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Growbag Blog

Taking on a new garden – the dos and don’ts

Moving house and taking on a new garden is a big adventure but there are a few pitfalls to be aware of, so we three trusty old campaigners are here with some chat on how to avoid them. First up it’s Elaine…….


Okay, well here are a few pearls of wisdom on this topic that I have picked up along the way…..

I would certainly say that it’ s mistake to be in too much of a hurry when you inherit a ‘new’ garden. Give the whole space time to show what it’s got – evening sunshine perhaps, or a corner of snakeshead fritillaries, or ground elder……? Imagine the joy of moving in during September and then finding come spring, that your predecessor had planted daffs to spell out a deliciously rude word in full view of the street…..

You may find Fritillary meleagris popping up in a damp corner.

It’s very labour-intensive and extremely expensive to replace mature trees and if your new garden has some, think long and hard before you reach for the chainsaw.  They instantly bring height, shade and depth to a garden, which can take a long time to achieve otherwise. Nevertheless, I would suggest you give VERY short shrift to forest trees like sycamore, ash, chestnut and big cherry-trees, unless your garden is in fact a park, or you like to live in the subterranean gloom of the undercanopy while the roots infiltrate your drainage system.

How about making a plan of what you and your family want from this garden – should that wilderness of brambles, nettles and rusted bicycle parts be a series of raised veg beds? Or somewhere for the kids’ trampoline? A wildlife pond? Or a stumpery – (Laura’s current fad, I know, I know, me neither, but what can you do?) or, if the area catches the evening light, a pot-bedecked G & T terrace, which would usually be Caroline’s choice.

Caroline – ‘Bring me your stalwarts and I will admire’

Start with a bit of paper and two columns: ‘What we want’ and ‘What we don’t want’.  Then make a rough scale plan of your space, and see how many of the elements in the first column you can accommodate. 

But don’t forget to factor in how much time you have available for your garden, and your ability to manage it. My propensity for hundreds of labour-intensive hardy perennials has led to much shaking of sisterly heads as they contemplate how the old biddy is EVER going to manage in a few year’s time.  It’s a fair question, and I don’t have an answer. Perhaps at that point I’ll move.


Typically sage observations from the old girl this week, and I’m sure we can rig up some sort garden version of a Stanna stair lift in a few years so that she can still trundle round her patch (btw she’s only jealous that she hasn’t got a stumpery…)

She’s right about waiting to see what your new garden has up its sleeve though – at the other end of the gardening scale is Becka, my young friend from work who has recently moved house and was luckily too busy with a new baby and wedding plans to do anything about the ‘gnarly old creeper’ that seemed to be draped all over the garden.

Who wouldn’t want this in their garden?

Well, she swept into the office this week to announce that it had miraculously turned into something ‘absolutely beautiful’. Pictures on her smart phone (and in our feature photo at the top of the blog) did indeed show a Clematis montana doing its thing all over her fence and her neighbour’s to boot. I think this clematis should be given some sort of life-time achievement award for the number of young adults it has turned into budding gardeners.

Another friend, Amanda, was similarly surprised and delighted when a seemingly nondescript  shrub at the back of her new garden suddenly turned brilliant blue ….good old Ceanothus playing its trump card.

Ceanothus is another head turner.


Urghhh, all these gardening fairy tale endings are making me feel quite ill. In contrast to E and L, who have led relatively sedentary and sheltered lives, I’ve moved countless times and only ever seem to inherit impenetrable clumps of crocosmia or colonies of violently coloured red hot pokers. No enchanting climbers or rarefied blossom for me.

The problem is that  you can feel intimidated by their embeddedness or tortured by guilt because it feels like vandalism to desecrate what previous incumbents lovingly planted.

For me it’s led to years of having to accommodate clumps of inherited montbretia and golden rod but also to cower from the terrifying self-possession of decades-old Centaurea montana. 

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ – the clue’s in the name…
Centaurea montana – must have been loved by someone …

The latter gave such poor return for its space I eventually resolved to eradicate it completely, but as my trowel poised above the very last root section, I murmured emotionally: “maybe just keep a tiny reminder of its birth parents?” What a mistake. The Centaurea lives on at that address as far as I know. I hope the present residents realise every family needs its mad old relations which keeping turning up and just have to be lived with!

In contrast I would have been delighted to inherit Louise’s  Plant of the Moment , as her choice is the clump forming relative of an otherwise thuggish invader.

NB If you’ve like to get a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3Growbags, please do enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Taking on a new garden – the dos and don’ts”

Your blog sets me up for the day each Saturday and just when you think you’ve had your treat there’s the bonus of Plant of the Moment.

Hi Linda, Elaine here. Thank you so much – we are delighted that you enjoy our scribblings as well as Louise’s brilliant plant choices. Please do tell everyone you know about our blog and encourage them to sign up to our happy band!

I am new to Crocosmias and just received a bag of mixed Crocosmia bulbs today. Now I’m afraid to plant them. Are they invasive?

Hi Barb, Elaine here. Please don’t listen to Caroline! Most crocosmias are happy clump-formers, that will additionally grow in shady spots, making them very useful in the garden. They have a super long-flowering season, attractive foliage and if you attend to your soil (Caroline, are you listening?), they are easy to dig up if they stray too far. The ordinary old montbretia can certainly wander about a bit, but compared to Japanese anemones or mint, it’s a pussycat!

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