(You will find pictures of my garden at the bottom of the page. You may get a warning message pop up when you click the pictures - don't worry, they will do no harm, it's just the code used to display the picture)
You can read a feature on my garden from the Gardeners World Magazine.
When my family and I moved into our Victorian terrace house in Walthamstow, East London, we inherited an uninspiring, boring, unkempt and tiny back garden. The 30ft by 15ft rectangular space consisted of a meagre patio of ugly red and grey concrete paving slabs at the head of a lawn that consisted of more muddy and weedy patches, than blades of grass. Running down either side were some thin borders planted with a motley assortment of shrubs that had not seen a pair of secateurs for years - there was a couple of roses, a lilac, a rosemary and near the back of the house, blocking out much of the available light, a towering rhododendron who's canopy reached the upstairs windows of the house. In the bottom left hand corner of the garden was a shed, painted Barleywood blue, which had seen much better days, but was just about still standing.
There was nothing remarkable about this garden at all, but I wanted a blank canvas where I could make my mark and I could see the potential in this plot. It faced due south, which would mean I grow many of the sun-loving exotics that I was passionate about at the time and it would be perfect for barbecues, alfresco meals and for simply lounging about in the sun.
Even before we had moved into the house, I had started to put some design plans down on paper, which would change often, sometimes daily, as a new idea came into my head. However, the one thing that never changed was my aim to cram it to the gunnels with my favourite plants. This desire was partly based on my obsession with plants, which I collected (and still collect) with the same enthusiasm that I do vinyl records, old toys and vintage comic books.
Although the house was a bit of wreck and needed a new kitchen, bathroom, decorating, floors sanding and shelves putting in, along with a long list of more minor improvements, the first thing I did was tackle the garden. Well, why not? Writing about gardens is what I do for a living, so it seemed obvious to start the overhaul of the property outside.
Rather than work with what I had, I instigated a scorched earth policy. A spade easily peeled the scrappy lawn from the ground, the smaller shrubs were unceremoniously hoicked out of the ground and I took great pleasure in reducing the dilapidated shed to kindling within minutes. All it took was a few whacks with a heavy duty sledge hammer.
My plan for the now empty plot was simple. First, a fence would be installed on three sides to give privacy and provide vertical surfaces for plants. I would keep the patio (and replace it with nicer stone when I could afford to) and put a curved slate shingle path down the centre that would lead to a small timber deck. To make the garden more interesting and add some structure, I would edge one side of the path with sleepers, cut to different sizes and erected lengthways to make a curved wall. The space either side of the path would become borders.
A greenhouse was essential for propagation and housing tender plants, so I found the smallest model possible that you I could still walk into comfortably and erected it opposite the deck. Next to it, in the redundant right hand corner of the garden I fitted a small shed for storing tools and bags of compost. As you can never have enough space to stow away your garden clutter, I built a brick storage seat between the patio and the left hand bed.
After finishing the hard landscaping I could start thinking about planting. I had amassed a huge collection of plants over the years, many of which had followed me from one rented property to another in their pots. Now it was time for their liberation. First I improved the heavy clay soil. As many of my plants were sun lovers with a hankering for that tricky combination of moisture retentive, but well-drained soil, I added lots of horticultural grit to open it up, along with several bags of well-rotted farmyard manure.
With the two borders planted I was itching to squeeze more plants into the garden and looked at ways I could achieve my goal. Fences became supports for fruit, climbers and climbing shrubs, while plants in pots were pushed up against the sun baked walls of my house. Although this made great use of the vertical space, some of the pots took up a lot of room so I started to think about how I could fill the space below. In some cases I would under plant the tree with a low growing plant or arrange other plants on the top of the compost in their pots. In my quest to grow more, I planted up gaps that would normally be left unfilled and conjured up ways of growing lots of plants in the same pot, whether this was a collection of carnivorous plants in large container or a dozen or so alpines in an old ceramic sink.
As a keen cook and lover of fresh fruit and vegetables, I wanted a garden that would be productive as well as ornamental. Although I have no pretensions about becoming self sufficient, I wanted to grow enough of my own produce to contribute towards meals and to show my children where food comes from. While many edibles are greedy for space, plenty can be grown in pots, trained against wires or elbowed between other plants in the border. Apart from traditional varieties, I also sought out new plants bred specifically for growing where space is stretched.
For the first few years the garden looked exactly like it was - a newly planted garden with plants a fraction of the size they would eventually become. But from the third summer onwards, the garden became the space I hoped it always would be. The plants within the garden were firmly established and had knitted together so well that when you walked down the garden path you felt completely secluded and hidden from the neighbouring houses.
I continue to find ways to squeeze more plants in and would be quite happy to completely fill the patio with pots, or remove my deck to increase the growing area. However my garden, like many others, is a compromise between what the main gardener wants and everybody else who shares the space - it's unlikely that my two young children would talk to me if I deprived them of a place to play.