from a patio to a jungle - Rustington
The patio outside our flat in Rustington

This is the start of our desire to grow stuff, which turned out to be a baptism by fire as we went from a patio to a jungle…

We started out in a small flat in a seaside town on the south coast, which had nothing but a courtyard. This was in complete shade from about midday onwards. We had a couple of goes at planting stuff, but never had any results.

Then we moved.

At first we had planned to bugger off to Australia, but in the end we stayed and moved out of a poky, damp little place and into a bigger flat further west. This didn’t have a garden either, but did have a south-facing patio. We decided we could grow stuff in pots.

At the time this photo was taken, it was still fairly early in the year and the weather was about as you would expect in the south of England (as can clearly be seen by the damp pavers), but as the year went on, it got hotter and hotter until you couldn’t stand on pavers – even in shoes. This caused the pots to overheat and all but the second and third pots from the right died. One of the survivors was a cherry and the other a eucalyptus.


A shift westwards

from a patio to a jungle - The front garden and path
The front path

We bought a house in Dorset and in so doing, inherited a full garden and pond. Some would see this as a head start, but considering the amount of work that ensued, I would say it might have been easier to start from scratch.

Coming down the front path everything looked so big and exciting…

We had never had a garden before. Our flat in Worthing had had a small courtyard at the rear. It was just enough space for a couple of bicycles and a rubbish bin. The Rustington flat had the vapourising patio, but this was to be our first garden.

The front garden only ever got mowed and its hedge trimmed. Basically, it spent most of its time in shade and seemed to hold water better than a sponge. The idea of digging it couldn’t have been further from our minds. It was hard enough to mow without sinking.

Out into the back garden, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

The view was astounding. We could see for miles across the Dorset countryside and felt like the garden version of an infinity pool. It wasn’t perhaps a vast garden, but the fact that it was connected to so much farm land, gave us the impression that it was bigger than it was.

Reality bites…

from a patio to a jungle - view from bedroom
The view from the bedroom window

We realised very quickly that we had seen the garden with our hearts and not our heads. What had been described as something that had been looked after was questionable. It was wildly overgrown and despite their assurances that it was regularly maintained, we were to find that their version of the truth may have been slightly exaggerated.

We truly had gone from a patio to a jungle.

Aside from a small area of the patio, it was impossible to see any of the other features of the garden. About half way up the picture, there should be a greenhouse and were it not for the tree in the foreground, you’d be able to see the dark green mess that was loosely described as a pond.

The more we looked, the more apparent it became that we would need to perform open plant surgery on this garden. The sheer scale of what we were about to embark upon hit home with a wallop.

We talked about it – a lot – but soon came to the conclusion that we really … really needed to get something done.

The pond was one of the first things we decided to attack.

Basically, it needed a load of cash being thrown at it in the form of a complete filtration system. We had spent some considerable time looking at it, but apart from the occasional ripple, we’d not seen a single fish, let alone been able to identify what kind of fish we had.

from a patio to a jungle
The pond as we “inherited” it

I had pulled out what the last owner had laughingly described as filtration. This consisted of two small pumps – that would have been inadequate as windscreen washer pumps – with what appeared to be a scouring pad in a very small basket underneath each. One of the pumps didn’t work at all, while the other pump couldn’t possibly have coped with a pond the size of ours by itself. Truth to tell, I think it would have been hard-pressed to deal with a fish bowl.

Off we went to Yeovil to seek out an aquatic expert…