When a new plot is taken over from the builder it is generally in a very rough condition. Foundations and drains have been dug, soil may have been bulldozed to level the site for the house, cement mixers and other machines have stood on it, workmen have walked over it, pieces of brick, cement and wood are left lying about.
Under these conditions the best policy is usually to have the whole plot dug irrespective of what one is going to plant. If it is a large plot it may be worth employing a garden contractor with a power-driven cultivator to carry out this initial work. All burnable refuse can be burned and the ash spread over the ground. Brick ends and other hard rubble can be set aside to form the foundations of paths. When it has been determined where those paths shall be, they can be marked out with pegs and twine, and the soil from them excavated to a depth of 6 to 8 in (15 to 20cm) and spread over the rest of the ground. In this way some semblance of order will be achieved and it will be possible to consider the site more realistically.
When an old garden is taken over the problems are different. If the garden has been well made and maintained, it may be acceptable as it stands, or with minor alterations, [fit is badly neglected and overgrown. It will be wise to clean it up first before making any decision about altering it. Long grass should be cut with a scythe, hook, or rotary grass cutter, herbaceous plants cut down if it is autumn or winter. Or thinned and tidied if it is spring or summer. Overgrown trees and shrubs can be cut back sufficiently to make it possible to work around them and at least see the main outlines of the existing plan. Grass,and other soft rubbish can be built into a heap in some convenient corner to rot down into for soil dressing, and prunings can be burnt. If the garden is taken over in winter, when everything is dormant, it may be wise to wait at least until the spring before digging anything up, to see what really is there.
Making a Plan
Should one decide upon a plan. What it shall be must be determined by many considerations: one’s own personal preferences regarding plants, the amount of work one is prepared to put into the maintenance of the garden, the architecture of the house and the character of soil and situation. It is fortunate that most ornamental plants have a very wide tolerance of soils and will grow in almost anything that could be termed “reasonable”, which roughly means that it is not pure clay, nor pure sand or shingle. Nor yet pure chalk, but a mixture of ingredients recognizable as soil.
But there are exceptions to this tolerance, and, in particular, one large group of shrubs, including, azaleas and many heathers, which dislike free lime in the soil. It is quite easy to find out whether soil does contain free lime, for if it does it will be alkaline, whereas if it does not it will, almost certainly in Britain, be acid. These are conditions that can be measured by simple tests. Chemical testing outfits can be purchased from many chemists and garden shops. These simple tests rely on chemical reagents which change colour according to the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the soil. A colour chart containing eight or ten colours for matching is provided with the kit, and against each colour is a Figure which represents what is termed the pH of the soil. This is the scale by which acidity/alkalinity is measured. A reading of pH 7 indicates neutrality, i.e. an exact balance between acidity on the one hand and alkalinity on the other. Such a soil would grow almost anything, but would not be so good for the lime-hating plants as one that is more acid, say /;H 5-5 to 65. This is the ideal range for many ornamental plants. A soil of pH 7-5 to 8-0 is markedly alkaline, and excellent for those plants that like lime.
It is possible to overcome alkalinity by making special beds for lime-hating plants. Or bythem with special fertilizers, but this is adding to the burdens and hazards of gardening. It is better to garden with one’s soil rather than against it.
Site and Aspect
As with soil, it is also better to garden with one’s site and aspect. Most plants will grow where they get the full benefit of sunlight or in partial shade. A smaller number will grow in quite dense shade. But there are plants that prefer full sun and others that prefer some shade, and it is wise lo bear these preferences in mind when planning. I have referred to them in greater detail in the descriptive lists of plants which appear later.
Some people are so keen on plants that they want to devote every possible square yard of ground to their cultivation. Others see plants only as embellishments to a design which is mainly architectural in conception. More frequently the garden owner will require some combination of both elements, maybe aor terrace near the house and a less formally planned area for plants beyond.
When considering expense in construction and maintenance, it is worth noting that the formal or architectural garden is usually more economical in upkeep than the informal or plant garden but is more costly to make.