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Wales, United Kingdom
You know those diagrams in science textbooks that show the water cycle? Water evaporates from the sea and cools as it rises over the land until it condenses into clouds. Well that's where I live - where the clouds are born. It's very beautiful here, and it's also very damp. I don't yet know what I'll be writing about here. I had a blog a few years ago called, "Growing Things and Making Things," and there will be some continuity with that, but my life has moved on since then. I'm at a stage of reflection and re-evaluation - you could call it a mid life crisis - and this blog will reflect that. There'll be posts about things I'm doing - foraging, cooking, crafts, daft experiments (which may overlap with any or all of the other three) - posts about my thoughts on life, photos of beautiful Welsh scenery, maybe some Welsh language, and probably a bit of politics. Because it's important.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Planting up the new terrace

When last seen, my new terrace was looking distinctly brown on top. This is intended to be a lawn-type space for sitting out on, so since then I've been moving a selection of plants from other parts of the garden (many extracted whilst weeding veg beds - see, there was a reason for doing the terrace first!) and now it's more-or-less covered.

Greenery spreading over the surface of the terrace. I've done a bit more since taking this photo which, now I check the date, was a couple of weeks ago.

So what am I planting there? Mostly weeds, but not any old weeds. Although I accept the inevitability of grass, I'd rather not encourage it - I don't want to have to drag a lawn mower up those steps to keep the greenery reasonably short. This...

Sagina subulata, probably

... seems to me a much better alternative. It comes up all over my garden, particularly in the paths, which is encouraging with regard to whether it'll tolerate being walked on. It forms a dense mat of very short green leaves/spines and I think it has small white flowers, too. I asked my neighbour if she knew what it was and she didn't but guessed at some kind of moss. A google image search for moss brought up a plant that looks a lot like this, but isn't actually a moss. It's called Irish moss which, curiously enough, is the same name as a type of seaweed I was reading about recently.

I also transplanted some bittercress...

Flowers of hairy bittercress

... of which I have rather a lot, and which is flowering at the moment (therefore will shortly be shedding seeds everywhere, ensuring even more next year). Like the Irish moss, this is an attractive ground cover plant with pretty white flowers, but another thing they have in common is fairly short roots, which is not ideal here. I'm a little concerned about what happens when the wood - the material of the terrace - starts to rot down. There's a distinct possibility that the whole thing will disintegrate and slide down the hill. I'd rather that didn't happen, so I'm choosing plants with strong, deep and spreading roots, in the hope that they will hold it all together. Trees have strong, deep and spreading roots, but don't exactly qualify as ground cover. Within the limits of ground cover, two plants go a long way to meeting the requirements.

Alchemilla mollis

My neighbour had better luck identifying this one for me: Lady's mantle. Actually, she identified it by its latin name, Alchemilla mollis, first, and then lady's mantle, which I found easier to remember. Even though I didn't know what it was, experience has taught me that it has excellent roots. They make it very difficult to dig up when it's taking over the path or a flower bed, or both. The same is true of...


... buttercups. I adore these flowers and hate having to dig them up. At the same time, I don't want them to smother everything else. It's lovely having somewhere to put them, so I can now attack them with vigour elsewhere, happy in the knowledge that I'll still have a display of them on the terrace.

I've also moved a few non-weeds

I don't know what this is. It has pink flowers, which will open shortly.

I don't care for this plant much, but I have lots of it and some was taking over the path at the bottom of the steps by the terrace, so I moved that uphill.

Another pink-flowered plant that I can't identify

I'm not too fussed about this one either, but I think a bit of it'll look quite nice here.

Yet another pink-flowered plant, but I know what this one is: Geranium

There are several more of my favourite weeds:

Clover, to blend with the rest of the hillside

Speedwell, with its beautiful tiny blue flowers

Vetch, of the local variety, which has such pretty purple flowers.

I'd love to have vetch growing up through the hedge, but I'd like to give the hedge a chance to get established first. What hedge? I hear you ask. Patience - I'm coming to that. The vetch is currently in the middle of the terrace, but I'm sure it'll find its way to the edge in due course. Speaking of plants that put out long, snaking runners, we also have...

