Remember the Newton-Golding family? They were the subject of a Workshop piece (The Independent, 13 January 1996) when they moved from London to Hartwell End Farm in Northamptonshire and found themselves with a vast sea of concrete instead of a garden at their front door. We talked about various solutions - making raised beds, digging out planting holes in the concrete bed - but in the long term, I thought the only solution was to get rid of the stuff. Quotes from contractors in Dorset suggested that the cost of breaking up the area (30yd x 14yd once space for a new drive had been taken out) would be around pounds 1,700.
Eileen Newton-Golding recently wrote to say how they had been getting on over the past year. It hasn't been an easy one. "What you had to say fitted in with what we had all been feeling," she says, "and I would love to be able to tell you that we have wonderful trees growing in the front now. If only!
"We approached several contractors for quotes. The cheapest (I kid you not) was pounds 5,500. The cost was higher than your estimate, partly because the contractors were unsure how deep the reinforcement under the concrete would be, but mostly because of the cost of dumping the waste." That was interesting. The contractors I had talked to all knew of free landfill sites where hardcore was needed. Dumping did not represent a cost.
"So," continues Mrs Newton-Golding, "we decided to go for the cheaper option of punching holes through the concrete and we had every intention of completing the work before last autumn, but frankly, we ran out of time."
"That wasn't surprising. Both the Newton-Goldings commute to London and as well as the two acre garden, they have a vast complement of animals - sheep, horses, dogs, cats, chickens and two heifers - to look after as well.
The good news is that they have bought the wood at the end of their land. But, as Mrs Newton-Golding pointed out, that has absorbed much of the cash available for the garden. "We wanted to preserve the wood, to stop it from being felled and leaving us open to the M1, but also because it is such a lovely thing to have. Our fears about the felling may not have been misplaced...
"Friends are still offering alternative uses for our concrete. Back to swimming pools and tennis courts again. One suggested fencing it in, sanding it over and using it as a manege. One idea perhaps has some mileage in it. A friend of ours has done it in his yard. He only needed access to his barns a few times a year, so he devised a system of large sewer-pipe sections, each on a pallet on wheels, so when necessary he can move his trees out of the way. A neat idea, but we couldn't cope with the necessary watering. It might be a solution though if we find something really terrible underneath the concrete.
"But we will get the work done. We are having fencing done at the moment, to match the fence along the drive. We have also started to plant a beech hedge along the patch of grass outside the house. I am going to train apricot trees against the wall and we are planning to plant apple trees near the barns. The area we had hoped to turn into a small orchard is too full of rubble - yes, more concrete which needs to be dug out - so that's on hold a bit longer." I don't doubt they'll get there in the end. They have the rest of their lives to do it.
Travel from the tropics to the tundra in search of botanical treasures. And all within the confines of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Experienced garden guides are leading walks on the wildside from today until 6 April. Meet at the West Gate, Arboretum Place at either 11am or 2pm. Admission is pounds 2. Tomorrow at 2.30pm at the Botanics there is another tour based on plants that changed the world. What links aspirin with Sauchiehall St? How did Palmolive soap get its name? Which periwinkle cures cancer? Admission for this tour is pounds 4. Meet at the West Gate, as above. For more details phone Heather Paul on 0131-552 7171.