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
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
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
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