We have always wanted to bring more plants and flowers into the courtyard and around the house, but with a large local population of rabbits gardening is a particular challenge at Highland Holiday Cottages. Our plan was to combine rabbit resistant plants at ground level with planters to elevate other plants above the reach of the critters.
The size of the courtyard meant that normal size planters would be dwarfed, so we needed to find larger but still affordable planters. The solution we landed on was gabion basket planters, planters where the walls are made by two sheets of galvanised steel mesh filled with stones. The planters are roughly 2m x 1m, so not dwarfed by the size of the courtyard, and up to 1m high, so hopefully out of rabbit reach.
To date, over a period of about 8 months, we have completed 4 tall planters in the courtyard, 2 in the shade and 2 in full sun and 4 shorter planters around Fernlea's back door. It would be fair to say that we completely underestimated the time required to build each planter! Our first efforts based on pouring stones into the gap between the gabion wire sheets didn't provide the robust and stable wall needed and didn't look particularly attractive either. The only alternative was the time consuming task of selecting and positioning each stone in turn, but we hope that you agree that the results were worth the effort.
With the first batch of planters completed we then had the challenge of sourcing the 5 tonnes of compost required to fill them! Buying this quantity of compost in 80l sacks was prohibitively expensive as was buying in bulk once delivery costs were included. The solution was therefore to make our own John Innes No.3 mix by combining 2.5 tonnes of locally sourced topsoil and 1 tonne of sand with bought in bulk bags of soil conditioner, lime and fertiliser. When thoroughly mixed using a JCB the result is as good as you get in an 80l bag, and for a fraction of the price.
When the weather improved we added the plants (in the plants and in the surrounding gravel) and since then have been watching how they developed, replacing a few of the original plants which couldn't cope with the winds around Crubenbeg.
Postscript: Even though we researched the height rabbits can climb before settling on a wall height of 0.8m we clearly have a breed of ninja rabbits in the local area who are more than capable of scaling a wall of this height, so we have had to add extra protection!