a cook who writes

The Garden. A Chronicle.

I have a small urban garden, chronicled in the two-volume Tender. A visitor’s first impression is that of a diminutive, walled garden. True, its high hedges and tall gates make for a feeling of solitude. You do indeed feel hidden. And yes, there is shade and a corridor around the perimeter, and the vegetable patch is laid out in a series of six small beds similar to those of early monastery gardens. At night you can hear your footsteps on the deep gravel paths and the stone terrace. In winter you can see fox prints in the snow. At dusk in midsummer the garden is heavy with the scent of white jasmine and crimson sweet peas. There are bees, butterflies, squirrels, foxes and, two gardens away, a resident woodpecker. But in reality, it is nothing more than just the back garden to a London terraced house.

The garden’s feeling of enclosure and protection – of a secret space – exists partly because of the trellis mounted on top of the old brick walls and the thick growth of ivy that has formed a solid, tangled mass around it. In places, I need to climb a ladder to trim the top and a machete to beat it into submission. At the far end is a row of tall hornbeams, chosen for the piercing green of their young leaves in spring, and the fact that their bright leaves offer reflected light to the neighbouring houses, rather than blocking it as would leylandii.

Small though it is, the garden is split into three distinct enclosures: an old York stone terrace that is home to the rickety, recycled dining table; the diminutive vegetable patch of which I now write and a small, gated section of tranquil, fragrant green and white shrubs. My sanctuary. I should also include the wide garden steps that are currently home to pots of everything from tubs of Tradescant roses and lemon thyme to containers of purple sage, runner beans and wild strawberries. Getting much afternoon sunshine, this space is useful for ripening tomatoes and even, in a good year, aubergines. It is an absurd amount to cram into a tiny city garden, but I like the fact that every centimetre is put to good use.

Every wall is used. An espaliered Doyenne du Comice pear on the South facing wall; a fig in the basement; a Fragola grapevine frames the kitchen doors. I would put something up the kitchen walls if I wouldn’t mean removing the headily fragrant Chinese Jasmine that frames the scullery window. I realise I have created what is effectively an allotment to which I don’t have to travel. But then, the waiting list for an allotment in my part of the world runs into years. When I look at the garden now, with its ivy-clad walls, its rows of radishes, quinces, espaliered pears and its grapevine, not to mention the bed of Arran Victory potatoes and ‘dinner-plate’ dahlias, it is hard to picture it nine years previously, when it was just a patch of ill-mown grass.


Sleeping Beauty
There is a moment, late in each autumn, when nature tries to take the garden back. I love the garden more than ever at this point in the year. The space is at its most romantic, a little haunted perhaps, a scene of gentle, endearing chaos.
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SUN 8th NOVEMBER

09:09am

The Bones of the Garden
Its June, and time to trim the hedges.
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SUN 21st JUNE

22:19pm

A garden that brought me to tears
Of all the gardens I have seen at RHSChelsea, this was the only garden ever to make me well up with tears.
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SUN 7th JUNE

21:44pm

A Magical Advent Wreath
Each Christmas I like to hang a wreath in the front door of the house. A welcome to callers, something for passers by. But most of all, a gift to the house.
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WED 31st DECEMBER

18:18pm

Leaves of Gold
Snow, moss and lichen aside, no addition to my garden makes me happier than the changing colours of the autumn leaves. In particular, the damson, crab apple and pear trees turning from sage and emerald to the translucent hue of fruit liqueurs.
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FRI 14th NOVEMBER

08:36am

A Gentle Chaos
There is a moment, in early autumn, when a magical chaos reigns in the garden. Stems tangle, flowers topple, colours glow in the September light. For this gardener, it is the 'bliss moment.'
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SUN 14th SEPTEMBER

12:59am

A new dahlia
Celebrating the addition of a new dahlia in my garden this year, in shades of soft pink and coffee.
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SUN 31st AUGUST

10:01am

The Higgledy Garden Bed
In May I sowed several packets of annual flower seeds in a patch of the garden usually reserved for runner beans, tomatoes and courgettes. Nigella, cosmos and ammi majus now flower where vegetables have been, giving an airy, magical feel to the garden.
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MON 18th AUGUST

08:20am

A Garden in waiting
I have a large, deep, light-well, to which I have never really given a name. ‘Terrace’ would imply endless sunshine, ‘patio’ makes me cringe and ‘basement’ just sounds plain depressing. Whatever you call it, the space is sheltered, warm, and enjoys the afternoon sun.
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SUN 17th AUGUST

22:55pm

A Hidden Space
Just outside the kitchen window, in the rear basement of the house, lies a tiny, secluded courtyard. It is reached by stone steps and an elderly iron balustrade covered in verdigris. Unusually for such spaces, it is neither particularly dark nor is it damp. Over the years it has been used as building site for the many restorations and renovations that have happened at the house. It has always felt like a space-in-waiting.
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SUN 17th AUGUST

20:56pm

A Simple Rose
A new rose, David Austin’s Kew Gardens, has been giving endless pleasure this year. This is only their second summer, but the bushes have flowered almost consistently since early May and are heavy with emerging buds. It is the simplicity of this rose that appeals, from a pointed apricot coloured bud, it opens to small, single flower of five or so ivory white petals, each with a pale lemon centre.
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TUE 5th AUGUST

15:26pm

Worshipping Moss
The artisan gardens, a ribbon of tiny, precious gems hidden behind the main show gardens at Chelsea can be astonishingly beautiful. Togenko, A Paradise on Earth by Kazuyuki Ishihara was possibly the most covetable garden I have ever seen at Chelsea. The soul of this one is the story of Togenko, a place of beautiful scenery where people can forget their troubles, but once seen, it can never be revisited.
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TUE 15th JULY

10:11am