Transforming a neglected spot in our back garden for the benefit of my mental health

If you're a new visitor to the blog, or to the Alan's Mental Health feature, take some time to read this introductory post. It explains a bit of the background behind the posts.

Yesterday I started (and more or less completed) a project I'd been meaning to carry out for some time. The photo above is at the very back of our garden. It's a peculiar shape at the back and I've spent a lot of time wondering what to do with it. It used to be in shade all of the time because of an overgrown section of hedge in our neighbours garden. The lack of sunlight meant that hardly anything grew there and the soil was more or less devoid of nutrients.

Then one day a few months ago, and much to my annoyance, said neighbour completely cut down the privet 'tree'. He'd apparently spent all day doing this and not finished until the evening. Unfortunately, this meant that the large family of sparrows who had been nesting in there were now homeless. It wasn't until about 1am the following morning when they had finally finished building new nests and moving into their new home in a nearby conifer tree. I spent hours in my office listening to and watching them. They kept coming and going from our garden, gathering food and nesting materials. It was heartbreaking. (I did report the illegal destruction of the nests - contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 1 (1) (b) - but nobody around here seems to care about wildlife crime and nothing was done. I'm not sure it was even investigated.)

The result of the removal of the overgrown privet hedge is that much more light gets to this part of our garden. So earlier this year I moved the bird dust bath (centre of the above photo) to here. I turned some compost into the dead soil and planted some begonias. I moved our Christmas tree from last year to the back of the space - it will eventually grow to fill the area it is planted in. I also planted a bay laurel plant, so we have fresh bay leaves for our cooking. However, it still looked rather neglected.

Yesterday, while I was out in the local B&M looking for a cube type socket extension, I had a quick look in the garden centre section. Well, that was the idea anyway... 25 minutes later and I had done looking. I eventually returned home complete with enough plants to transform half of this pokey bit of the garden, provide a new area for pollinators to visit, and a plan!

I started by removing all of the bits of slabs and dry stone wall. Once I'd done this, I discovered that underneath were large bits of stone buried here. This was a brilliant result! I'd just planned on rearranging the bits above ground as best I could, but the discovery made me tweak the plan. I dug the stone out - which was not easy! They were deep and very heavy. I actually had to lever them out and then very carefully roll them out of the way. With the big stones removed, I dug and levelled a nice wide trench. In this, I placed as many bits of slabs as I could fit. I ended up with three layers above ground level - but as hideous as they are, it's ok (I explain this towards the end!) These would form a strong, stable base.

Then I carried out a little drystone walling using the stone I'd dug out earlier. This was the most time-consuming part - taking about an hour and a half. It's necessary to arrange everything so that it is strong and secure. It needs to retain the soil behind it, not fall over, and be strong enough to step onto should we need to access the small area behind it.

I planted two lots of grass - prairie blue (Andropogon scoparius) - on the left and right. I planted some sea holly (Eryngium planum) in the middle. It might not look much at the moment, but over time the grass will grow wide and tall enough to provide an effective screen in front of the Christmas tree, while the sea holly will also grow tall and wide to provide food for pollinators. It's an RHS 'Perfect for Pollinators' plant.

I then moved on to the section below the wall. This is what it looked like before I cleared away the twigs and weeds.

After I'd prepared the ground, I planted some heather. It still looks very bare, but the heather will eventually spread and cover the bare soil. Additionally, it will grow taller and hide the slabs which form the base of the drystone wall. It's a small variety so it won't hide the stones. There are also some wildflower seeds in the bare sections - these will provide quick cover in the spring while the heather grows slowly. Some of the seeds include cowslip, Edelweiss, and an RHS Perfect for Pollinators honey bee mix.

This is how it looked once I'd finished. The bay laurel is in the centre at the bottom of the photo.

So, why is this post entitled #projectHome? Well, it's what I decided to call it on my first tweet about it. The 'project' part is simply because it's a project. The 'Home' part comes from the place I feel I most belong, where I feel most at home - up on top of the rocks of The Roaches in the Peak District.

You see, this bit of the garden is now my artistic interpretation of that area. The drystone wall represents the ridges which rise high above the ground below; the grass represents the areas of woodland that hide the mysteries within; the sea holly and wildflowers represent the diversity of flora and fauna found on The Roaches; whilst the heather - well, to anyone who's ever been there anyway - represents the obvious! Heather covers a vast swath of the estate - this is my mini version of that!

The Roaches is the one place I've ever been, anywhere in the world, where I feel completely at peace. At peace with others, at peace with life, and most importantly, at peace with myself. It has an incredibly profound effect on my mental wellbeing. I don't get up there nearly as often as I'd like, so I've attempted to recreate it in our garden as best I could. Hopefully whenever I look at it I'll feel a small piece of the tranquillity I get from being on top of the rocks.

I'm really looking forward to watching it grow and evolve over the next 12 to 24 months!

If you feel you need immediate help with your mental health, then contact one of the organisations below (click the logo for their website):
Samaritans (UK)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)

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