When we first saw our land in April 2000 we wondered quite how it would end up. Clee Hill had once been the site of Victorian coal mining and brick making, and this one-acre plot had been used for the brick-yard spoil, which gave us some particular headaches. It was so steeply banked behind where the house was planned to be that it was only possible to reach the back half via one scrambling approach, and, although there was a stream running along the entire back boundary, it was down a very steep drop and not particularly visible.
At this stage we had never appreciated quite what could be achieved with a JCB! - our first view of the land, April 2000.
Thanks to a wonderful man called Jim Cobourn from near Abergavenny the land was magically transformed and contours appeared "as if they had always been there", as he said. He also made the suggestion of paths, created a dingle down to the stream and seeded the whole area for us with a mixture of grass and wild flower seed.
By April 2001 we were able to plant the first section of our mixed hedge along the northern boundary. As novice hedge planters, we were pretty pleased that out of 150 bare root plants, 149 took! We tried to select species which would be helpful to wildlife and also give us wonderful colour.
We also bought vast quantities of wood mulch and barrowed them onto the paths since the clay was so sticky that we couldn’t even wash it off our boots. On some of the lower paths the mulch has unfortunately sunk into the clay, so we’ve put a membrane down and added stone.
The "soil" itself also posed an interesting problem, being part coal and part clay. We thought that it was important to work with the land, rather than against it, and as wild flowers thrive best on poor soil, and since an acre of black earth looks awfully large, we decided to create/encourage a wild garden on the majority of the land, leaving the more formal gardening to the area immediately near the house.
One year on, the major elements have been laid out and the pond has been finished. We are concentrating on improving the soil near the house with lots of horse manure and our own compost, and rescuing some of our many plants from the pots where they’ve been languishing for three years.