Last week you may remember I mentioned the neglectful state of the unloved wilderness some might call our garden… an issue we have been trying up until now to suppress not by weed killer (environmental beliefs standing in the way of that one) or elbow grease (laziness in that one….) but by using a rather passive method called Shutting The Door On It.
Despite us not really being ready to move either mind or spade onto the job our new glass doors, by their very nature, have a habit of steering one’s gaze straight up the garden’s gradient to be thwacked at the end by the sight of the shed….otherwise known as the House That Jack Built (HTJB for short)….slumping heavily to the left. S and I have tried, as the weeds will vouch, to blank the garden’s needs from our minds until said minds are clear of snugs and linen cupboards, frame arrangements and what to do with the vintage floor lamp I gleefully acquired but S despises. At least, for the time being (I refer to both lamp and the garden by the way) Next Spring we reckon we may come over all green fingered upon the sight of hardy sunshine yellow daffs pushing their way up through the jungle canopy….and by then it surely will be….of dandelions and dock leaves.
Shutting the door on it, however, isn’t quite that simple.
For starters glass is….forgive me if I’m preaching to the converted….see-through so the uncut grass and cacophony of primary coloured plastic nestling within it are just as visible with the doors open as shut. Secondly, its looking doubtful that HTJB will make it through his twenty sixth winter intact so we are likely to be forced to think through the garden this side of Christmas even if we aren’t planning to voluntarily do so. And thirdly, our York stone patio has yet to be sealed and the sap oozing from a shade-giving tree has turned a semi circle of it black. Thankfully it lifts again with a directional blast from the pressure washer as S discovered on the three separate occasions over the summer when attempting to get it ready for the sealant but each time, as we waited patiently for the stone to fully dry before applying it, it rained. The sight of the patio, its pale grey and ochre surface once so fearsomely protected during summer parties….(er….singular. I think we managed one….) where a patrolling S eyeballed red wine drinkers menacingly and strawberries were banned now looking so bruised and beaten is a guiltily felt daily reminder that work needs to be done in the garden before winter descends.
A problem shared, however, is a problem halved. Or in this case quartered.
Not long ago I had admitted our dearth of garden ideas to a friend……the one so famously to blame for the swift and unsympathetic eviction of the black dressing table in Tea for Two but also in part responsible for the purchase of the turquoise Marram destined for the snug, the continued use of the word ‘snug’ and the positioning of a TV socket halfway up its wall…a decision which cracked a former dilemma regarding where to site the ugly black box (solution…..disguise amidst shelving). Her willingness to apply both time and her insightful vision to the issues contained within the Pebbledashed Pad has, thankfully for us, apparently not abated.
“I’m not promising anything” she warned ” but if you would like me to I’ll have a play at some garden designs and see if I can come up with some ideas”
I liked. Dimensions were proffered.
Summer ebbed into autumn where the golden leaves fell along with the majority of the delicious apples and pears we hadn’t yet gotten around to picking from the gnarled and diseased-looking trees which last year yielded nothing but a harshly premature promise that they would be felled. The about-turn in retaining them was about the only garden-related decision we had arrived at when a text inviting me over for a glass of wine arrived.
“I’ve got a little something for you.” My friend said once wine was poured. Reaching beneath her coffee table she extracted a spiral bound notebook. “I’ve been doing some thinking about your garden…”
Intrigued, I sat forwards in my chair as she angled herself alongside.
“Just a few ideas. I wanted to show you some of the possibilities….how you can really use that space. So here’s the first one.”
Flattening the page out for me to see I emitted an appreciative “ooooooo”. Our rectangular 18m x 5m plot had been divided by an abstractly irregular diamond lawn creating beautifully deep beds on each side which could be planted with a mass of foliage and flowers to surround the apple and pear trees which now carry their preservation order. The unusually shaped lawn guided the eye gently to a set of stepping stones towards the back where there was a notable absence….in HTJB’s place sat a neatly organised vegetable patch with his usurper tucked neatly into the left hand corner. A den and sandpit for O had been factored in on the left whilst a circular sun trap patio, potentially making use of our leftover stone, sat opposite on the right and a living wall containing strawberries, lettuces and tomatoes enveloped the (cleaned) stone patio next to the house.
“Its amazing” I gasped.
