A Truly British Garden – Initial Plans

We have hardly been in our house for 3 month, so garden design has not exactly been a top priority. It is, however, now becoming more important as we will look to supplement our diet with plenty of home grown goodies.

We are lucky to have been offered half an allotment by our neighbours which is where all the permanent fruit bushes etc and possibly some asparagus will go. This frees up the garden for a big area for Lucan to run and play as he gets bigger, and also for a long thin raised bed for the annual veggies to be put where they will be easy to tend. 

We have a LARGE shed for all of James’ man-stuff and I have a small greenhouse currently half built (which I am very excited about as it is my first ever). James would also like to try his hand at brick laying and would like to create an entertaining space complete a pizza oven, BBQ and maybe even a tandoor so we can really enjoy our British produce in the summer.

All this, you can imagine, is quite a lot to squeeze into a back garden. I have measured as much as I can and have done a quick design as an idea but I would really love any ideas that anyone else has to make the most of the space. The garden is South East facing with a giant oak tree at the end (which will contain a grand tree house for Lucan). There is also a very well established camellia plant and a magnolia between the shed and the greenhouse. The soil is pH neutral and very densely chalky where the old railway line used to run through our back garden 50 years ago.

Any and all help from the wacky to the sublime would be very gratefully received to make the most of the space and of course all the materials and plants will be properly British.

Thank you in advance, I will keep you posted how things progress.

– Emily


  1. Some garden design tips to get you going.
    Work out where your main view will be, you don’t want the amenity bits – e.g shed/ washing line iin your main line of sight every time you look out of the window.
    Design the lawn, work out what shape you want for football, or your sweeping croquet lawn, and make sure there are no awkward corners so mowing makes a lovely sward, rather than you cross and bothered.
    There are plenty of plants that love your neutral pH and can be ornamental as well as culinary. And don’t forget edible flowers!

  2. Enjoying your story. Don’t forget your compost bin, old pallets are great for the sides and maybe, if space, a separate leaf bin for all those oak leaves in the autumn.You’ll then have free and very British compost! Will you have space for an old english, scented rose? There is generally a rose for every situation. Good luck!

  3. Andrew G says

    My wife is the gardener in our family but I got to build our raised beds! I have seen many different raised beds in kit form and would advise against using them, they’re either small or expensive for what you get. Ours were made with gravel board. Easy to use, relatively cheap and can make them to your own shape and size, OK they’re not as decorative as the kits but they are very practical. Most of ours are three boards deep and my wife has successfully grown many things, including leeks and parsnips in them. With the weather as it was last year they also allowed good drainage!
    Good Luck!

    • Abigail McKern says

      My raised beds are made out of old railway sleepers- they look great and have lasted for years!

  4. A rose would be wonderful and maybe more than one would be great. Would love the hips for the winter cordials!

  5. If you put runner beand in lay sheep fleece (or damp newspapers) under the bed.

  6. Hi looks like a great project
    I think you’re fairly close by so if you’d like me to come over and have a look I’d be delighted. I could talk you through how to go through a design and give you pointers on what to do and not to do. FoC for such an interesting venture
    Best wishes lulu

  7. Amanda Glasper says

    If your looking for a Pizza Oven I believe that Jmaie Oliver does one which is British made and a perfect size for a garden – we saw one at our local garden centre and have been wanting one ever since!
    Loving reading your blog!

    • Hi Amanda,

      I think he does do one but I think we will have a go at making one as they are not supposed to be too hard to make and really quite good fun. Hope you get yours in time for the summer if it ever finally comes!

      Emily 🙂

  8. I also have an allotment with a very large oak tree at the top, and as previous comments, the leaves are harvested every year.

    best thing to do is grow what you like to eat, always aim to be self supporting on basics like onions. Save seed once you’ve plants in and can let a couple go to seed, then you definately will be all British!

  9. Tried to post by mobile but think failed so here I go again!
    It might be worth you using the free garden design tool on http://www.plantify.co.uk as you can plot out your garden using the online map tool. Then you can easily move borders, vegetable beds, sheds, patios etc around so that you can see what works best.
    Also, if you know what your soil pH is then you can go into its Plant Finder database and find the right plants. The garden design tool will help you plant them in the right places. There is also a really useful ‘shadow’ tool on it that will show you the impact of trees and other plants throughout the day, even those from your neighbours trees so that you don’t end up planting veg or fruits or flowering plants in an area that is shaded for much of the time by a neighbours tree. Plantify only buys plants from British nurseries. All are nurtured in the UK to ensure that they have a strong root stock and are therefore hardy for our climate.
    Good luck and on the vegetable front – don’t forget pots are really useful and I find them really successful for battling the war with slugs – every year I grow runner beans, toms, cucumbers, dwarf beans and lettuce in pots with great success and they really brighten up the patio. So you can do lots with pots in unusual places. Even our driveway has a rank of runners during the summer down each side. The red flowers look lovely.

  10. Steve wallbank says

    Dont forget if you grow your own veg to rotate the crops, as this will keep down pests. 4 bed works well; 1 Potatoes, 2 Peas and beans, onions and brassicas, 4 Roots. Be careful as not all plants are what you think, eg sweed is a cabbage but turnip is a root! Bulldog make great tools in Wigan:)
    I wish you all the best.

