Garden inspiration

I first learned to garden in South Africa. My friend Sally Young has the most amazing green fingers and her gardens have always been lush and full of glorious scented flowers. I have many wonderful memories of lazy afternoons spent sitting on the verandah overlooking Sal’s impressive work. She has the knack of creating gardens that are multi-dimensional. They are the kinds of places that are relaxing; where you can just enjoy being outside in beautiful surroundings. But at the same time you know that the person who designed it really knows what they are doing – Sally’s knowledge of plants constantly amazes me.

Last April when I visited South Africa, I saw her newest garden. It wasn’t the best day to see it. The weather wasn’t marvellous and so it wasn’t being seen in the best light. But nevertheless, it made me wish I was there for more than a couple of days, just so I could have more time sitting chatting with my friend in her glorious garden again.

Growing conditions in South Africa are more than a little different from those in England. When I first arrived I was accustomed to being able to pop a plant into the ground and leave it there year round. The idea of lifting plants every year, putting them carefully in a greenhouse and then planting them out again every spring was completely alien to me. In Johannesburg, a plant get settled in and there it stays. At least that’s how it always was in my garden. Not only that, I had to get to grips with not having some of my favourite plants available here (unless grown in a conservatory), and the growing season is so much shorter than it is in the sunny south. I found the concept of re-learning my garden-craft all rather daunting.

It took a while, but once I got into it I discovered some rather lovely new plants I hadn’t seen before – some that don’t grow in Africa and some that just hadn’t hit the garden centres there. While the growing season might be shorter, the pace at which things shoot up when spring arrives is staggering. At this time of year, I find myself wanting to wander out on a daily basis to see what new shoots have appeared. There’s a wonderful sense of promise, and anticipation of a glorious summer ahead.

About five years ago we started opening our garden for various charity events. Up to that point I didn’t think it was good enough to be shared with the public. It took the preceding decade to get it to develop enough character and depth to be interesting. There’s something very gentle and quietly inspiring about wandering around a garden you’ve not seen before. People come along for a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and they chat about plants, ask how we’ve done certain things, or just enjoy the atmosphere. Every time we open, I think of Sally’s garden and how much pleasure I’ve had sitting quietly talking, in comfy wicker chairs, with her dogs lying in the shade around us.

I must confess to being a fair weather gardener. My garden is severely neglected in the winter months and only when conditions improve do I get out and start tidying up. I’ve never been energetic enough to set up a greenhouse and lift plants over winter. In my garden everything just has to fend for itself. But we’ve now managed to create a space that is full of exciting layers of colour through the summer, but also has a calmness and a relaxed feel to it.

This year we’ve already had a Sunday afternoon for Help for Heroes. We’ve scheduled days for Rosie in Stitches and for Médecins Sans Frontières. On each of these Sunday afternoons we’ll have a small group of people wander over and join us. We’ll spend a pleasant couple of hours in the garden, and the charity will get a little financial support as a result. To my mind, a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. And then on 19th June we’ll have our National Garden Scheme day when we may have 200 people through the garden in the space of 4 hours. These are people who take a real interest in gardening and sometimes ask quite challenging questions. I’ll need to have my plant books ready and will be wishing I had Sally’s vast encyclopedic knowledge in my head too.

This year I’ll be taking pictures at the end of each month to record the progress through the summer. Here are April’s photos.

Now I’m off to water the plants.