“Well,” she said, flicking to the next page in her book on which she had pasted a selection of supporting material accompanied by scrawled hints, tips and observations. “Living walls are easy to do now. You can go the whole hog and get the special systems or you can just fix pots in lines to the fence. Having your lettuces there would be easy picking for the kitchen…”
I pictured myself flinging open the bifolds….snip snip, wash wash, chop chop…rocket and tomato salad made Good Life style. I was game.
“I’d suggest you use evergreen plants here next to the wall so that when you look out you always see greenery” my friend pointed to the area next to the patio steps and indicated a cutting depicting an almost identical wall on the accompanying mood board. “Lots of architectural leaves with some spilling over to soften the edges…”
I nodded my agreement.
So that’s idea one.”
“Yes. There’s more.”
She turned the page.
This time instead of the angular diamond, the lawn had been shaped into an organically curved figure of eight rotated slightly as to sit just off centre. Again its shape allowed deep beds at either side and in this version the points between the circles could create, if planted lushly, the illusion of separate rooms. O once again had his own area containing a tent and swing and the idea for a mini patio opposite was repeated….an excellent spot for enthusiastic swing encouragement whilst partaking of a drink of some kind. It being by now midsummer and I Nigella (in my mind you understand…..) I’d be swanning about in something floaty bearing dewy jugs containing an ice and mint-packed cooler whilst looking adoringly at my relaxed husband kicking back on his Paul Smith striped deck chair, The Guardian tossed aside in favour of smiling fondly at a gaggle of cherubic curly haired children sharing …..punctuated by O’s reluctant declaration of “I kind” …..the swing.
“You could cover the little patio with a sail or pergola” my friend said, bringing me back to earth with a bump. “Or leave it open to the elements. Though you might want to introduce another texture…gravel perhaps….”
My eye scanned the design approvingly.
“You could also have your banquette….” She suggested with a smile…her being fully aware of my obsession with the word if not the object itself …my plans to have one inside having been ousted by something as boringly functional as a radiator.
“What’s on the moodboard?!” I asked enthusiastically as she flipped to the next page of her notebook.
“Colour” she replied simply “you could do something really vibrant with your patio wall…” She pointed to an image of one in a gloriously bright pink.
“Mmmmmmmm. Pink………” I mused thoughtfully before remembering the husband I’d left on his striped deckchair…one who has, if truth be told, been pushed out of his comfort zone one (five?) too many times already. “Could I paint it stone coloured?” I asked meekly.
“Of course you could….” She nodded her agreement “play it safe and opt for colour in the furniture instead.”
My friend continued talking me through as I hunched in closer, drooling over each image in turn.
“Definitely go for a designated space for O, whether that be a tent, house or swing…if only to contain all his toys”
Wise words, I agreed..
“And with regard to the vegetable patch I’d go for raised beds. They are so easy to look after.” She waved her arm towards her own beautifully fervent garden. “Mine are made with sleepers and I had a ton of boiled soil brought in. Everything I planted went mad. It took no time at all to look established.”
I sipped at my wine, nodding eagerly as I did so.
“Idea three.” She announced with a flip of her wrist.
“Oh blimey! You should do this for a living….”
“This is another layout again…you lose O’s space so it’s not my favourite but I wanted to show how you could do something a bit different. It takes the lawn to the fence and has a flowerbed within the lawn. Probably not great for football games…..but another idea all the same. And then you get the big one…Number Four.”
I looked at her quizzically.
“Turn the page” she encouraged.
I did. I swooned.
“For about three grand you can get a fully insulated garden room…..its glass doors opening towards the house….which could be a playroom, spare room, office or even a man cave. It’s about three metres square and would sit more or less where your shed is currently ….to give you an idea…”
“Really? Oh my god. Really? Where do you buy it?”
She laughed. “I don’t know….I saw it in a magazine, but it’s just to show you darlin. You’ve got a decent sized garden…you can do a lot with it.”
The designs have, as yet, still only had the briefest of presentations to S before our very real and wonderfully mischievous cherub…whose hair will never be curly if I continue to take him to a barber who insists on giving him the military once over as yesterday…began to paint the ‘paintings’ with egg. But having endeavoured, somewhat half-heartedly, to tame the wilderness at the weekend whilst muttering in a senile fashion “what’s the point?” as I did so ….and having watched O busy himself building adventures with plant pots full of stagnant water for lack of anything else more creatively engaging (back in Perfect Parent mode I’m enjoying imagining a little box of these homemade alphabet stones or rock dominoes tucked away in his den…..) I think its probably time to knuckle down, get out the tape measure, pegs and string and plot out the design of choice.
For me its number two.