Marcia’s garden


North Dulwich

This is Marcia’s garden, planted up just over a year ago by… me! When Marcia moved in, it consisted of the decking with gravel around the edge, plus a Fatsia japonica, a mahonia and a very large bay tree. Marcia asked for my advice over tea, and I ended up doing a planting plan for her.

In many ways it wasn’t an easy garden to plant up. For a start, Marcia’s budget was around £500. That sound like a lot but it doesn’t go far, even when you’re only filling a few square metres. We saved money by buying plants in the smallest possible size, and for the time being the perennials have outstripped the slower growing shrubs. There was also the orientation of the garden to consider – it’s largely shady (only the border on the right gets a decent amount of sun). There was no budget to alter the layout of the garden, or to do a proper survey of the site, so the gravel was removed and replaced with new topsoil.

Marcia wanted quite a contemporary look, so I dusted down my plant books and got Googling, and after a very long time spent dithering (if I was a full-time garden designer I’d be lucky to earn £1 an hour) I came up with a plan.

The garden has lots of plants with bold foliage such as bergenias, oak-leafed hydrangeas and ferns, and grasses such as Deschampsia and Stipa tenuissima  for texture. Hardy geraniums, Japanese anemones and sedums supply the flowers and Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) and Trachelospermum jasminoides (on the sunny wall) provide the scent. I wanted Marcia to have an awareness of the seasons changing, so there’s spring blossom courtesy of a star magnolia and autumn colour from the Vitis on the back wall. Many of the plants should die back quite gracefully and many of the plants are evergreen, so Marcia won’t be looking out on to a sea of hard landscaping in winter.

You’re obviously not seeing it at its best (this pic was taken right at the end of October), plus the plants are still establishing etc etc. But all things considered, I’m pleased with it. And most importantly, so is Marcia.

PS The furniture is from John Lewis.

City Hall

Tower Bridge

I went to a Chelsea Fringe meeting at City Hall the other night.

It’s a pretty nice walk from London Bridge – walk through Hay’s Galleria and you’re presented with a view of the skyline opposite before Tower Bridge looms into view.

That part of the river has lots of swanky new high-rise buildings and it’s not the kind of area where you’d expect to see much in the way of greenery, so I was surprised to see this garden.

It’s all very snazzy and modern, with heucheras, sarcococca (winter box) and ferns laid out in rows beneath silver birches and magnolias. It’s divided by lots of box hedging, which I like best at this time of year when it’s new growth makes it look bright green and fluffy around the edges. There are plenty of places to sit – the perfect urban oasis.

As I took some pics, I was surprised to see a squirrel darting around one of the granite seats. As I got closer I saw the reason why – someone had left some peanuts in their shells there. I can only assume they were a squirrel fan.

Too many papayas

La Gomera

I’ve just spent a sneaky week in La Gomera, a boat ride from Tenerife. It’s the perfect island if you’re a hippie, a rambler, a plant afficionado or a nudist. I score on three out of four of those counts, so I loved the place.

We spent the first few days communing with our inner hippie at the Finca Argayall. It’s a laid-back retreat-style place that has simple rooms, wooden huts and tents amid a lush garden that sits between cliffs and the sea. It’s not luxurious (or expensive) but it’s a lovely place to be.

The place is impeccably and discreetly run by 22 people of varying degrees of hippie-ness. Five of them are responsible for the garden, which is run along permaculture lines. It’s incredibly lush and home to an astounding array of plants, many of which I didn’t recognise, and many that I did – yuccas, aloe vera, hibiscus, bamboo, ferns and bananas to name but a few.

The garden is a work in progress, and the team are continually looking for ways to improve it. They planted lots of papayas and mangoes… only to find that they ended up with too many papayas and mangoes. It’s hard to imagine a glut of tropical fruits ever being a problem, but on La Gomera they can’t sell them as everyone else has a glut, and there is only so much pureeing, juicing and preserving that one can do. As a result, some papayas and mangoes have been cut down in a bid to introduce more variety. In their place the team are trying to establish some citrus trees, although they’re a little high maintenance – they need a lot of water and don’t take too kindly to sea winds.

The garden also has a veg patch that provides some of the kitchen’s food. It’s a surreal mix of produce – alongside bananas, papayas and avocados are more banal and familiar crops such as cabbages, potatoes, chard, salad, herbs and edible flowers (the latter adorn most of the delicious vegetarian dishes).

It’s possible to work at the Finca on a three-month trial. If I ever get the urge to permanently turn on, tune in and drop out, I’ll be contacting them straightaway.


Covent Garden

I’d heard about Sarastro‘s legendary greenery but had never seen it for myself until last Sunday. The building and pavement are swathed in ivy, ferns and bedding and it’s pretty much an unmissable feature of Covent Garden’s hinterland. It’s one of those gardens-where-there-is-no-garden that I am always pleased to see.

As I was taking a pic, a tourist couple asked us to take a picture of them under one of the arches. They then offered to return the favour and take a pic of us. I’ll spare you that, though, as I’ve yet to see a good pic of myself (no offence to Paul Debois, who took the pic at the top of this blog), and this one was no exception…