... Ivy, set off against a cat's paw

and there may possibly be the odd scrap of ground elder, but I didn't plant it, I promise!
That said, it will do a good job of tying things together.

I think that's all the ground cover plants. As well as being short, spreading, and having deep/spreading/strong roots, another requirement of these plants is that they can tolerate being walked on. That means they also need to stand up to this:

Pebble lying on the speedwell

Back to the plants, and that hedge I mentioned. Even this high above the stream, midges can be a problem in the summer. For this reason, and because a low hedge would be nice, I'd like a hedge made of the insect-repellant herbs southernwood and lavender. I had a reasonable-sized lavender plant that I thought I could spare from its original destination under the fruit trees.

Lavender, brought as a cutting from my last house

I also found a couple of southernwood mugwort seedlings around the garden, so I carefully transferred those.

I thought this was Southernwood, but it turns out to be mugwort. I love having a plant called mugwort, especially as it means midge plant!

I'll take more cuttings later in the year to add to these, and hopefully end up with a nice hedge. Being shrubby herbs, these have fairly long roots, which is good, but not good enough. The terrace is six foot tall at its highest, and those roots will never extend that far! I needed something else to reinforce the lower levels of the terrace. I had two ideas, and in a belt-and-braces approach, have implemented both.

The first was suggested by a friend: A living willow fence. Not only did he offer the idea, he also offered willow. That is, he lent me his secateurs and showed me where a lot of willow was growing in his garden.

Willow fence, hopefully living.

I've stuck the willow cuttings in the ground and woven them together. Hopefully they'll put out roots and keep growing, thickening up their trunks and putting out more shoots that can be further woven together. Even better, top shoots can be cut off and used for basket making!

My second idea was buddleia. As with buttercups and lady's mantle, experience has taught me just how deep the roots are if given a season to get established. I don't want such a tall plant on the top level - it would obscure the view - but how about planting it halfway up? The roots could reinforce the lower part of the terrace and the stems might offer some support to the higher level. I have plenty of buddleia seedlings - I've been pulling them up for months - the tricky part was how to plant them. The outer edge of the terrace is pretty open, so what to plant the seedlings in. I was also digging up lots of grass from various veg patches, and a clump of grass carries a good clod of earth in its roots. I turned some of these over and stuffed them into the twigginess, then planted the seedlings into them.

A tiny buddleia seedling surviving remarkably well

So there we are, lots of weeds transplanted onto the terrace. Pebble seems happy with the progress.

For an update on how the terrace fared over the next six months, click here. .


  1. Looks fab! I love lady's mantle. It's also known as dewcup because of the little drop of moisture that collects in the middle of each leaf.

    When I did my willow weaving day about 6 weeks ago, the couple who hosted it made a willow arch in situ, and that's started sprouting already.

    1. I love the droplets on the leaves, too. I did take a picture of one of the plants after the rain, but it didn't show the plant as clearly, so I opted for the less sparkly photo.

      I think six weeks ago would have been the ideal time for planting willow cuttings. They're putting out leaves now, which are mostly looking rather shrivelled after their journey, but I'm sure there'll be new ones once the roots have grown.

  2. This sounds interesting - I like the plan to use 'weeds' where grass would be difficult.

    By the way I'm pretty sure your southernwood isn't - it looks like wormwood to me (or maybe mugwort). Southernwood has fine, lacy leaves and smells strongly of dettol. Wormwood is still insect repellant and strongly scented though so it should do the job you want it to do. :)

    1. Ah, I did wonder about the leaves being not so lacy, but thought that maybe it was because the plant was so young. I identified it as southernwood because I already have some of that in the garden, and it smells similar, so I assumed the seedlings were offspring. As you say, either of the other, closely related, plants would be just as good. Funnily enough, I originally mistook my southernwood for wormwood, so I'm obviously not very good at this!

  3. The first pink flowered don't know plant is London Pride, which is a kind of Saxifrage, I think. I like it as it reminds me of my grandma! The next one I don't know but recognise it as some kind of 'rock garden' plant.

    You have very interesting planting here and I look forward to seeing how it goes as the summer progresses. Reinforcing with the willow and buddleia sounds like a good idea.


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