The first and most important part of the landscaping of our new garden is now complete: all of the privet has been removed, and all of the fencing is in place!
The long and boring history
Long-time readers will know that we’ve been waiting for this, for literally the whole of summer. A couple of local landscapers just visited, then never provided a quote! One did quote, but it was for a lot of stuff all together (including the next couple of steps in our landscaping) and we weren’t sure it was worth it, given that there was also work going on next door: we’ve had no boundary between our gardens for months too.
When the workers from next door (related to the occupants) said they could de-privet and then fence both gardens at once, we were keen; but as the months went on, it was clear that they were overcommitted on other jobs. Because of the family relation next door, it got difficult for us to be the ones to push for something to happen. Luckily our neighbours lost patience before us, and a separate firm of fencing landscapers—recommended by the original team—were booked in.
They started bang on time, which amazed us, and boded well.
Next door needed fencing on three sides: the next boundary down they didn’t own; their back boundary, and the boundary with us, which they did. We needed fencing on two sides, to complete an E-shaped structure of fencing, with each piece about ten metres long: say, 50m.
Next door already had their adjoining privet out, as mentioned above. We both needed our back privet out, and our garden needed the privet removing on its own side boundary, to remove entirely an L-shaped hedge of privet: say, 30m.
There were additions along the way—next door asked for extra trellissing above the height of the fence at the back, and we’ve snaffled a couple of gravel boards to help with the levels as I’ll discuss below. But no major surprises: if you already know, like I do, that longstanding privet is a bugger to remove by the roots.
How it progressed
Although they were here on the day and hour promised, we were still surprised, and a little worried, that two workers plus no landscaping plant (a digger or similar) were going to attempt the job. On day 2 and 4 they did have another colleague, but the lack of earthmoving machinery still accounted for some of the slowness.
End of day 1
They began work on next door’s boundaries first, meaning arguably I needn’t have been here for the first day:
On that far-far boundary, the hedge was staying (it was owned by next-but-one) so that first day was really just a sprint on the fencing.
End of day 2
Even though I wasn’t needed all the time, I did find it difficult to stay away: as soon as I left, e.g. to help Gwenfar out with her garden, they started asking the Welsh rose complicated questions about the privet and levels. It felt a bit like, as long as I was hanging around, it would all go OK; as soon as I left, they’d never quite manage to meet my own tediously picky standards. What’s that, you say: I found it hard to let go? Why yes, I did!
By the end of this day they’d completed two sides of next door, and started on our party boundary (really owned by next door):
Left unattended, they’d already got the levels slightly wrong and low, despite the visual cues I’d left to try to make it clear:
(Tizer cans not originally included!) When we discussed this, I did get their point: that it felt unnaturally high without the landscaping in place, and that it’s probably best to get the fencing in place at a reasonable height, and maybe let that dictate bringing the heights down a bit. Everything is a compromise! They said they were happy to leave some gravel boards behind, to lean against the fenceposts, should the level need to end up a bit higher.
Pickiness aside, the work was looking great. The addition of a third person on Day 2 definitely helped (see far below!)
End of day 3
The adjoining boundary was complete:
The levels still weren’t perfect; but again, we might find we can tweak the terracing (or indeed that it might have been too high anyway.)
All of the privet was down at the back, revealing a considerable embankment of earth (the lawn behind was practically a sunken one!)
Some of the roots remained, but they were slated for removal:
The privet had almost all come up by its roots, in fact; they’d used a non-powered machine they’d called a turfer, which was basically some 50kg of ratcheting device with a long, reinforced-canvas belt. Our hated apple tree was used as the anchor, and try as it might, the privet had no chance.
At the back, because of the embankment, they’d begun to fit a couple of gravel boards where we might have manage just one. Annoyingly, the back neighbour came round after a fence post had already gone in, to say that they’d only banked up the earth at their side because of the privet, and they could possibly drop it if need be.
We did consider switching to a single board but, painfully aware as we were of how long it takes to get landscaping jobs scheduled; and also aware that all the fence posts would need to be the same height, to avoid one sticking up like a lamp-post, we let the work continue. If need be, we can always remove gravel boards later, drop the fences down and add trellis to the top.
End of day 4
The top boundary was complete:
I think it lets that acer show itself off nicely, actually. The newly-built hit-and-miss boards look lovely and richly wooden, up close:
We didn’t realise (or photograph) it, but they’d gone back to do the extra work next door on this day, which is why there wasn’t any further progress with our remaining privet.
End of day 5
An entire day of privet, removing the last ten metres of our right-hand boundary:
The roots of the privet had (as the workers had warned us) undermined the unmortared boundary wall completely:
Spelling the end (which, again, we’d agreed in advance I’d accept) for our Kerria japonica and the Rose With No Name:
The terracing plan would be to bury these under a metre of earth anyway, so they weren’t long for this world. But the hebe, euonymous and some kind of tall, broad-leaved thing have survived to give the garden at least a bit of winter colour.
Note that flimsy panel of fencing by our other-neighbour’s house: strictly speaking, that’s on his side of the boundary. So even though they did actually pull it down at one point (!) it went hastily back up again.
End of day 6
This was really only half a day, so let’s move swiftly on to….
The end result
Generally, we’re really happy with it:
Almost none of that fencing is ours, but it shows that they’ve managed to get some unity from doing it all at once, and match the existing three panels on the drive. Further up, our own fencing begins in the corner:
Continues behind the acer:
Forms a wildlife-tight join at the other corner (we’ll need to do something about that):
Then drops down to the house:
I know I’ve nitpicked about the levels. The poor buggers would probably never have got it perfect. But all of that aside, this is a great start for us, and we can move on with the next stages safe in the knowledge that our boundaries are sound. Soundaries. Suit yourselves.
In fact, with a good rectilinear boundary, we can now work out just how great our garden might be (and how the levels might be changed) with…
A few measurements
When we were turning Sheffield Sow & Grow’s design into a terracing guide, we tried to imagine how much space we’d have without the privet. While SS&G had measured a “top square” of garden (from the top of the driveway, to the far corner) of around 9.3×9.3m, we dreamed of having 10×10.1m instead.
And that’s pretty much exactly what we have! When you work out the areas, that means we’ve gained about 20% of garden, from removing the privet, and ended up with almost exactly one are of square space. That doesn’t include the driveway or the decking, which is another 2×10m strip, and the patio and back door area….
From the bottom of the wall at the top of the driveway, we now know garden climbs up to 1.8m±0.1m in the corner behind the shed, plus perhaps an extra 40cm as it slopes up behind the acer to the other corner (which we’ll level off). Three terraces divide that neatly into 60cm per terrace which is very close to our original prediction.
And finally, I also managed to live-tweet estimates of progress at the end of each day, which means (ever the quantifier!) I can put together a graph of progress:
The privet removal was arguably a much harder job, by a factor of 3 not indicated on this graph. So Day 2 was clearly the day when most progress was made: when they had a third worker, in fact. There’s lots of other hints I could take from this, but they’re probably too vague for writing down just now!
Again, we’re really happy with the result. But we have to keep looking at the next step: in fact, as I type, there are monumental changes afoot. More on them, later!