Back Garden Project Part 1: Tree fellers get to work

When we bought our Edinburgh ground-floor tenement flat in late 2014, both front and back gardens had been long neglected by the previous owners, who for decades had let the flat out to a succession of un-green-fingered tenants. The front garden was a terrible marriage of concrete slabs and miniature rhododendrons. (Why is it that a miniature version of something you dislike is even worse than the ordinary-sized thing?) The back garden, if it deserved the name, was even worse: an impenetrable thicket of shrubs, trees and litter growing hard up against the windows of the flat. A huge amount of work lay ahead.

I worked hard on the front garden throughout the first half of 2015; you can see my progress documented in posts tagged ‘Blank Slate Garden‘. Putting all my energy into this project, I left the back alone, unwilling and unable to begin until the builders had finished their work. For many months, the closest I came to making a start was hacking a path through the dense undergrowth to allow the architect and builders access to the rear wall of the flat. In January 2015, I wrote: “The jungle of shrubs and saplings on the back green [have] grown so close up to our bedroom window that it seems they are trying, like underdressed teenagers outside a nightclub, to actually get inside the building. So I went outside with the loppers and cleared a three-foot gap, then picked up the rubbish that had accumulated on the ground during the time the flat was lived in by students. The things I found! The usual plant pots, crockery, barbecues, planks of wood and plastic bags, but also a decent tarpaulin, a mouldy folding seat, an unopened bag of grass seed, and a spade in near-perfect condition. I think I also found every snail in the universe.”

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This photo is the earliest I could find of the back wall of our house. I had already cleared away a considerable amount of shrubbery by the time it was taken. The window was still a window, and the stone sill is visible in the top left hand corner.

Then this happened:

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The photo above was taken in August 2015.

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And a photo facing the other way shows the communal back green, an enormous space that is largely neglected but for lawn mowing twice a month.

I had ambitious plans for the area outside our back door. In our previous flat, we used to adore sitting out on our little terrace, eating lunch in the sunshine, or late on a summer’s night with a bottle of vino and the place all lit up with lanterns. I missed it and that’s what I wanted to create here.

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One problem was the self-seeded ash trees abutting the wall. You can see them in the photo above. They were too close to the house, blocking the light, and I was worried their roots would damage the boundary wall and foundations of the building. We discussed the trees with Mo, the landlord who owns the flat above ours. Mo was also keen to see the trees gone. His tenants had complained that the trees scratched at their kitchen window in the wind, and they blocked too much light. We checked for tree preservation orders and emailed the 14 other landlords from the two blocks that share our back green; no one objected to our cutting the trees down.

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We decided to wait until winter before removing the trees, as it would be much less trouble once the branches were bare. In mid-January 2016, with Christmas and our wedding finally out of the way, Mo arrived with chainsaw and ropes. He and The Brazilian set to work on the trees, and I lit the incinerator to burn the smaller branches and debris. The bonfire lasted for over 7 hours.

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By the end of the day we were exhausted and kippered by the smoke, but we had achieved a lighter, brighter clearing outside our flat, several buckets of beautiful, soft wood ash to spread over the front garden, and a huge stack of firewood.

Coming soon, Part 2, donkey-work and power whacking: how we paved a terrace outside our back door.

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12 Comments

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  1. I can just imagine the extra light and feeling of space you’ll have now, especially in summer.

  2. I had your gardens the wrong way round! Don’t know why as at least one of your end of month views shows the street in front of your front garden! Still not clear how this back garden joins the communal grass area – could we have more photos please. I bet you will really notice the difference with the trees down – especially in the summer. A good job done.

    • Annette, our back green is simply a large square of grass enclosed by walls on three sides and by the East face of the tenement block on the fourth. There is no street access, and the only way in is through the building, making it very private. We step out of our back door into the Northwest corner of the backgreen so you are looking at one corner of the whole, which we have appropriated for our own use, fortunately with no objections raised from our neighbours! As we develop the corner I’ll add more photos and try to make it clearer how the land lies.

      • That makes it clearer – thanks. I like to get these things straight in my mind! I keep meaning to make a plan of my garden but can never quite get round to it! I am sure no one would have any objection to you improving things.

  3. What a difference that will have made. Well done Mo and the Brazilian! I’m really looking forward to seeing the next instalment, with the paving done.

  4. PS Love the new blog style, especially the top banner photo of those gorgeous crimson berries.

  5. That will be a wonderful spot for a seating area. I like how it has the stone walls, so much possibility. It looks like a lot of work, but it will be lovely.

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