So it seems that this particular post has been rather hotly anticipated! Who’d have thought? Not me anyway! So clearly I’m not the only ‘garden nerd’ out there. Now I must start by saying (and I’m sure most of you probably already know this) that I am definitely no gardener. I have just come to love and appreciate the (teeny-tiny) gardens (we have one at the front and one at the back – the one at the back really is TINY) that I can call my own (for the first time since leaving home at 18). When I first viewed our house (seven years ago!!) I remember first seeing the back ‘garden’ and being so disappointed. We were moving from Central London to Richmond, and although I wasn’t expecting (or wanting) something huge, I was expecting something. Instead I opened the French doors onto a tiny patch of concrete with a huge, high, orange fence as a backdrop. To say it was ugly it an understatement. To say it was ‘uninspiring’ would have been a compliment! I was certainly not imagining myself sitting out there with a cup of tea and a book (ok, magazine…), that’s for sure. But we fell in love with the house, and as soon as we’d moved in, I set to work (well, with the help of a local gardener – although nothing remotely ‘landscape’y’ – just me bossing the poor (very patient!) bloke around, and telling him what to plant (I knew nothing about planting, but I did know what I liked the look of, so we went from there. My main goal? To cover every inch of that ugly fence, plus the walls with plants and flowers (and I did, but took time). It was all very trial and error to say the least… Anyway, I’m not going to focus on what we did with the ‘uninspiring’ space at the back; or indeed the front – I thought I would save that for another post. Today, I am really just focusing on what we planted in our front, courtyard garden (a still small, but much larger space than the back), because so many of you have asked me to share after I posted a few pics on Instagram recently (or maybe not so recently now?). And a lot of you have emailed/messaged me since, asking when the post is coming. So I will share all the garden planning (landscaping, fencing, tiles, lighting, mirror etc. etc. at a later date). But for now, it’s onto the plants (specifically the ones in our front garden).
So, we now have a lovely local gardener called Nicky Erskine (I can share her details with anyone who’s interested – email me), and she is the first gardener I have had who really ‘gets me’ and what I like (I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I am really fussy!!). She’s pretty low-key, and just comes as and when we need her. Initially, she just used to help manage and maintain the plants at the back (but by then the back was stuffed FULL of plants and flowers – you haven’t even been able to see the orange fence for years now!), then gradually started to do more and more – gently suggesting replacements for existing plants, removing things (like the ‘aggressive’ ivy, which I had planted as it covers so quickly if that’s what you need), which was slowly strangling many of the other plants; pruning, and just general maintenance. But I had chatted to her often about wanting to tackle the front, and my idea of wanting to pave over the (muddy, patchy, redundant) patch of grass. So we started to hatch a plan. The work first started last Summer, when we were in Italy on holiday. But it was really only this year that Nicky started to plant the space (as well as planting plenty of new plants and flowers, she also moved many things around, to better portions light-wise etc.). But as you saw from Instagram, it was only in the Spring that things really starting growing up and out. And have grown loads more since. So it’s finally starting to look like the mood boards (yes, she did mood boards!). So that’s almost a year since the work first started. But to be honest, I was happy for the planting to be more gradual. Financially there were obvious benefits, but also it was great to see how things grew; how we were using the space etc. etc. And it’s still a work in progress – most of the planting is now done, but we’re going to add a few more features, such as rusted metal girds for trellises on the walls (on the house for the roses – see below) and on the walls either side of the mirror for the mulennekia – also see below). I will share all of these design details in my next garden post, I promise).
So Nicky and I chatted at length about the kinds of plants and flowers I like, and the kind of garden/effect I wanted to achieve (I say I, because Tom was really not interested; his only stipulation being that we didn’t ‘drive out’ the local wildlife – we have a resident toad (Spot) and frog (Phil), as well as various mini-beasts including stag beetles (Staggy and Maggie), and snails… And now newts (we have a little water feature – Nicky’s suggestion, and has been such a brilliant one). I wanted a garden that was as far from ‘manicured’ as you can get – a cosy, pretty space where we could relax as a family, and host long lazy lunches/dinners with friends. Flower beds brimming with mismatched plants and flowers of different heights and textures, with an ‘English county garden’ theme. Higgledy-piggledy beds of prettiness, and wonderful scents that you get wafts of at random times.
So, the planting. We have a total of five flower beds (four surrounding the small paved area immediately in front of the house) and one high one, above the wall to the side (our house is set down from the road, which is great for privacy for a usable front garden, as opposed to just a decorative one). I am actually sitting in front of the large front window, looking out onto the garden as I write this post. And the heady scent of the Jasmine keeps drifting in. I LOVE the smell of Jasmine (although who doesn’t right?). I have listed below all the plants and flowers that we have below (in no particular order), with a brief description of each. I hope you find it useful? Do let me know.
ps: I cannot tell you relaxing I find pottering in the garden. I love the evening ritual of the watering. I down tools, leave the laptop, (no matter what), and just focus completely on the task in hand. I love it. It really clears my head. Funnily enough, the kids often try and fight me to do it, and sometimes I let them, but mostly I don’t, as I value that tiny window of ‘total switch off’ so much.
