I moved to Mottingham, SE London, in May 2015.  This picture shows what the garden looked like then.  It had been neglected for many years by the previous owners and was more or less derelict.  It certainly wasn't a thing of beauty!  About 130 feet long and 25 feet wide, its in three distinct sections - a paved patio near the house, a long lawned area (although "lawn" is pushing it somewhat!) and a raised terrace at the end abutting the railway line.  This section had (and still has, as at winter 2018) a large, deep and defunct koi pond in it. An old elder tree can be seen on the left of the picture - it had fallen over and was resting on the wall!  The branches were so rotten that they fell off when they were touched, hence so many of them lying on the floor. The "lawn" is uneven, full of couch grass and weeds, scrubby, uneven and basically a disaster area.  There are two very large and unwieldy holly trees, a large spotted laurel (out of shot on the right) and some very manky shrubs at the far end on the right by the wall  Basically, the only plants worth saving were a "Wedding cake" tree behind the further holly tree, a small conifer on the left (behind the big black tub) and a couple of nicely shaped conifers on the right.    The previous owners left several large blue plant pots behind, these can be seen on the steps at the back.  

In the picture above, work has started.  The Elder tree is out, having more or less fallen down when I tried to put a bird box up in it.  The holly trees on the left have been drastically pruned back, and several tatty and uninteresting shrubs have been removed from the right side.  Unfortunately two of these were holding up was was left of the fence, and in a couple of places this has fallen over as a result!  Otherwise its still a scene of devastation and neglect.  The only wildlife consisted of several squirrels, an occasional fox (unfortunately too slow to catch the squirrels), a large colony of horseflies (all of whom decided to bite me) and lots of mosquitos breeding in the stagnant water of the pond (all of which also decided to bite me).  

Having stared at the garden from an upstairs window for many hours, the garden eventually said to me "I want to be in circles".  So three connecting circles of bricks were planned running down the length of the garden, to be infilled with lawn.  This would also increase the amount of bed space significantly.  I thought a measure of formality would suit the style of the house (mid 1930s)

The next job was to acquire 350 old bricks!  The local builders merchant sold them for £1.50 each but I wasn't willing to pay that much, so I spent a couple of weeks touring the local streets peering in skips outside houses that were being renovated.  Its amazing how many people don't realise the commercial value of reclaimed bricks. So bricks started to pile up quite rapidly - aided by someone who was knocking down their garage, and someone else replacing an old wall.  I then had to teach myself how to lay bricks!  Fortunately, it didn't seem too difficult, and it wasn't - but it did take me an awfully long time - roughly 12 - 15 hours, done in short bursts. 

This is what the new brick edging looked like when it was finished.  Having marked out the circles with bamboo canes and string, I then had to dig a shallow trench for the bricks and rest them into a combination of sand and cement and then mortar them in.  The design isn't ever going to win any prizes for geometrical accuracy (the circle at the far end is particularly dodgy in parts).  I did then try to dig over the new borders but managed to bend two forks in the process and give myself some particularly nasty blisters, so had to give up about 1/3 of the way down.  Anyway, eventually the brick pattern was complete.  I sowed the circles with grass seed - our road turned out to be too narrow for a turf delivery truck!  

Early winter 2017.  Total transformation takes hard work, but I achieved it!  The brick circles are in place and the lawn is starting to grow in.  The wall planters have been planted with bulbs and herbs, and two topiary ducks are shaping up in their frames.  Obelisks have arrived and have been painted dark metallic blue, as has a gothic arch over the gate (the gate waas there when I arrived but very shabby, so this has been wire-brushed down and repainted).  A new and hideously expensive fence runs the entire length of the garden (but plenty of room for climbers, so worth it) and a beehive-shaped compost bin now sits under the bay tree on the right of the picture.  The greatly increased borders have been dug over and mulched with leaves (I spent a lot of time raking leaves up from several open spaces nearby!).  Two bird boxes have been installed in the holly tree, and the old bird bath left behind by the previous owners has been scrubbed clean of moss and set up. There are bird feeders in the holly tree, and birds are now regularly visiting - I've seen blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, a large family of long-tailed tits, a pair of dunnocks, at least three robins (either the garden is at the borders of three separate territories or they are a family group that has stuck together - for ease of identification they are called Bob 1, Bob 2 and Bob 3), a pair of wrens (Bibbidy and Bobbidy), blackbirds, magpies, the ubiquitous parakeets and, on one amazing occasion, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker.  Occasionally a grey heron floats over on its way to the moat at Eltham Palace or the lake in The Tarn.  Once it actually stopped by to see whether there was anything worth eating in the pond.  It was very early morning and it stood there in the half-light looking like a lonely ghost.  Having realised the pond was empty of fish, it slowly flapped away and I haven't seen it since. 

