»16th September 2019


When we moved in, the front garden was all done out in gravel with some neglected pots and a few weeds growing through. It wasn't inspiring. So I hit upon the idea of making it into a proper front garden. With a lawn.

This presented a few problems. Firstly, the whole front garden was covered in gravel. This would need getting rid of. Secondly, lifting up the corner of the plastic sheet that the gravel sat upon revealed that the soil underneath was pretty much solid clay. Thirdly, this all sounded like a massive, massive project.

Getting rid of the gravel

To begin with I shovelled all the gravel off a one metre strip from the edge of the garden adjacent to the drive. I rolled the plastic sheeting to the side so I could plant a few of the shrubs and roses that I had salvaged from the previous garden. Maybe I could just keep rolling back the gravel until I had it all piled up in a corner, then it would be easier to get rid of and I'd be able to build the garden up piecemeal, like I did with the last one, one square metre at a time.

This wasn't going to work. After the first strip along the edge, I tried to uncover another area in front of the step. It quickly became apparent that I would end up shovelling the same gravel over and over, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to fold or roll up what was clearly a huge plastic sheet covering most of the garden. No, all of the gravel must go.

I was toying with the idea of getting some landscaper (read: man with spades and a tipper truck) in to get rid of all the gravel and possibly also do the lawn. This sounded expensive. I mentioned this to a colleague at work who had just moved house. 'Oh, I'm going to put some gravel into my garden. I could take it all off your hands.' Operation: Bag Up All The Gravel commenced.

I got some rubble bags from Wickes. Heavy duty. Rubble bags. I filled up five or so bags with the intention of moving them onto the drive. I only half-filled them, if they were too heavy then I just wouldn't be able to lift them. Every single one of them ripped open as soon as I picked them up. They tore apart where I held them, dropping to the ground and spilling gravel everywhere. They tore apart underneath, spilling gravel everywhere.

Okay, so that was a total waste. I'll just try filling them up about a third of the way, at least this way they'd be easy to lift, although I'd probably need to go back to Wickes to buy some more. Every single one of them ripped open as soon as I picked them up. They tore apart where I held them, dropping to the ground and spilling gravel everywhere. They tore apart underneath, spilling gravel everywhere.

Okay, so that was a total waste. I'll have to double bag them as well. I'll definitely need some more. Maybe there are heavier duty ones I can get. What sort of rubble are these designed for anyway? Smooth, rounded pea gravel. Not exactly jagged bits of broken concrete.

One of the days where we were shifting gravel it was particularly hot. I'd invited the parents over to the house a) so Mum would make cups of tea and b) so I could ask Dad for advice whilst I was working on the garden. Dad was breaking up the soil in the newly dug 'flower beds'. The clay had hardened, no, baked in the sun into huge clods, not exactly conducive to growing anything except weeds. I kept asking Dad if he was feeling alright or needed to have a break, 'no, I'm fine, I'll just get on with this.' When it came to tidying up I asked Dad where had put his walking stick. 'Walking stick? Huh?' 'You literally just had it Dad,' 'I didn't even bring it today.' I thought he was joking. A few minutes later, 'what are all these bags of gravel doing here?' 'What?' At this point I was starting to panic, can Alzheimer's come on in like, twenty minutes? Dad was well confused and couldn't remember how he'd even got to the house. We took him home sat him down on the sofa and gave him some fluids and came to the conclusion he must have been suffering from heatstroke. Yeah, maybe we shouldn't have decided to do all that manual labour at midday on what was the hottest day of the year...

Shifting all of the gravel was done in several, uh- shifts. Double bagging seemed to do the trick. I enlisted the help of Shirley-Ann and the parents in helping me get everything bagged up. One person would shovel, the other would hold the bag and carry it onto the drive. There were about 80 bags (Shirley-Ann says 92, I'll go with that) in all once we were finished. Shovel technique improved, back muscles tightened up, the exact number of shovels require for a reasonably full bag that wasn't going to rip was learned.

Water Aid

With all of the gravel bagged up, and the plastic sheet rolled up and stuffed into a corner, my blank canvas was revealed. Parched, clay soil. This was during the heatwave. The sun quickly baked the clay rock hard and opened big deep cracks. 'It looks like something off a Water Aid advert.' 'Every day, Carl has to walk miles across harsh desert just to get to the other side of the garden.'

The neighbours kept showing their concern. 'Do you want to borrow my pick axe?' 'Are you going to put some topsoil down?' 'Are you mad? Are you insane? What good do you think will come of this?' Once again, I was reminded that 'the people who lived there before you weren't gardeners. We're so happy you've made a start on the garden.' No pressure then.

"I can't go through this again. From now on, woodchips and gravel."

