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Pots of space

25 April 2014

iStock

OUR Staffordshire garden now has a counterpoint. After several changes in our London lodgings for the working week, we are now renting a studio. An estate agent would describe this, politely, as bijou; but it does have a 3×4-metre outdoor space. This fully decked pied-à-terre, in Lewisham, is everything that our own garden is not - but I have missed the simple pleasure of sitting on a doorstep, and I love our urban plot already.

The context does not dictate any particular direction for a gardening style, which can be liberating. Plants need to be in a pot, which brings the challenge of regular watering - but also the advantage of being able to rearrange as the mood takes.

The microclimate in this tiny south-facing walled space is benign, with no winter frosts to speak of; so my starting point was to bring those poor specimens that had been limping through in the West Midlands, where I lack a greenhouse to give them winter protection.

That translated as a Chusan palm, a grapefruit, a lemon, a few olives, a myrtle, a bottlebrush, a particularly finely scented jasmine, and a supposedly hardy abutilon, "Yellow Bells". The theme became clear. I would create a little Mediterranean "balcony" that would take me back to my 12-year-old self travelling abroad, for the first time, to Corfu, the former home of my then hero, Gerald Durrell.

With my inner child thus awakened, good taste was unimportant. Now was my chance to indulge in the guilty pleasures of unashamedly bright gazanias, pelargoniums, and Livingstone daisies. I raided skips for anything that could be used as growing containers or plant supports. The lovely staff at our local Turkish restaurant saved the big cans in which the weekly supply of olives came. I even made a cold frame to bring on seedlings, started on my one window-sill, out of a large, clear plastic bag, a wine crate, and a mushroom box.

Now we are on the brink of summer, I can report that this gay abandon has resulted in a mix of spiky plants, succulents, and colour along with an eclectic mix of hardware which, dare I say, "works". I have used a lot of peat-free compost (Vital Earth is Which? recommended), mixed with Perlite for good drainage. The framework of contrasting evergreen foliage is important.

I am not sure that the citrus plants will survive the winter even in London; Portuguese laurel is much hardier, and gives the same effect. The addition of an agave really cemented the theme, and will be fine if kept dry in the winter. Bougainvillea is tricky to grow well here; so I am using a hot-pink sweet-pea, "Robert Uvedale", as a stand-in. I plan to add a compact chilli cultivar, "Loco", which displays erect chubby fruits in late summer that start purple and change through orange to red.

The limited space and playfulness has tempted me to try the tomato marketed by Thompson and Morgan. It is a cherry-type tomato grafted on to a potato rootstock that promises two crops from one pot.

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