Although work on the chapel itself had to wait, this didn't apply to the garden. We could set about immediately restoring it not just to its former glory but to our own specifications. At first it was difficult to see what should be where but we were lucky in finding Peter Coote who used to tend the garden for the previous owner. He set to with alacrity. The first job was to cut the grass which by the time we took possession was more than waist high and infested with weeds. A local farmer was apparently grateful for the waggon-loads of hay. As autumn became winter, he worked through rain and snow clearing the jungle that had invaded the borders, demolished an old shed and a greenhouse, cut down a tree that would be in the way of the new garage (planning permission requested and obtained) and generally getting rid of the rubbish, the village Guy Fawke's bonfire being the main beneficiary.
One of the delights that attracted us to the property in the first place was the country hedge that runs the whole south side of the garden up Heygate Lane. Consisting mainly of hawthorn, with roses, blackthorn and elder, it had also unfortunately been invaded by sycamore and had become thin and straggly through neglect. Peter first trimmed it but then realised that in order to restore it, he needed to cut it down, remove the invasive sycamore, chop the hawthorn to its stumps and then plant 200 new hawthorn plants. Once the hedge had been removed, he had to put up a wire fence to keep out the sheep, with rabbit-proof defences at the base. He assures us - and I believe him, I think - that within five years it will look wonderful and that all the native plants will have grown back and it will once more be teeming with flowers and bird-life. Unfortunately, it looks hideous and we've had to assure neighbours that we're not vandals who prefer concrete and wire to hedges. Since then, having finally mapped out our boundary on the north side, he has cut down that hedge as well. Also gone are a couple of pine trees that weren't thriving. We hope to plant an oak and or other native trees to replace them. Sorting out the boundary has meant that the little ditch (full in winter and at times of heavy rain but largely dry in summer) belongs to us and we have set out to line it with stone to create an easier flowing stream.
Of course, we are well aware that any builder will inevitably trash any bit of the garden they lay their hands, or rather boots, diggers and buildings on, Peter has agreed a designated boundary over which they must not venture. Beyond that, Peter will continue the restoration work, which includes digging a new pond and landscaping it and planting a small apple orchard at the top. I can't wait to get my hands on the borders to create a cottage garden, full of hidden corners.
Patience is not one of my virtues and I have to hold my breath whenever we visit. The garden looks horrible. I have to keep reminding myself that it has to look worse before it gets better. It's not easy.