It’s the time of year where finally it looks like a bit of life might be emerging outdoors once again. Even though it doesn’t feel like it’s going to stop raining to take advantage. And fresh off the back of a trip to the garden centre, I thought I’d write a post about how our garden has taken shape over the years from wrestling brambles to creating a blank canvas.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had outdoor space since I moved to London 18 years ago. In fact my very first studio flat back in 2002 in Earls Court may not have had an oven or water that you could even filter (!) but it DID have two mega height double doors and a balcony. That I spectacularly crashed through one night when drunk but we’ll save that story for another day. The next studio flat had no outdoor space but then there was the gorgeous garden flat in Brook Green. When I say garden it was literally the size of a shoe box, but just big enough to pop a chair in and had a tranquil water feature.
Next, I switched partners (!) and moved in with Pete just round the corner. Our flat was lovely but back to no outside space, just perving into the gardens of multi-million pound west London houses from our kitchen window. And then we migrated to southeast London and rented a beautiful two bedroom terrace in Forest Hill. Even though our landlady had extended, there was still quite a lovely little terraced garden and we had a strawberry patch and some suntrap spots.
And then came this house. Our forever home. With 100ft of garden and two people about to move in who knew precisely zero about gardening. At the start, it was just an inconvenience. Overgrown, muddy, wild – space enough to extend sure, but with no money just how were we going to do that? We always knew we wanted a garden solely for the purpose of having a dog but never imagined we’d find so much space just 20 minutes from Charing Cross and not have to sell a kidney to afford it (although we could never afford the house now that’s for sure!)
So Maddie came along and it was great to have space for her to run. But she spent most of her time escaping into next door’s garden because whilst we had a hedge made up of brambles and pampas, there was no proper fencing underneath and plenty of gaps for a feisty dog to get through. I cannot tell you how many times I had to climb over brambles in my pyjamas late at night to get her back. Everything about the garden was annoying at this point – even if we both went out to try and block the gaps she would always find a way through and imagine at midnight when it’s raining and freezing in winter, trying to get your dog back from a neighbours garden isn’t fun. We couldn’t leave the patio doors open in the summer either.
It wasn’t until 2016 that we started making changes and seeing its full potential. First up, we installed a wood store on the patio to house logs. Our log burner had been fitted the year before and since we had nowhere to keep wood, it was frequent inconvenient trips to places like B&Q to buy bags here and there. An amazing company called Woodson & Son started following me on Instagram and I was delighted when I found out that although being Staffordshire-based, they travel all over the country to install wood stores. We cleared a patch of fencing, they came to build it and 4 years later it’s still one of my favourite features in our garden.
Then, our next door neighbours on our attached side (we’re in a semi) very wonderfully started the great fencing project as you look up the garden on the right hand side. Perhaps they’d had enough of Maddie wandering rogue in their garden and me clambering in after her, but I cannot tell you what a life-changing process it was. Every spare second I had after work and at weekends I was out there, clearing vegetation with my next door neighbour whilst her husband did the fencing. Some days I’d get home from work to see more had gone up and it was the most excited I’d been for our garden up until that point. Finally we were POOCH PROOF. No more having to go out there every time Maddie needed the toilet and come summer, we could leave the doors open so she could roam as much as she wanted safely inside our garden.
We did make one mistake at this point, and that was painting all the new fencing a slightly lurid shade of brown, which made the entire fence look like it had been tango-ed if you remember the ads! I think we were both too timid to try something a bit bolder but later confessed that neither of us liked the colour. So it stayed upset stomach brown for a while until I got working on everything last year.
After the first fencing, nothing much happened for a while. We tried to tidy up the border alongside it, and cleared the path on the left hand side up to the outbuilding at the top. Mowing the lawn, keeping on top of things, you know how it is, but I still didn’t know what to grow, how to make anything thrive. Then last year, having finished work and with a summer stretching out ahead of me I knew I wanted the garden to start living up to its potential.
At the end of summer in 2018, I’d splashed out on a garden sofa in the summer sales. I was still working but knew I’d be resigning and wanted to have something in place for when we got the first lovely weekend the following year (which turned out to be a gloriously warm Easter). The new sofa looked lovely but the rest of the space really let it down.
Encouraged by a needs-must approach to fixing some broken fencing at the top of the garden on the left hand side, and tackling smaller projects like painting our back kitchen door and the hanging tiles, I decided last summer to start on a big garden makeover. Eventually we’d love to have the garden properly landscaped and make the most of all the space but it’s really at the bottom of our priority list. I knew that with a bit of hard graft I could still create something pretty special in the meantime.
Down came all the vegetation on the left-hand side so it could be finally fenced properly and I started that mammoth painting project, turning everything Urban Slate by Cuprinol. I laid a new path up to the outbuilding, started painting all the retaining walls white and dug out new beds. I’ve also created a new seating area at the top of the garden (still to be finished) which receives sun first thing in the morning. We tore down old storage cupboards on the patio and pulled all the ivy off the outbuilding.
And so that’s pretty much it, right up to date with one very grey and white blank canvas. It already feels so much better to look out of the window though and contemplate something manageable instead of overwhelming. I’ve learned a lot about gardening in the meantime too and with trellis fixed to the fence and some plants already in place, if I’m just a bit more patient over the next couple of years and chip away at it bit by bit we should hopefully be able to create a really pretty, tranquil outside space.