Setting up a garden with The Blackberry Garden

Earlier this month, we spoke to Alison from The Blackberry Garden about setting up a garden from scratch to get some excellent tips for people just getting started with gardening, and especially for people who work full time and want to know how they can make the most of their garden. Take a look at our interview with Alison below.

Our interview with The Blackberry Garden

1. What made you decide to set up a garden from scratch?

I had always been interested in gardening but I had a very small garden and I knew I wanted to expand what I was able to do.  I was looking to move house anyway when I found this property with a large grassed lawn but virtually no planting at all.  I was really excited by the thought of this as it meant I could do pretty much exactly what I wanted with the space.  I always tell people I bought the garden, the house just happened to come with it.

2. What are some tips you would give to anyone wanting to create a garden?

Firstly take your time, the temptation is to rush right in and I admit I did start some planting before I actually properly moved in.  Also, plant in stages, so my early plantings were fairly removable if they did not suit what I later wanted to achieve.  The most important advice I was ever given was that it was not a good idea to rip up all the lawns to create all the borders at once.  It is far easier to mow the lawn than it is to weed borders and it meant that I could develop the garden area by area and not overload myself.  That is definitely my top tip – pace yourself.

3. On your website, you talk about the different gardens that you have lived with, which would you say is your favourite and why?

That is actually quite difficult to answer, I think my favourite garden is the one I currently have because I have spent so much time on it and put so much of myself into it.  But I am incredibly fond of the garden I had in the railway cottage.  It was there my obsession for gardening really took off and I made many of my early mistakes in that garden.  It will always have a place in my heart.

4. How long did it take you to get your garden to the way it is now and what has been the hardest part?

I have been working on this garden for nine years now.  The hardest part and probably the most frustrating has been the front garden.  My initial moves to make into a knot garden were a disaster as I did not prepare the area properly.  I fought constantly with perennial weeds for several years and it was only when I pared the design right down that I began to feel even remotely happy with it.  I love my knot garden but there are times I do think that leaving a lawn there would have been much simpler.

5. How do you manage to maintain such a beautiful garden alongside working full time?

It does depend very much on the time of year but I do spend a lot of my weekend time in the garden.  In the summer I will sometimes do an hour or so in the evening when I get home, I always have a wander around to deadhead roses etc.  It doesn’t really take that much time once the season is in full swing.  It is densely planted and that keeps some weeds down and also means I cannot see many.  If I cannot see them then I take the attitude that they don’t exist.  Because I love gardening so much I do not think about the time it takes, I only think about time that I lose when I am away from it.

6. For someone who is a complete beginner, what are the main things you would need to do to start growing your garden and making it your own?

Plant something – anything, even if it is just a packet of nasturtium seeds.  Once you have planted something and seen it grow then I think it leads you to plant more.

7. We love your plant of the year and irritating plant of the year awards. What guidelines do you give yourself when judging these?

In the first year of the Plant of the Year Award, it was just one day when I was musing to myself in the garden that the particular plant had performed really well.  The next year I was wondering how to decide again and I then realised I had photographed one plant and commented on it more than any other.  This year I am starting to think about drawing up a proper shortlist.  There seems to be strong competition in the garden as several plants have been quite amazing this year.

The Irritating Plant meme started in much the same way, I was looking at a plant and just thinking how really annoying it was.  I liked it as a plant, but it seemed set on annoying me by not performing.  There seems to be quite strong competition for this category as well!

8. You review other gardens that you’ve been to visit. For you, what makes the most amazing garden?

That really depends, what I do like is an exciting use of colour and something new to me.  I look at some gardens and think that they are ‘safe’ and do not offer anything new (which might just be new to me, it does not have to be cutting edge new design).  I like good planting, a good choice of plants set out well.  I also like a well-structured garden.  Some gardens I visit I can see maybe past their glory days, but their structure is good and you can almost imagine what it would have looked like in its heyday.  I am a particular fan of Italianate Gardens and so visiting them generally makes me very happy.

All images are credited to Alison Levey, The Blackberry Garden.

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