Winter light


I used to think that January and February were my least favourite months of the year, but I’m now awarding that dubious accolade to November and December. All of a sudden it feels as if someone has switched the lights off and plunged us all into darkness. January and February may be a bit grim, but at least lighter days are just around the corner.

A friend who knows Scandinavia well says that the dark winters there always seem to be full of light because everyone lights tons of log fires and candles. I’ve long been fascinated by the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced ‘hooga’), which doesn’t translate directly into English but is basically about the art of being cosy and convivial. The charming description of it here it makes me want to jump on a plane and fly to Copenhagen.

I think the Danes would have been impressed by the feeling of hygge at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden last week, at the launch of the Pothole Gardener‘s book (see below). The woodburning stove churned out pizzas, guitars were strummed, candles in jam jars lit up the birch grove and tealights in paper bags glowed on the pergola. It was freezing cold but the atmosphere was warm.

The garden is holding a Festival of Light in November and December – a series of events and activities to light up the garden and brighten dark winter days.  It sounds like more fun than a light box. Details here.

I want one of those


My friend Naomi and I went to the launch party of the Pothole Gardener‘s new book the other night. I was really pleased to be invited because I love what Steve Wheen (aka the Pothole Gardener) does – he fills potholes with temporary mini gardens, complete with accessories such as tiny deckchairs and mini red phone boxes. Isn’t that a lovely, happiness-spreading idea? He did a pothole for the Chelsea Fringe last year (which received a royal visit from Camilla Parker Bowles, no less) and word has it that he’s planning something for this year’s festival, too.

The launch was also a chance to see the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, a new community garden on the site of an old railway line. It was dark, of course, and full of bright young things sipping red wine, eating wood-fired pizza, pedalling away at a bicycle cinema and having their pics taken in a mini garden (instantly spread far and wide on the Twittersphere). But it seems like a vibrant and original community space and I’ll definitely go back in daylight for a better look.

Naomi and I took a wander around the garden and were instantly smitten by this conservatory/potting shed/greenhouse. We both agreed that if we had something like this, we would never want for anything more. Naomi was practically dialling an architect as we left to see if her kitchen could feasibly replaced with an enormous potting shed, and I was mentally adding some kind of glasshouse extension to my ever-expanding fantasy list of house hunting requirements.

Marcia’s garden


North Dulwich

This is Marcia’s garden, planted up just over a year ago by… me! When Marcia moved in, it consisted of the decking with gravel around the edge, plus a Fatsia japonica, a mahonia and a very large bay tree. Marcia asked for my advice over tea, and I ended up doing a planting plan for her.

In many ways it wasn’t an easy garden to plant up. For a start, Marcia’s budget was around £500. That sound like a lot but it doesn’t go far, even when you’re only filling a few square metres. We saved money by buying plants in the smallest possible size, and for the time being the perennials have outstripped the slower growing shrubs. There was also the orientation of the garden to consider – it’s largely shady (only the border on the right gets a decent amount of sun). There was no budget to alter the layout of the garden, or to do a proper survey of the site, so the gravel was removed and replaced with new topsoil.

Marcia wanted quite a contemporary look, so I dusted down my plant books and got Googling, and after a very long time spent dithering (if I was a full-time garden designer I’d be lucky to earn £1 an hour) I came up with a plan.

The garden has lots of plants with bold foliage such as bergenias, oak-leafed hydrangeas and ferns, and grasses such as Deschampsia and Stipa tenuissima  for texture. Hardy geraniums, Japanese anemones and sedums supply the flowers and Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) and Trachelospermum jasminoides (on the sunny wall) provide the scent. I wanted Marcia to have an awareness of the seasons changing, so there’s spring blossom courtesy of a star magnolia and autumn colour from the Vitis on the back wall. Many of the plants should die back quite gracefully and many of the plants are evergreen, so Marcia won’t be looking out on to a sea of hard landscaping in winter.

You’re obviously not seeing it at its best (this pic was taken right at the end of October), plus the plants are still establishing etc etc. But all things considered, I’m pleased with it. And most importantly, so is Marcia.

PS The furniture is from John Lewis.