Nook: Pergolas

It’s cold outside. But in my head I’m in a Turkish taverna, outside in the day warmed evening air under an ancient vine that winds with strength above, obliterating the simple metal framed pergola that’s holding it up. Lights hang down from branches in a twinkly, haphazard way. I have fresh simple food, really good cheap wine, bread, water and good company.

Record scratch to an abrupt halt… I’m at my desk, designing a seating area for a London garden, I was transported to somewhere I once went in Kalkan, Turkey, I want to create the same feel whenever I’m planning a covered seating area. Ultimately, that’s about the plants eventually taking over the original frame, which can be made in attractive wood or iron, because it’s going to take a while for the plants to rule. I love the idea of creating a living pergola from trees like white mulberries (won’t red mulberries drop down and stain your clothes?) and by-passing the frame itself. Planting the trees young and training them to arch into a shading dome.


Plant Picture: Flowers or Veg

Last years vegetable beds had to be low maintenance through the summer, as I had a 9 -12 month old baby going from crawling to walking at high speed and generally causing havoc. I was keen for the area to look used and not abandoned. With that ambitious plan in mind, I filled one whole bed with Zinnias which were sown in situ and flowered abundantly from August through to October. So prolific is their flowering season I took bunches of these waxy, long lasting flowers as gifts everywhere I went. They grow neatly and fill a space brilliantly. Then I planted sweet pea plugs, direct sown salads, peas, herbs (summer savoury, dill and tarragon) and strawberries which filled the rest of the planters in an easy way that was still productive and orderly.

I have moved on to pulling the same baby down from pieces of furniture so, in order to have my hands free to do that, I'm going to give a bed over to cut flowers again this year.

Sarah Raven's website is the most straight forward with lots of ideas for any sized cutting garden. I've just ordered Scabiousa stellata 'Sternkugel' from there to go with phlox 'creme brulee' and scabiosa autropururea 'fata morgana' from the ever reliable Chiltern Seeds. I'll fill a whole 2m x 1.5m bed with just these and hopefully get bountiful cuttings again.

Photograph of last years Zinnia bed.


A Clearing.

I came across a great example of what I find exciting about the natural landscape and man’s involvement with it on a walk on Dartmoor recently. The bronze age stone circle (photographed below) was entered from the grasslands by a well-trodden grass path. This opened up like a clearing, a really exciting, evocative glade. In amongst the wilds of Dartmoor, that feel so ancient and remote came the echoes of the people that have lived on this land. Marked by large granite blocks that had been placed purposefully in a circular formation with some kind of ritual table in the centre. Immediately creating an atmosphere of reverence, order, and thoughtfulness within the untamed landscape. This atmosphere rose up from the path that directs you, created by footfall, dividing the grasses to let you in. The line of stones marking the way into the circle, giving purpose to the cleared land. Then the opening into the circle itself, both welcoming and imposing with the stone tables sense of intention.

I am constantly curious about how to create an atmosphere within a garden space, the path that leads you, the clearing that surprises you, the nook that envelopes you, all framed by the plants that bring wildlife and create screens and framed pictures from windows.

These design features work well in gardens of any size, very small city terrace to sweeping landscape.

I am going to break this blog down into four sections to explore what creates the atmosphere of a garden, hopefully giving out plenty of ideas and inspiration along the way.

Each blog will be sectioned under the headings Clearings, Nooks, Paths and Plant Pictures.

Photograph, The stone circle near Bellever Tor, Dartmoor.


The Cabbage

These beautiful waxy leaved brassicas hold their own year round in or out of the veg patch. They are always worth including on the winter planting list. I remember seeing purple kale sitting statuesquely in amongst an ornamental border in a public park in Paris, the dark purple leaves and stems highlighting and giving strength to the bright yellow annuals billowing around underneath it so beautifully. Any plant that fills a space majestically as well as being delicious to eat is worth planting.

Piet Oudolf has recently created ‘The Kale Garden’ in his design for The NoMa restaurant in Copenhagen. Cavello Nero is used to great effect in a huge border dedicated to the beauty of the architectural black green iron rich plants.

This year I am growing Red Russian Kale, Winter and Spring Green Cabbage along with Cavello nero. I’m looking forward to looking out at their frosty forms, feeling happy that the garden is still providing and looking productive. Either sow from seed in august or early september if the grounds still holding onto the summer warmth. Or plant plugs in early autumn.

Photo of Purple Kale in my garden.


Christmas Trees

The evocative smell of pine needles in the build up to Christmas always takes me to Columbia Road Flower Market. It’s well worth a trip there at any time of the year but I particularly love it in December.

At 4am the market gets unpacked onto the street with the sound of each lorries beeping reversing. Followed by the clatter of plant trollies rolling off the back. By a normal waking hour, ‘25 any size’ rings out across the street, by lunchtime pine needles have formed a thick heady smelling carpet across the battered tarmac.

The soft pine forest floors, that absorb the sound of your footsteps are transported to the city streets. It is magical.

According to these wise market men, to keep your christmas tree looking it’s best, cut an inch off the trunk when you get it home and put it straight into water - alright darlin?


My Garden

When I say my garden, it’s really not. It is shared very passionately and possessively with our three children and my husband’s many projects. I have managed to take ownership of two areas, the kitchen garden near the house, and a wide border surrounding the children’s swing. A large area of lawn belongs firmly to the children although I have squeezed a small border to edge it next to the path where i experiment with annual and perennial meadows. That patch of lawn is the outlet for their boundless energy, for now they love it fiercely. My plans will have to wait. My well organised garden shed/ potting shed has been transformed into a micro brewery by my career changing husband. He is an obsessive, out of that shed now comes very delicious organic beer, new flavours are trialed regularly. I cannot complain because his dedication is impressive. But one day that will be mine too. Gardens evolve, as do families. I am patiently waiting….