Apart from historic photographs, unless otherwise stated, all photos on this site were taken by members of my family.
Please don't republish them without my permission. Thanks.
© 2008 Mark Collins
Our previous garden in Hersham, Surrey
Our previous home was in Hersham, Surrey. I was living here when I met Alan and his enthusiasm for all things horticultural soon became apparent. The garden had been loved, but was of a very traditional design and some large Leylandii trees had been allowed to take over the bottom boundaries.
However there was one absolutely fantastic feature - the blue conifer. This was to become a focal point of the new design.
Here is a photo of the garden soon after I moved in, complete with concrete path up the middle. You will also notice, if you look carefully, my runner bean row behind the blue conifer!
Our first task was to remove the path and create an island bed by laying a new path between the fence and the lovely conifer. By the way, notice the enormous pampas grass - one of our least favourite plants - and our cat, Edward.
The following March we decided that the Leylandii 'forest' had to go. Here I am with the removal gang while the lopped branches are burning merrily on a bonfire in the neighbour's garden.
Alan slaved hard over the next few weeks digging out the roots by hand. This was an enormous tasks as the trees had been established for several decades. The trunks were recycled as logs.
Then during Easter weekend a big project started. We had decided to base the design around a summer house in the top left hand corner of the garden. The dimensions of the building were all based on two sofas owned by Alan that wouldn't fit indoors! I designed the building, made a cardboard model and worked out the bill of materials and checked planning regulations.
First job, foundations to carry the weight of this substantial wooden building. Trenches were dug, shuttering fixed and concrete mixed. We were committed!
Next the floor frame was built in situ in order to give a flat surface on which to assemble the walls. This was a cantilevered design, the weight of the building would ensure that the veranda didn't tip forward. This was an important design consideration for reasons which will later become apparent.
The first wall was constructed, creosoted (3 coats administered by Alan - it's horrible smelly stuff), and then, Amish fashion, raised to a vertical position. We opted to put the preservative on before we erected each section because access was very difficult due to the trees in the garden behind ours.
PANIC! It was enormous. Concerned about neighbours' possible reactions we lowered it and removed 2' from the height of the roof! Here is a picture with the shortened wall repositioned. We then went on to construct the second wall and erect it.
Firmly nailed to the floor joists and two each other, the two walls were now a stable structure and safe to be left for the night.
By the end of the weekend we had managed to complete the shell of the building, built the verandah and had even begun to put the roof on. Not a bad four days work!
From this photo (below) taken at the end of the weekend, the beginnings of the tower are visible, together with the glazed doors opening onto the veranda at the front of the building. The doors were recycled from indoors.
By early July we had virtually completed the outside of the building, planting was at an advanced stage and a pergola build to join the building to a path behind the blue connifer.
Under the Pergola we build moisture retentive raised beds and planted them up with hostas and other suitable plants.
In addition we replaced the fence on the left of the garden and relegated the Pampas grass to history. Things were really beginning to shape up.
Inside the building, which was fully wired for power, lights and even telephone, the walls were boarded, woodwork painted and curtains fitted. Louvres which could be opened and closed were designed and installed into the openings in the tower. I had ambitious plans to make these electrically operated, but this was never realised.
On the 6th September the new look garden and summer house were host to a garden party for friends, family and work colleagues. Despite torrential rain the day before, the day remained fine and fun was had by all.
However there was more to come - the design was not yet complete. But this was a job for the following spring.
We had always intended the verandah to overhang a pool, that's why we the cantilever design and the access from the side path. Being us, this would not be a simpler affair, but an enormous pond (18 x12 feet) connected to a smaller pool by a stream in the top right corner of the garden.
During May 1999 we rallied the troops (Mum, Ruth & Daniel), hired a skip and started to dig.
The pond took two days to dig, but we ended up with a skip full of soil and a large crater lined with Butyl and full of water at the end of the garden.
We had my 40th birthday party planned for the 16th May - so we had our work cut out to finish it in time.
One amusing incident was the first occasion we switched on the pump to drive the stream. I had been very concerned that we should have enough flow, so had bought a fairly substantial pump. On applying the power we had a fair approximation to white water! The pump was hastily replaced with a smaller more suitable model. The bigger one we still have - perhaps it will see use at our new home some day......
The photo below shows the finished result, strangely as soon as the garden was complete my office was relocated to Gatwick so the house was placed on the market. All that work and so little time spent enjoying it. However I'm sure the garden enabled us to realise a good price for the property, caused it to sell quickly and enabled us to move to our current home in Sussex. So not a waste after all. We do still miss this lovely building though.
Compare the picture below to the one at the top of this page - what a transformation.
Here is what the inside of the summer house looked like - very posh!
One final picture - Alan snapped this baby frog sun-bathing on a floating Iris flower - neat picture!