It was a couple of weeks from getting everything bagged up before Wez from work came to pick everything up. He has a Vauxhall Insignia. They are huge. Like hollowed out cruise ships inside. A most capacious boot. Still, it was about five car loads to get all the gravel bags moved, including one final double run with my car as well. Wez does football training. Wez goes to the gym. Wez is just casually athletic. He enthusiastically picked up one bag in each hand when loading up the first couple of runs. Pretty soon, this gave way to slowly carrying one bag at a time, hobbling down the drive with it between his legs just like me. Shifting two and a half tonnes of gravel is no sprint. Wez has a garden running around three sides of his house, his plan was to put the gravel on the steep hillside between his front and back garden where he had dug out dozens of wild trees. 'You've done me a massive favour here, mate. I'd have had to have bought all this.' 'No, you've done me a massive favour, how else was I going to get rid of all this?

It was going to be a while before I could put any turf in. The heatwave continued. England continued to win at the football. It would be stupid to try putting turf in during all this heat. It would need an inordinate amount of watering and would probably die anyway. So for the rest of Summer, and England's World Cup campaign, I looked out on the baked clay. I went around the outside of the garden and dug some flower beds and put some plants in. This made things look a lot better. You could at least see what the intention was. There was at least an outline of a garden.

Rampant Growth

I was talking to a guy in Brighouse who owns a garden shop--that's the sort of cool shit I get up to now--and he recommended a topsoil company to me. Tommy Topsoil. Because I said I was looking to buy topsoil. So he recommended a topsoil company to me. Tommy Topsoil. Because they sell topsoil.

"This is exactly what those environmentalists should be spending their time on. Finding ways to use nature against other forms of nature that are inconvenient to man."

So I looked on Tommy's website and they did a sandy mixture which sounded ideal for going underneath turf on clay soil. I rang for a quote and firstly they said that it would be cheaper to order the soil in small 40l bags rather than the big 'dumpy' bags I was envisioning. So they quoted me about £90. Seemed kind of expensive but hey ho. Then they rang back, actually we quoted you for the wrong kind of soil, yeah it'll be £120. Ugh, well I'd already paid at this point, fine.

'Oh, we actually [screwed up taking payment or something #vagueexcuse].' 'Fine, here's my card details again.'

Feeling like a mug I then needed to arrange turf delivery. A quick search on Google yielded Owl Lane Nurseries, based up near the Dewsbury Rams stadium. Ordered some turf, it was about £50 including delivery.

'Hi, Tommy Topsoil again. Yeah, [something about one of the wagons breaking down or something] so we'll have to deliver it the day after now.' 'Oh, but I'm getting turf delivered the day before, I kind of need it all to come on the same day.' 'Oh dear. [shrug]' Who knew you could shrug over the phone?

So I went back to Owl Lane Nurseries. 'Yeah so the people delivering the topsoil can't deliver it on this day now. Could you bring the topsoil over the next day instead?' 'Yeah, we can do that. Did you know we also deliver top soil?' 'No, I did not know that.' 'How much are you ordering? Yeah we could do that for about £30.' 'That's- very- interesting.'

"A man who can't keep up a lawn is either inept or stupid."

'Hi, Tommy Topsoil. Yes, I'd like to cancel my order, please.'

So I had now sorted turf and topsoil for less than the initial (incorrect) quote for topsoil only, and it could all be delivered on the same day. Owl Lane Nurseries for the win.

I thought laying turf was going to be a nightmare. It was ridiculously straightforward. I had a whole day to get it done, once everything was delivered by about 10:00 I thought if I knuckled down (and recruited Shirley-Ann to help) I could get it done by mid-afternoon and hopefully get all the tuff laid before dark. Well, I had all the soil spread evenly and raked within about an hour or so. Laying the turf took maybe a whole two hours, including frequent tea breaks. Turns out laying turf is way easier than bagging up 3 tonnes of gravel.

I spent the next couple of weeks hosing the lawn every night. It was still ridiculously hot during the day and there hadn't been rain for weeks so it all had to be done in the evening. 'I'm just off outside to brood darkly, surveying my domain. I'm also going to hose the lawn for a bit.'

"Without my lawn, I am Bill."

Once it became clear that the lawn wasn't going to just dry up and die, I declared Operation: Hot Lawn a success.

Now all I need is a lawnmower. Lol!

So my Dad never throws anything out and managed to recover the ancient spare Fly-Mo from the back of the garage, get it back into working order and now I have a lawnmower that's the same age as me.

A few weeks after the lawn had been put down, we were talking to the neighbours. They stood there in their garden, looking over our front garden, smiling and proud.

"Do you want to be married to Bill?"

'You've done really well with the garden,' '...and you've added value to our house!'

'Errr, great?'

Extar, over, out.


You got to think practical, Peggy. Earrings don't keep you warm.