This is the garden from my bedroom window in late winter 2017. The lawn is still a bit patchy in places and full of dandelions and a particularly invasive Oxalis.  30 large bags of leaves were used as mulch!  At least 100 tulip bulbs are waiting underneath.  Plant catalogues are arriving regularly and I am hitting my credit card very hard!

Unfortunately the winter of 2017 was one of the worst and longest on record.  Endless months of grey skies, drizzle and heavy snow - the first load of which arrived, hung around for weeks and then finally disappeared, followed by a few days of warm bright sunshine.  Gardening activity increased exponentially, and then had to stop again for another fall of snow, followed by further weeks of dull grey nothingness. 

I decided to treat myself to a greenhouse and eventually found what I was looking for at the RHS Show Hampton Court.  I am NOT  a DIY expert and it took 2 full days (and a lot of swearing) to put it together.  

Above - Early spring 2018 and blue tits have moved into one of the nesting boxes.  The wrens were investigating the other one but got spooked when my neighbours had a barbeque - obviously the noise and smoke convinced Mr and Mrs. Wren to look elsewhere!  I enjoyed watching the blue tits on constant feeding duty through the spring, and was sorry to see the fledgling chicks go.  Hopefully they will return next year.  

Plants arrive by practically every post, often quicker than I can plant them.  Roses "Generous Gardener", "Margaret Merrill" and "Lady Emma Hamilton" arrive along with Clematis "Diana's Delight" - allegedly this has blue flowers rather than mauve or purple  I often stop off at Homebase on my way back from my weekly trip to the local market and bag a good bargain - lots of their plants are significantly reduced in price because they are looking a bit tatty (mainly because they have been badly cared for), have finished flowering for the season or are not selling very well. 


 Spring 2019 and its time to do something about the horrible raised area up at the end of the garden.  It catches the sun for a lot of the day, particularly during the late afternoon, so I have designs on a summerhouse.  Unfortunately there is a lot to do before this can be achieved.  I always forget to take pictures right at the beginning of a project, so am half way through the first stage before I start taking shots.  This is what the upper area looks like - a chequerboard of paving stones interspersed with horrible blue/mauve stone chippings.  Its more or less a hotel for weeds.  The corner of the pond can be seen in the upper right - the major project is to fill this in.  So, quite a long time with a bucket and a pair of wellies, baling black and stagnant water.  The paving slabs are going into the pond to help fill it - once these are in I plan to arrange to have it filled with concrete.  Under the slabs is a membrane and this will stay in place because I plan to have the whole area decked.   But even that stage is a long time away.  


 Death to ugly ponds! I'm about half way through heaving the paving slabs into the pond in order to reduce the amount of concrete that will be needed. Its backbreaking work and I can only manage a dozen or so slabs before needing to stop. I have a sudden flash of inspiration.  The quarter-sized slabs are just the right size to use stacked up as either a pedestal for something (a classical statue would look wrong, so I'm playing with the idea of an armilliary sphere or a witch ball) or perhaps as the base for a table to use outside the summerhouse.  I'll need to save one of the full sized slabs for this.  Watch this space.  

 I decide to go for the "Arts and Crafts" kinda vibe with the small slabs and form a spiral column.  I think the slabs are just that bit too large to be a pedestal for an ornament, so they are likely to be the base of a table.  I might still change my mind though.  At the moment I'm going to put a large plant pot on top.  

While down this end of the garden it occurs to me that all the photographs so far have been from the back door and you've never seen the return view, so here I am standing on the semicircular steps looking back the other way. You can see the compost bin on the left and, just within shot next to it (above the brick post), a matching Insect Hotel.   While standing here I notice that the lawns are being invaded with couch grass - I obviously never managed to dig all of it out to begin with and the roots are still alive, so for an hour I'm down on my hands and knees digging clumps out.  The more I look, the more I see.  This looks like its going to be a fight to the finish.  

Another previously unseen corner, this time the area to the right of the back door, which doesn't get a great deal of direct sunshine at any time of the year, and for most of it is quite gloomy and damp.  I had planters made which I have filled with ferns and hellebores.  The two wrought iron planters were rescued from a skip, sanded down and painted dark blue to match the rest of the metalwork in the garden.  The climbing plants are shade-tolerant jasmine, at this point in the year still not broken into leaf.  The terracotta mask is a gorgon, probably Medusa.