Sally Brampton: come on over to my place
April 19, 2011 | By:
In her first fortnightly gardening column, Sally Brampton welcomes you to her small world

All her own work. Now Sally starts again. Photo by Sally Brampton

In the past decade, I have made two gardens – not including the gardens I have made for friends. It is my most passionate hobby so, short of moving house in order to obtain a new garden, I offer to make one for people I love. For me, a garden is a consuming relationship so I only do so for people who cherish me and, in return, will cherish their garden. However, it is with my own garden that I have the most passionate relationship.

Both the gardens I made for myself started as a wilderness of overgrown trees and shrubs and tired, patchy lawns. The first was 100 feet long by 35 feet wide, large by urban standards. I worked around the existing trees, laying wide paths (a path must be at least five feet wide to accommodate two people strolling along it) and ripping out the exhausted grass, which never thrives under a canopy of leaves.

Lawns hate trees; they need wide open spaces to flourish. I love trees, not simply for their beauty but because every garden needs both a vertical and a horizontal aspect to achieve the beauty of nature. Too many gardens are civilised out of extinction; manicured and trimmed to within an inch of their lives. Nature is bounteous in its generosity and generosity, in all things, brings handsome rewards.

The second garden, which was a mere 35 feet long and 15 feet wide seemed, at first, tiny, but with careful planning and planting became a verdant sanctuary. And now, I have moved to a house by the sea; four storeys high, with a tiny patio garden at its feet, not larger than 12 feet long and 16 feet wide.

Happily, each storey has a roof terrace, looking out to sea, and each terrace a different microclimate so I am now faced with the ultimate challenge of creating an oasis with every and any outside space available. What thrives in a small, sheltered courtyard will keel over on a windswept roof, which means adhering strictly to the maxim of the right plant. And in such limited space, every plant must earn its place.

As, frankly, I am bored of buying books about small gardens, only to discover that small means large lawns and wide herbaceous borders – almost unknown in these days of overbuilt cities where any patch of outside space is a luxury – I intend to celebrate the truly small, but, I hope, perfectly formed. There will be disasters as well as triumphs in this diary of the making of a garden, and every mistake will be recorded because mistakes are as valuable a lesson as getting it right.