We've been here 9 months already and have spent some time tidying the garden, but in order to develop it and make it ours, we needed to start planting, and in order to do that, there must be somewhere to plant!
I have no idea what the people who laid out the garden, nor the people who had it before us, were thinking or wanting but it is possible to see a kind of story. There are at least two generations of paving. I think the brick paths that surround the pond and go along the back of the house and to the pond came first. Then lighter coloured stone-style pavers went into between. I guess that they were put in to cut maintenance. That's also probably the reason for the narrow beds around the sides of the garden, which had little in them and were covered with weed suppressant membrane underneath an inch or two of slate chippings.
I like a garden full of plants, so the narrow beds are not really going to work for me. It also puts evetyhing around the outside, without much interest (apart from the pond) in the centre. Even so, it seemed obvious to start with the sunniest edge border, which runs along the NW edge of the garden (facing South-East). In the middle of the bed was a plinth, about ten cm high, topped with concrete slabs. A store had stood on it, right in the sunniest place in the garden. It was a bit of work to demolish this and level the ground, but worth it. At the far end of the bed, next to the shed, was a jungle of Forsythia, interwoven with old and very thick bramble. At the near end was a derelict Fuchsia and an unruly Pieris. Iviy and Honeysuckle spill over from one of the neighbours' gardens.
I took up about half of the light-coloured pavers in the path that runs along that border, leaving a narrow strip of stone to edge the lawn and to keep a narrow path. These pavers are of varying sizes, so the border edge was no longer traight, making pockets for some plants to come fruther forward than others.
The soil here is sandy and acid. It has not been worked and is thin and poor. Things are going to struggle until I can build up the soil structure and fertility. It's certainly not yet a place for prize plants. I'd already decided to use a cottage garden approach, which allows me to put quite different things next to each other, take some things out when necessary and 'pocket plant', tucking new plants among existing ones. The contents of the bed can evolve, seeing what works. I want to keep broad swathes of colour, with the far end tending towards whites and pinks, the middle having some blues and the near end going more white and pink again. Everything needs to stay in reasomable scale, but there is room for small shrubs and even trees as well as herbaceous plants.
After removing the Forsythia, lots of bramble and the Fuchsia, and levellling and turning over as much ground as possible, the first things to go in were a couple of Camellias and a Japanese maple. These are all pretty small at present, and should take their time becoming larger. Other structural plants are three Apple trees. Nearest the house is a small crab apple, that will give long-lasting blossom in spring and attractive orange fruits to last well into winter (and which will be good for the birds). In the centre of the bed are two columnar eating apple trees (Cuckoo variety) and two gooseberry bushes (we like gooseberries!) The will grow only to about 2m high and no more than 0.5 in diameter. Again, there will be spring blossom and autumn fruit. Everything else is a sort of experiment so far. There are bedding plants, summer bulbs and the existing hybrid bluebells. I put some climbers behind the Camellias and the rest of the fence will eventually be covered too.
The bed needs a lot more organic matter which will go in as mulches. and I expect there's going to be a lot of weeding, but things are under way.