This usually comes with the brand-new house. New gardens vary in size, of course, but these days they tend to be smaller than 30 or 40 years ago and plots of 30 ft by 50 ft (9 m by 15 m) are quite common. This looks a lot when everything has to be done to it, but once you start planting things you can soon find you have a space problem, so the smaller the area, the greater the need for careful planning.
New gardens come in ‘front’ and ‘back’ varieties.
The front garden
The front garden is the part that the prospective buyer sees first, even before viewing the house, so it is generally tidy. It may even look as though it has been cultivated. It is often weed-free and the soil appears good. At least you won’t have to put a lot of effort into that, you think. Don’t, however, be fooled. It is a popular ruse to cover up a multitude of sins with a bit of topsoil frequently bearing no resemblance to the local soil because it has been ‘borrowed’ from the garden of the poor person who is having a house built in the next village. Underneath may be a hard layer, compacted by months of workmen’s feet and heavy equipment, seasoned with the washings-out of the concrete mixer, burnt polythene, and enough timber, wall-tiles and broken bricks to start your own business. There is no point in trying to take a short-cut. All this will have to be got out and the crusty layer broken up before you do anything permanent, or buying plants and grass seed will be a waste of money
A variation of the ‘quick clean up’ approach is the landscaped front garden beloved of the speculator’s advertising brochure. This is the condition already described, but it goes one step further by having a layer of turf — usually scruffy stuff full of weeds and coarse grasses – slapped down over the top of the thinly disguised rubbish tip. Somewhere in the middle of this a young tree has been planted. Look at this tree closely — it is often a sapling of something which will eventually be more at home in a primeval forest than the front garden of number 2 Lilac Close. If you find this is the case, it is better to remove it now and replace it before it becomes a light-obliterating menace. But take a good look at where the builders have actually put the thing. If it is going to restrict your view of the road in four years’ time, when you back the car out of the garage with your eyes still half-shut at 8 a.m., forget about that position altogether and choose another place. Unfortunately, it may have been a planning condition that this totally unsuitable tree was planted. Technically it cannot be removed without incurring the wrath of the local authority. It can, however, be encouraged to die!
Of course, this is not always the case. Some front gardens have been done with care, using good turf properly laid by an experienced contractor, and a conscientious builder will have taken advice on suitable trees for a particular place. See if you can find another site the builder is engaged upon and watch how he’s going about that one. If he is levelling the ground with a vibrating roller and filling all the holes which refuse to disappear with sand — and this really happens — then you could be in for problems.
The back garden
The back garden is a different thing entirely. Here you can often judge just how careful the builder has been, both inside and out, from the remains that litter the plot. You can also see whether he has left you any topsoil (you can insist on this) or whether it has been given to the chap down the road to replace his – which was given to the chap down to the road to replace his, and so on. The one advantage is you can at least see how much rubbish you’re going to have to tackle.