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Urban Space: Getting My London Garden to Love Me Back

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Urban Space: Getting My London Garden to Love Me Back

September 14, 2020

I love my garden; I really do. Sadly though, the feeling isn’t always reciprocated. And I readily admit that sometimes my London garden just doesn’t love me back, at least not the parts of it that grow.

The architect in me is comfortable with working within the confines of garden as exterior room. The problems occur whenever I want to tweak the lush, rainforest plantings that our garden designers installed originally. Upon returning to London after spending August in Connecticut one year, I was not ready to give up on summer. I put in some hydrangeas and one exquisite dahlia. My summer effect was brief and I should have known better than to mess with Mother Nature or the advice of my gardeners. The plants didn’t take. Now when I want to add a little color in my garden, I keep my efforts small and in planters. Lesson learned: When I stay within my limitations, my garden loves me back:

Photography by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

A bird&#8\2\17;s eye view of my garden shows all the new additions in the last three years, from seating to laundry (and those ill-fated blue hydrangeas).
Above: A bird’s eye view of my garden shows all the new additions in the last three years, from seating to laundry (and those ill-fated blue hydrangeas).

In the years since I first wrote about my garden, exposing myself as a reluctant gardener, I have been pretty good about following my own advice, which was to “know thy limitations.”

So when we wanted to accommodate the teens that came to hang out in our tiny garden, we provided them with different types of outdoor seating—outdoor sofas, a wooden bench, and two folding chairs from Ikea.  Sometimes there were too many (teens, that is) and then they would sit directly on the cold, damp paving stones. That was when we installed the artificial grass. Shortly after that, the wall-mounted beer bottle opener went up. (N.B:. In the UK, children from age 5 to 16 are allowed to drink at home or on other private premises.) When I wanted to hang my clothes outside to dry, I installed a clothesline.

We have always conceived the first part of our garden as an extension of our kitchen/dining area. In order to achieve this, we had custom sheds built, with shed walls that seem like a continuation of the indoor walls. The sheds were much more expensive than buying them off the shelf but actually very reasonable when you think that we have gained a room.
Above: We have always conceived the first part of our garden as an extension of our kitchen/dining area. In order to achieve this, we had custom sheds built, with shed walls that seem like a continuation of the indoor walls. The sheds were much more expensive than buying them off the shelf but actually very reasonable when you think that we have gained a room.
Another Country&#8\2\17;s Outdoor Bench \2 sits directly under the space-defining trellis and will weather to a silver gray patina.
Above: Another Country’s Outdoor Bench 2 sits directly under the space-defining trellis and will weather to a silver gray patina.
I designed simple outdoor sofas from foam blocks and had them covered with Dyed Cotton Duck with a showerproof finish from Russell & Chapple. When it rains and during the winter, the sofas move into the sheds.
Above: I designed simple outdoor sofas from foam blocks and had them covered with Dyed Cotton Duck with a showerproof finish from Russell & Chapple. When it rains and during the winter, the sofas move into the sheds.
The skyline of the city hovers above our calm oasis. We make our sheds work hard by storing things on the inside and on the exterior.
Above: The skyline of the city hovers above our calm oasis. We make our sheds work hard by storing things on the inside and on the exterior.
 Above L: The Brommö Chaise from Ikea folds away and hangs neatly on the exterior of the shed. Above R: My most successful forays into color happen on a small scale.
Above L: The Brommö Chaise from Ikea folds away and hangs neatly on the exterior of the shed. Above R: My most successful forays into color happen on a small scale.
 Above L: An outlet box and tap have been brought to the outside of the shed, minimizing the need to go into the shed when we want to water the plants.  Above R: Artificial grass is very easy to maintain, but because you should brush it every now and then to keep the texture soft and fluffy, we have hung our broom up on the outside of the shed for easy access, paving the way for frequent, occasional brushing by any member of the family.
Above L: An outlet box and tap have been brought to the outside of the shed, minimizing the need to go into the shed when we want to water the plants.  Above R: Artificial grass is very easy to maintain, but because you should brush it every now and then to keep the texture soft and fluffy, we have hung our broom up on the outside of the shed for easy access, paving the way for frequent, occasional brushing by any member of the family.
A wall-mounted beer bottle opener reminds me of summer at the beach.
Above: A wall-mounted beer bottle opener reminds me of summer at the beach.
In the path to the back of our garden, we have mixed stones with pavers.
Above: In the path to the back of our garden, we have mixed stones with pavers.
Erin&#8\2\17;s post titled Trend Alert: Black Fences inspired me to do something similar at the back of our garden. It provides a focal point as well as a contrast to garden decorations.
Above: Erin’s post titled Trend Alert: Black Fences inspired me to do something similar at the back of our garden. It provides a focal point as well as a contrast to garden decorations.
Hydrangeas, dahlias, and daisies added color to our rainforest medley of greens—for a brief moment.
Above: Hydrangeas, dahlias, and daisies added color to our rainforest medley of greens—for a brief moment.
The view from the back of our garden into the kitchen and dining room. See Rehab Diary: Sleuthing for Space for more on my kitchen.
Above: The view from the back of our garden into the kitchen and dining room. See Rehab Diary: Sleuthing for Space for more on my kitchen.
Layering the spaces in the garden make it seem bigger than it really is.
Above: Layering the spaces in the garden make it seem bigger than it really is.
 Above L: My son&#8\2\17;s shirt hangs out to dry. Above R: My self-fashioned clothesline.
Above L: My son’s shirt hangs out to dry. Above R: My self-fashioned clothesline.
As a relocated apartment dweller from New York, I&#8\2\17;m amazed to have some space for hanging clothes and take advantage of it as much as I can, even when the sun is not out.
Above: As a relocated apartment dweller from New York, I’m amazed to have some space for hanging clothes and take advantage of it as much as I can, even when the sun is not out.
A detail of how the chaise hangs from the shed.
Above: A detail of how the chaise hangs from the shed.
It&#8\2\17;s probably pretty clear that my favorite color is blue. Another way to bring color into a garden that doesn&#8\2\17;t get much sun is to hang bunting.
Above: It’s probably pretty clear that my favorite color is blue. Another way to bring color into a garden that doesn’t get much sun is to hang bunting.
I always look forward to summer and the sweet scent of the jasmine that grows on the trellis.
Above: I always look forward to summer and the sweet scent of the jasmine that grows on the trellis.
Our bird house was only used once as it was intended. Another year, we found a bee hive in it.
Above: Our bird house was only used once as it was intended. Another year, we found a bee hive in it.
 Above L: The view of our modern terraced house from outside. Above R: Our front yard and the view of the buildings across the street that weren&#8\2\17;t bombed during the war.
Above L: The view of our modern terraced house from outside. Above R: Our front yard and the view of the buildings across the street that weren’t bombed during the war.

In my adopted hometown, there is gardening inspiration everywhere. See 11 Garden Ideas to Steal from London for more.

N.B.: Christine is also the writer of new website Fabulous Fabsters, celebrating women who are FAB—Fifty And Beyond—and sharing their stories.

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