed or garage. if possible situate washing so it doesn’t interfere with kids play area.
I decided to grow vegetables in the front garden since we live in a quiet neighbourhood where I was confident they wouldn’t be disturbed. In this way I maximised the use of all my available space.
image by author
image by author – Top area of the garden – my space!
image by author – bottom area – kids space!
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