And I love planting my pots (I do most of the pots myself) and getting my hands dirty (I often don’t both to wear my gloves). I really truly switch off (one of the VERY few times I ever manage to), and I think this has so much to do with the simple fact of me not being able to hold my phone at the same time! I know it sounds so obvious, but this kind of enforced phone-free time is just so good for the soul (well mine anyway).
pps: it’s worth noting that a lot of these pics were taken back at Easter! Everything has grown so much since then!
I have always loved Foxgloves. Everything about them. They’ll always be in my Top Ten of flowers. Ironically, there were loads already planted in the front beds when we moved in, but I immediately removed them as they’re poisonous, and Tabitha and Marlow were only two then. But now they’re back! And as pretty as ever.
We have them in one of the flower beds. I love how tall they can get. Perfect if, like me, you like that visual mix and match of different heights in the beds.
Choasia (Orange Blossom)
These are a bush, so good for filling/bulking up flower beds. They can grow quite large, but you can just prune them back. The flowers look a bit like Jasmine, and they have a nice scent too.
Now it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the humble hydrangea, in all her colours and guises. Mostly because it’s almost idiot-proof, aka ‘hardy’. It thrives pretty much anywhere, hence the reason you see so much of it around, particularly in the UK. It doesn’t mind shade, and it loves rain! So if it’s not raining, it needs a lot of watering. I love the big, blousy blooms, and I love it in beds and in pots. Nicky is not as big a fan as me – I have to stop myself from picking one up pretty much every time I go to the M&S food hall!! My favourites are the white and the pink. We have an abundance of them, both in the front and the back.
Hydrangea Petiolaeris (climbing Hydrangea)
Everything I love about the hydangea, but this variety travels (climbs)! Great for walls/fences if you want pretty coverage. The only downside? They’re not evergreen, so won’t look so pretty in the Winter months. But I forgive them.
I have been a fan of Mulenbekia for a while now, after Nicky introduced it to me as a prettier, more delicate alternative to Ivy (which she hates, and is gradually completely phasing out of my life/garden!!). I have it in pots on the wall in the back garden, and Nicky wants to plant it at the front too. It looks great cascading down from pots/ledges etc. We are going to train it up the rusted iron grid trellis either side of the mirror in the front. I also have it planted in the bed in front of the mirror, next to the trough for the water feature.
I love it. You’ll see it a lot at Petersham Nurseries! I also just like saying it (Mool-emm-beckia).
Lily of the Valley
So simple, so pretty. Personally I love it most in pots
Turns out that I knew these (they’re sometimes referred to as ‘Christmas roses’), but I just didn’t know what they were called. One time (yeah just that ‘one time’…), I was in Petersham Nurseries, I saw some and emailed a pic of them to Nicky, asking if we could plant some in the front. Her response? “Sarah, you’ve already got some!”. Turns out they just hadn’t flowered yet. We have them in one of our side borders.
One of my absolute favourites in the front. I became obsessed with these after seeing them in a few of my favourite gardens in nearby Ham. They look so gorgeous in flower beds. They can grown really big and tall, which I love, and depending on the time of year, can look almost luminous green, they’re so vibrant. I love how they look mixed in with other plants and flowers. We have them in a few of the borders at the front.
I’m not entirely sure where these are in our garden, but I’m told they are there!
Polystichum Aculeatum (Fern)
I was definitely unsure about having ferns in my garden. I am not a fan. Nicky had already convinced me to add some in the high beds in the back, but I wasn’t sure I wanted them in ‘my new favourite’ garden at the front. But I took her advice and went with them. And although they’re not my favourites, I do like the visual difference they bring to the garden as a whole. We have a few planted in the bed in front of the mirror.
Monrow Liriope Muscari
Pretty, delicate flowers to mix into your beds.
Daphne Odora Aureomarginata
These can get quite large and structural, but I like them. We have one in the corner of one of the front beds, next to the steps. I really like it. I’d never really heard of them or seem them before Nicky planted one. I do love the mix of familiar and new in the garden. And to trust someone’s taste to be in keeping with your vision.
We all know this trust fragment friend. I love it in the beds and in pots, and have a mixture of both. Nicky planted some in the front bed under the large window, and I have planted a few pots with lavender too, as I just love the smell so much. The one thing about lavender – it needs direct sun. Which is not always easy in the UK. But I’ll forgive it because when it’s flourishing it’s so pretty (and I don’t even like purple!!).
Honestly, I don’t know where this is in our garden! But I’m assured it’s out there somewhere!
Needs very little introduction. Looks pretty, climbs and covers, and smells incredible (get the ‘Trachelospermum’ variety if you can, it’s the most fragrant).
What’s not to love?
Blush Rosa Noisette (Climbing Rose)
Nicky planted these, with the intention of them climbing prettily up the front of the house (up the rusted metal trellis which is going up soon). They’re getting there, slowly but surely! They’re quite small, delicate looking blooms, and the prettiest pale pink.
The Instagram favourite, albeit for just three weeks of the year! But it’s so worth it for the short-lived joy (aka Insta-smugness). We have had it growing at the front of our house since I planted it a round a year after we moved in. It’s taken years to even flower. But be patient, and you shall be rewarded handsomely.
It’s looking pretty wild at the moment, and is covering one of the front windows, and starting to climb over our new fencing. Yes!