06 April 2009

Letters Across the Pond: Sylvia's Pocket Handkerchief garden

Dear Jodi,

As you say the response to our letters has been lovely, I really should start this Dear Jodi and friends. I intend to incorporate some of the questions and comments into my letters to you. This letter will be more about my garden which is so different from your, first and foremost in size. Think pocket handkerchief!

When we were looking to buy a property the demands of the family took precedence over a garden, so I spent the first few years thinking the garden was awful and not bothering too much. But a garden of any kind and size will "get me" eventually and I would have to start digging and planting. I will try to describe the garden as it was nearly 11 years ago and as it is now. I don't have any early pictures and even now, due to the size, the pictures don't show the whole garden.

Small gardens can be just as difficult to describe as large garden, especially when they go around the property, so have at least 4 separate areas. Add in paths, borders,shrubs and trees and there are a lot more.

The thing I hated most was the open plan, no walls, fence or hedges are allowed and because we were a corner plot we had front and one side open to all the dog walker. The dogs thought our grass was an extension of the field and who can blame them? The front garden had no path to the front door, though only a few feet between pavement and steps to the front door. It was nearly all grass on a steep slope, though not large walking from top to bottom (actually side to side) I could get out of breath! Mowing was difficult, not that I mow, add in the side and back garden and taking all the clippings to the tip it was a chore. The top side wasn't much better, though it had a nice rowan tree and a boxed forsythia. The previous owner had cut all the shrubs into boxes, it took years to grow the ones I kept into a more natural shape. This side slopes steeply to the bungalow which made mowing difficult, at the end is the drive and garage.

Turning down hill was a gate to the back garden, the gate was between the garage and an wall covered in ivy. The back garden had been terraced and had a couple of small borders around the grass. One side is the bungalow with two garage walls opposite, ours and next doors. The bottom side was a hedge of Laural above a steep wall and 7ft drop to the bungalow below. This left one narrow triangle on the bottom side of the garden with access from the front only, about 3ft to 7 feet wide, just gravel and empty, with nothing between us and the drop to next door, though this is less here.

Now let me take you around the garden nearly 11 years on, show you the changes and how I have come to see all the opportunities this garden offers. During the last year we have made some major changes so there is a lot of tidying and planting to do. Starting in the triangle area at the bottom of the garden, this is now open to the back garden and has three small compost bins, a fence and gate to the front garden. Through the gate and you will see we put in a path to the front door, not that you as a friend will ever use the front door! Below the path is the part of the garden that has changed the least, though we have added a wisteria on the house wall, see all those flower buds? Between us and the road is a Robinia tree and some shrubs giving some privacy. Over the path a river of grass invites us up the hill and around the corner, but first note the two borders on either side. The big border by the road is looking ragged now and needs to be re developed, it is manly perennials and sunny. The bed along the bungalow wall has awful very stony soil, I dug a lot of builders rubbish out of here. Despite the awful ground this bed seems to grow anything, it is warm and sheltered. I do hope that agapanthus will recover, it has been in a few years and this is the first year that it has lost its leaves.

Around the corner following the grass. Oh! I am not sure I want to show this to you, the ground is very steep so last year we put in a woodchip path and it looks very stark. I wanted a curved path but due to the length and width of the garden it really needed to be straight. Still it does terrace the slope a bit. Yes, that is a big compost bin but one day it will blend in more and I needed it. This area is mainly shaded by the bungalow, so I can grow woodland plants here, the rowan and conifer trees give it that feel. The primroses do look lonely on the bank by the path but they will have company soon, they remind me of all the hedgerows around here that are full of primroses now. The borders we have put in right around pavement edge do discourage the dogs, they rarely come in now. I think the owners have got better at keeping them off my plants. We do have a neighbour whose house looks out this way and he has been known to shout at anyone letting their dogs foul the garden!

Wheres the ivy wall? Well it nearly fell down. So my son helped me take it down, leaving 2 feet and he put in this lovely fence. Yes, it is in a different position, further into the side, giving me more back garden. Come through the gate, see the bit between the fence and the wall, this is going to be a vegetable bed. Do you like my new raised bed, its 9 feet by 3 feet and I must get some seed in very soon. Do you like my new path to the back door, all this area used to be grass but we put the gravel down last year. I mainly use this area for pots, though I do have 3 fruit bushes in front the low wall. I over winter and grow on plants in those two small plant houses, the ground is lower there so they are protected all around by walls.

One more piece to show you, mind the steps. This area is going to be nearly all garden beds, when I finish digging and planting, with gravel paths to move around and give the area some structure. That ? willow in its circle does dominate but it is lovely to look down on from the living room window and the birds like it. Do you see that my snowdrops under the willow are finished? I did enjoy the picture of your first snowdrop - the first one is so special. This garden is a mixture of sun and shady areas, with everything at the bottom being more moist so I can grow a variety of plants here. Did you notice my new fence, taking the hedge out (which was difficult to cut the other side due to the drop) has given me more garden as well as access to the compost bins on the side.

I hope you have enjoyed your tour, I hope you come to know this garden better especially the plants that I grow. I do like this garden now, it offers so many different planting environments, so many opportunities and challenges. I dream of a larger garden, but I don't manage to keep this one weeded and cared for all year, so for now I am happy here and it does have lovely views over the hills and cliffs.
All the pictures I took this weekend (5 April) but it was sunny and I had problems due to the shadows. We have had a long spell of sunny, dry weather but it is due to break today with some heavy rain. The garden is very dry so I will be glad of the rain but hope that at least some of the Easter weekend I will be able to get into the garden.

Best wishes Sylvia


  1. It was lovely to read that Sylvia has made that garden, which was not much to start with, entirely her own. My firts garden was very small, only 65 m2, but size doesn't matter as Sylvia has found too, a garden is a joy whatever its size.

    Happy letter writing Jodi and Sylvia!

  2. It's wonderful to see your garden, Sylvia -- it looks like a lovely spot and you've certainly done a lot of work. :)

  3. What a beautiful garden-- it gives me hope that our snow will soon be gone!

    I am likewise afflicted with neighborhood dogs, but their owners are getting better all the time.

  4. This was a great read. Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. Dear Sylvia, I loved seeing your garden. When you said, "I do like this garden now!" it just resonated with me! Thank you both for sharing this adventure with us! gail

  6. Hi Sylvia and Jodi - I am lovin' these letters, thank you both.

    Sylvia - I love the way you describe your garden as pocket handkerchief! I look after two pocket handkerchief gardens, and they take a lot more work than the bigger one!
    Yours is delightful and it is such a joy to see pictures of it I like the circular gravel with the willow.

  7. Sylvia and Jodi: Even though I live where it never snows (Bermuda) I can really appreciate the challenge of pocket handkerchief gardens. Thank you for the tour.

  8. This was a lovely stroll around your garden, Sylvia. The paths look so pretty with the beautiful hellebores and other plants, and those anemones are glorious! I'm glad to know you've come to enjoy your garden and realize it's possibilities. No matter what the size, it's our own space to create beauty, isn't it?
    Happy Easter Jodi and Sylvia. Enjoy your gardens!


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