  11. Hi Emily,
    You need to be a bit careful when choosing old railway sleepers in the garden. Some old ones are preserved in creosote and are no longer allowed to be used where people will sit, children will play and food will be grown because of the health risks of creosote exposure, It is easy to spot these ones though because they are (usually) black and tend to ooze sticky and smelly in hot weather. However it is easy to find modern sleepers that are preserved ‘safely’ and make great permanent raised beds.

    The fact that you have camellia and magnolia that prefer a slightly acid soil, and the position of Westerham on the Greensand Ridge, suggests that under your top soil you will find a very sandy subsoil. This means that it will be light to dig and free draining. As a previous poster suggested it would be good for you to make garden compost and leaf mould as this can be used to improve the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil and give you bigger harvests and healthy shrubs without having to water so much.

    You are certainly doing the right thing to list out your priorities and fit them into a sketch plan before starting to actually build or dig; it saves regrets or moving things around later.

    I follow you on Twitter with great interest & hope it all goes well this year. I am the gardening tutor for Kent Adult Education in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, teaching garden skills, design and veg/fruit growing. I’ld be very happy to provide more info and support as you get the garden plan underway.


    • Thank you very very much. It is great to have someone local who really knows about what our garden might hold for us as it was one of the big reasons that we bought the house in the first place. If you have any ideas on how we can integrate more of a ‘design’ to the garden that would be great. Also as a result of having a train track not long gone through the middle of the garden the grass is incredibly lumpy and bumpy. We had possibly planned to take it all out and start again to level the ground but we are thinking this might be a very expensive and possibly wasteful job. Any thoughts?

      • It is doubtful that your lawn will ever be anything except lumpy & bumpy if you do not bite the bullet and get at the underlying problem. The better news is that grass does not need a very deep soil (think how shallow the roots are on turf) as long as it is not waterlogged so replacing the top layer of debris with top soil & reseeding MIGHT not be so expensive as you fear. Also, you might be able to change the layout so that the track area is not all grass and so less of an issue?

        I do a lot of standing in people’s gardens with them for an hour or so helping them to decide how best to use the space and the features/plants already in the garden. How about if I ‘do my bit for Britain’ and visit? It is much easier to make suggestions on site. Drop me an email if you are interested; I rather fancy trying out the Tregothnan tea 🙂

  12. Christine says

    No sweat with taking out the grass – if you cut it out as very thin turves and then turn it face down (you know, green side in the dark), it will rot down in time and become usable soil for borders. If you have a local library go and see what gardening books you can borrow. The Expert series by D.G. Hessayon are very simple, have pictures with simple instructions next to them. Loads of gardeners start there. The RHS does excellent allotment type books which will be handy once you have got into the swing of things.

    But take things slowly – gardens are a lot of hard work and take years to get right. If you can start just growing herbs and salad (expensive) in the first year whilst you are sorting things out you will get to know the garden over the year. The first year just getting to know the area is a very useful building block.

    • Steve wallbank says

      Good advice, I also found Garden News realy good its a weekly paper so its a bit more on the ball than the monthly jobs.

  13. If you can at all manage it -get a greenhouse (local freecycle might be worth a try) This will allow you to grow the sort of things that are less likely to be available in the shops and grown in Britain like peppers. Also allows you to make an early start with veg like celeriac and beans. Well worth growing and not easy to buy in the shops are beans for drying (like haricots or borlotti but there are lots of varieties available from Heritage seed library that are more suited to the British climate) They can also be eaten fresh or frozen and you can have bean stews for the rest of the year!

    • Fantastic idea. Greenhouse I have albeit without glass at the moment so I will get things going in a month or two to get a head start on things. Might even try to grow a watermelon as Lucan is very very partial to them. Thanks for the advice 🙂

      • With a child using the garden you should consider using toughened glass for the greenhouse – it is offered by most suppliers but at a premium over regular horticultural glass. The cheaper alternative can crack or break if hit by balls; even seen roof panes cracked by acorns falling from a big oak that overhung. Other choice is polycarbonate that is also unbreakable but cuts out quite a lot of light. Ok in summer when/if it is very sunny but not good in spring when you are trying to get stuff going a bit earlier than outdoor crops.
        Have fun with the veggies.

  14. Not sure if it’s been mentioned… but make sure you’ve got plenty of water-butts! You’ll need an overflow into surface water drains/soakaway for when it’s really wet, but having a good couple (one on the greenhouse, when it’s done, and some that the guttering on your house can divert into) will save the plants if we have another drought. The only thing you can rely on with our weather is that it will be unpredictable!

  15. Oh you really have to (and I do mean “have to”) visit Brogdale near Faversham. I think it’s official name is something like the national stone fruit research centre or similar. Perfect not just for buying fruit bushes and trees but for asking the experts about the best ones for your gardening and culinary needs. Not just for stone fruits: gooseberries, red currants, figs (for the south facing wall?). Please go as I am already excited for you. Good shops with local produce there too…

  16. Don’t forget plenty of Bee loving plants where space is available. They not only promote pollination of your crops, those bee friendly flowers also help the predator insects like lacewings and ladybirds. Keep the garden free of insectacide and it will help both those insects birds and yourself. Homes for insects like piles of stones and twigs help give them a home. Many beetles help with slugs as will toads newts and frogs. These are quite happy with a stony shelter and no pond during the summer months. All helping with the enviroment.

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