Taming the wilderness

There is a strip of wilderness alongside the central wall that crosses the communal backgreen, onto which we look from our back windows. Various neighbours have attempted to tame this area, including Left-Neighbour who planted some beautiful tulips that valiantly and attractively broke through the thickets of ground elder at around Easter time.

A wilderness isn’t a bad thing for a garden. An area of long grass and weeds is splendid for wildlife of course, but it also provides a counterfoil for perfectionism, because there’s nothing worse than a pedantic, overdone garden, each bed neatly defined round the edges and every shrub within it precisely coiffed.  However, a blank “greenfield” site is too tempting, and for a while I have had my eye on a small section of this wilderness for my own experimentation. The time became ripe one sunny Sunday a few weeks ago, and when the gardening-averse Brazilian offered to help me dig out the weeds I was so surprised and grateful that in my haste to get started before he changed his mind I forgot to take a “before” photograph to share in this post.


Digging out the bed was tough work. We have a good set of tools in our own small shed, and a further choice of excellent heavy-duty tools in the communal shed, which I believe were provided by the Edinburgh Community Backgreen Association. With spade, fork and trowel, the Brazilian and I tugged away at the weeds and roots for a good two hours. By far our worst adversary was the ground elder with its tenaciously long roots that run and run in all directions. If you leave the least bit of ground elder root in the ground, it will pop up again in a week or so, but getting it all out is nearly impossible.

Eventually it was done, and then came the fun part: buying plants for the new bed, which is sheltered by a wall and lies under the shade of several trees. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to plant so I went around the garden centre with a trolley and kept my eye out for plants whose label stated that they had a preference for shade.


I chose the skimmia because my mother has one in a pot in a very dark yard, and it is very happy and enormous.


I also found a lamium, otherwise known as a deadnettle, whose label told me will faint if it sees the slightest ray of sun.


Ferns are useful for shade, and can look extremely stately when they get large. I found this tatting fern, which I bought adoring the name and the pretty, delicately beaded leaves.

Tatting fern

I bought two of these mossy alpine saxifraga, hoping they will spread and form a border.


And here is the finished bed:

IMG_0391Attempting to impose civilisation and order upon an untamed land led inevitably to geopolitical contemplation, and after various trains of thought I have not rushed to dig up the remaining, much longer, strip of wilderness, although I have thought of introducing some mint and wild garlic as worthy foes of the ground elder.

4 thoughts on “Taming the wilderness

  1. Did you know that ground elder has a lovely flower like cow parsley? I’ve only just discovered this. I think I’ll cut it all and put it in a vase. Mint is a nice idea, as long as the ground is damp enough. But will your neighbours like to have wild garlic around?

  2. I’ve never let the ground elder get big enough for flowers. The wild garlic couldn’t be worse than the nettle stew, which I’ve moved to a position that is far away from all dwellings as it stinks.

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