Some write about art, on writing, of children, work, philosophy … and on it goes. I want to write, in simple terms, about my garden – difficult to visualise if not actually there, but I try.
Like many, those of us who have grown up close to nature and have learned to love almost everything that grows in a garden under our care, we like to share our experiences with others.
I’ll try to be brief, but even in my 5 ½ by 15 paces, walled London garden, I could talk or write about it for hours. That is the way when one knows almost every flower or weed that grows or should not grow in it – all mainly in pots, the configuration of which is changed quite often.
I’ll go around the garden from left to right, starting from a hidden compost bin and our glazed, octagonal “shed” at the end of the mainly flagstoned, walled plot, and below a theatrically perspective arbour of grapevines that span an area from wall to wall.
So, on the north-facing wall, first comes a sad looking mahonia in a pot. It may be ending its life. I hope not, as our Mrs Blackbird dearly loves its autumnal fruit, despite having to be somewhat of an acrobat to reach them and suffering from its prickly leaves.
Then comes a more than life-size sculpture of a pair of lovers. Originally of elm wood, and still as such, but hollowed out by rot and mice over the years and is now held together by its thin, wooden skin, coated in a black mastic waterproofing substance used generally for waterproofing roofs. Between the lovers’ legs at ground level is a plastic box with holes at either end for mice to eat the poisoned bait inside. My seeds and seedlings are now safe from their predations.
Then comes a hibiscus in a green pot, next to where a paving stone has been lifted in the past to accommodate firstly a morello cherry tree and then a damson – neither of which has been a success – nor has the attempt to grow snowdrops in its earth. On the soil, and around the existing damson trunk, is a section of the cast iron, Victorian water main, recovered when the original was replaced in our street by a larger one of yellow plastic.
Then there is a fern that softens the lines of a pear tree’s blue pot, some chervil, and then an apple in a pot, with its trunk sprouting three branches of mistletoe of my planting. Another fern grows in a pot, and lying beyond it, alongside the garden wall, stands an earthenware trough, holding early spring mini-daffodils.
Lastly, on that north-facing wall is a large thermometer, canted away from the wall. This is large enough to be seen easily from inside the house and is constantly referred to, summer and winter.
Beside a back door leading from a utility passage is a rainwater butt. I use this water when giving my plants their weekly tonic. Touching it is an old bay tree that has lived in its almost bonzai pot for possibly 40 years. The roots get a thorough drip-water soaking once in a while, and the weekly tonic.
On the house wall that faces east is a home-made bird box that is used successfully each year by a pair of great tits. Their constant comings and goings become our garden mobile, and when the young have fledged the place seems quite still.
Where the south-facing wall meets the house there is a small bricked-in bed where potting soil lies fallow, then to have peat added, sieved, and used again. In the corner of it is that wonderful rose called Typhoon. Difficult to find, I cannot think of a better one – disease-free, vigorous, early orangey buds, perfect open flowers and a blowsy finish in early winter. And it smells nice, too. Two examples supply us from early spring to late autumn with a constant stream of long-stemmed flowers for the house.
At the back of that bed are Triomphe d’Alsace vine cuttings for anyone who might want one in the winter.
This “fallow” bed narrows to about a foot wide beneath the wall and holds either runner or broad beans on alternate years, the other ground for this rotation is three large plastic bags of soil.
Above where the beans grow is a framework of bamboo that looks a bit like the inside of a grand piano. The beans are either tied to or clamber over this construction. And birds love to perch on it.
From the wall, and sticking out over the flagstone garden is a peninsular of pots, arranged at various heights and in changeable configurations. The pots rest on old bricks or pottery occulonae (like Roman hypocaust bricks). In the middle of it is a large, raised, strawberry pot, but instead of strawberries, geraniums grow out of the holes, I have had to block the unused holes at the rear to prevent water from escaping with soil. Resting on top of this pot is a large, and very rustic earthenware bird bath.
The peninsular pots consist of those for rosemary, agapanthus, hosta, flox, lemon, pieris (what a wonderful garden plant that is), geranium, pelargonium, chive, parsley, coriander, thyme, petunia, impatiens, New Guinea, asparagus, Christmas rose, mint, ivy, buddleia, daisy, fuchsia, lily, fig, lavender, Bolivian begonia, pots of daffodils and a dahlia.
After the peninsular is a hardwood garden bench, behind which grow the vines for the vine arbour and, in front, a marble-topped table.
Finally, almost back to the shed, come buckets of potatoes, rose cuttings in a pot, Peruvian lily, primrose, masses of self-sown morning glory, another bay tree in a pot and a camellia.
Hanging from the vine arbour are various dispensers of food for wild birds.
There is a narrow allyway at the end of the garden behind our shed where once night soil was taken away and coal delivered, It now holds garden stuff.
We spend a lot of time in the shed, eating, drinking and looking at the garden as it changes throughout the seasons.
Paradise? I think so, and so does Margreet.