Disorder in Paradise

not the onlyno the only
by Marina Duffell

I read recently in "Cottage Gardener" Jo Amey’s "Disorganised Garden" with delight and relief. I’m not the only untidy gardener! I too wallow in the haphazard and work to the "celebration of colour" method. My classification for my own small, irregular plot is a "mobile garden", but more of that later

An ex flat-dweller formerly boasting a large, south-facing balcony garden on a rough council estate in London’s "suburbia", everything I grew had to be in containers, from cracked crocks to plastic dustbins. It was truly an oasis in a concrete desert.

When at last we moved from the council flat in a West London suburb to our own small house in a suburb of Worcester, my garden came with me on a small hired lorry and formed the basis of my present haven.

The main survivor twenty years on was my Robinia. The then four foot tree, upgraded from its plastic dustbin to what was then builder’s rubble, it eventually towered above the garden and the roof, a canopy of lime green shade in summer. Sadly this year it had to go, as we were rapidly losing the small amount of sunlight that penetrated the garden.

Always an exuberant gardener, my immediate plans for this small, irregular-shaped plot, was for a "surround" garden which would (I hoped) explode with a rainbow of colour to be viewed as a panorama from the small ‘garden room’ protruding from the house.

Having been forced into container cultivation on my balcony, I decided to lay an irregular paved area rather than a lawn, surrounded by some borders and a small path, leading beneath an arch to nowhere. Twenty years on an over-enthusiastic planting of trees and shrubs and ivies on the perimeter of this small plot provides, perhaps for some tastes, too much shade and enclosure. However it affords privacy and refuge from the new properties that have crept up around us to take the place of a once peaceful old nursery the other side of the wall.

My borders, a mixture of permanent planting and containers which spill over onto the paving, have given me my desired ‘riot of colour’ for most of the year. In a hit-or-miss effort to create a rainbow, my panoramic half-circle starts on one side with bright reds, inside the garden room and out (I love pot geraniums) followed by a succession of yellows and orange (perennial wallflowers are among my favourites), pansies and day lilies, and a rather blousy yellow climbing ‘Mermaid’. Then follow blues, mauves and whites: many clematis, perennial wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ and even a firmly-controlled white ‘Rambling Rector’ rose. My favourite green flowers ­ alchemilla and the spurges grow beneath the Robinia, succeeded by a clash of pinks ­ geraniums of both types, Japanese anemones and fuchsias, to complete the semi-circle.

Continuity of planting is easily maintained by replacing a dying container with a fresh one. This garden of my own devising has evolved over the years, not planned, but providing many happy hours of tub-shifting (very disconcerting for my husband to watch large shrubs in pots apparently propelling themselves from place to place). He has even been heard to mutter "Two inches to the left, dear" or "Are we going to eat today?".

A keen amateur "snapper", I am frustrated that I can never photograph the garden in its entirety because it is so small and enclosed. I am hoping that perhaps some kind friend will one day try a panoramic shot. I do however take great pleasure in capturing small sections and individual blooms on my trusty digital camera, downloading them onto the computer for my winter viewing and the production of floral greetings cards for friends and family.

Mine is not a ‘prize-winning’ garden, but I have achieved my aim to provide us with a feast of colour for most of the year ­ my own, perhaps quirky, version of a cottage garden.