10 March 2011

sandringham buildings - courtyard - november 2010

Sandringham Buildings is a Soho Housing Association block of 140 dwellings behind the bookshops on Charing Cross road.  The Tenants Association approached us to see if we could help with improving some of the communal garden areas.  The first session was planned to improve two ground level areas; the shady courtyard and an overgrown bed.  The materials and plants had been bought on a shopping trip earlier in the week, using a StreetVan transit van hired for the day was so much cheaper than the charges for delivery into the west end (we must get a designated driver registered for the garden).  The TA had put up notices for the planting day inviting residents to get involve and organised refreshments for the day

The first area to be tackled was the courtyard.  The existing planting was one large concrete planter with a fern and ivy, an old wash basket planted with a laurel and a few small pots with red-leaved heuchera.  All these were tucked into one corner to make a lone island of green in a large area of paving.  I felt increasing the number of planters through the whole area would look good, the area is in bright shade and all the plants used are tough and reliable in shade to give year round interest, the plants being repeated throughout to give a unified feel.  The TA had chosen half-barrels for the containers - a good choice in appearance and big enough to support good plant growth.  Attractive foliage and form will be the main focus of interest  using ferns, bamboo, sedges and grasses.  Other plants used all have good foliage and flower in season too. 
The courtyard, before.
The containers were put in position and filled with soil based compost - position first as full they are heavy! The plants were laid out in groups for each container and after the first was planted up as a demonstration by me - usual points made; drainage layer, use plant-in-pot to make mould for rootball, plant at same level as in pot, don't firm on top of the plant - then everyone got stuck in. 

 The theme of the planting runs throughout with the same plants repeated but used in different combinations.
Climbing Trachelospermum jasminoides, golden-leaved shrub Leycestreria formosa Aurea,  golden grass Hakenechloa  macra Aurea,  green sedge Carex testacea and Polystichum fern.
A bamboo Phyllostachys bissetti, with spring-flowering Euphobia robbiae,  the sedge Carex testacea, a fern and variegated ivy.
In the planter, variegated bamboo, the sedge Carex testacea, the fern Athyrium felix-femina, late-flowering Anemone japonica, spring-flowering Bergenia and ivy. In the terracotta pot - Pheasant-tail grass Stipa arundinacea, fern Dryopteris erythrosa and ivy.  The small pots of red-leaved Heuchera remain from before. 
Golden bamboo, sedge Carex testacea, golden grass Hakenochloa macra Aurea, fern Dryopteris erythrosa and ivy.
Climbing Hydrangea petiolaris, spring-flowering Brunnera maculata, golden grass Hakenochloa macra Aurea, the tree fern Dicksonia antarctica and ivy.
Phyllostachys bissettii,  Brunnera maculata, Euphorbia robbiae and Stipa arundinacea.

The containers have been spaced out along the wall, each container has had a number of spring bulbs tucked in to give a boost at the end of winter.  At the moment it still looks slightly sparse but come spring everything will soon thicken up.  

From above.  The bamboo should soon establish and fill out to move gracefully in the breeze, softening the hard landscape and will bring this area to life.

After lunch - a very satisfying spread of sandwiches and the like (well done Sandringham TA!) - we got cracking on the other area - this long bed.  
It gets half a days sun, is prone to drying out in summer and had become somewhat overgrown.  Feverfew, campanula porschyana and a couple of great big Acanthus mollis held their own with nettles and creeping thistle.  After lifting some clumps of feverfew and the campanula (wrapped in plastic bags so as not to dry out) and marking the Acanthus to be retained the area was dug over and as many of the weeds removed as could be.  I had the group go over the area a couple of times to get as many roots as possible out but expect the creeping thistle to be back re-invigorated in spring - then there will be weeding to do.  

The selection of shrubs and perrenials were laid out in their positions, included in the chosen selection are;  Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile', Choisya 'Aztec Pearl', Abelia x grandiflora, Bergenia, Geranium, Miscanthus - more on these no doubt as it gets established.

The planting got underway and was pretty straight forward with just the usual reminders not to plant too shallowly and not to walk on what's already in.  The potted memorial rose for a resident needed to be planted out into the bed, easily done, but on turning it out of its pot, much to everyones surprise, the ashes were revealed in a thick wet layer (remember: pots do need drainage holes!), slightly disconcerting but soon dug in under the rose and in the ground as they should be!  The rose should establish well now the roots aren't sopping wet.  
It soon became apparent that there was an unexpected single-mindedness to remove all the brick rubble in the bed - the bed level went down as the rubble heaped at the base of the plane tree went up (you can see the collection in the background) - after explaining a few times that plant roots don't mind stones and rocks the energies were redirected into planting the bed ... it now even has an unplanned but beautifully constructed gabion and rubble invertebrate habitat at the back of the bed (see what I did there?).

At the end of the day the bed was given a good soak to get everything settled in.  I'm looking forward  to seeing how it gets on come spring as it grows away and makes its mark.
We will be arranging further days with Sandringham residents to work in their garden, and I hope we get such a good turn out on those days.  It was good to see so many people be so enthusiastic about improving their garden space.  Well done everyone! 

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