Last year, during the first Spring lockdown, I started to grow a garden. I’ve always had a small yard at the back of my Victorian terrace but I know very little about gardening. It was tired, uncared for and nothing much grew there apart from ivy and straggling shrubs. Suddenly though, being outside became super important and I had spare locked-in evenings to make something happen.
I played with an old sleeper and some leftover flagstones and bricks, placing them and rearranging. Now I have a makeshift bench, patio and some border edges – a little rough around the edges but…honest.
I ordered seedlings – tomatoes, courgettes, beans and herbs – to create a small vegetable patch for the sunniest part at the bottom of the garden. In the Summer, I enjoyed breathing in the sharp air of my tomato jungle and triumphantly eating the two dwarf courgettes that survived the snails…
I ordered ferns, bluebells, primroses and wood anemone to bury in the dark earth under the trees. And it’s these last things that I’m watching for now as they come into the light. I’m always happiest in a wood, preferring wilderness to formality, and my plan was to create a tiny forest patch of my own, with cool dappled shade, the smell of damp moss and breeze in the lilac trees. With the weather on my side, I can see that good things are coming for the Spring.
Initially I made a rough plan of my garden, hastily scribbled on the back of some scrap paper. Functional rather than aesthetic, of course, and fitting to my humble yard. Nothing like the beautiful garden maps made for grand homes across the centuries, across the world. From the open, intricate patterns of the palace grounds of Versailles in France to the enclosed gardens of ancient Egypt with their date trees and shady pools, garden maps have been a useful tool but also a pleasure to look at. Like many maps, they stamp the seal of ownership on land – however small.
A few months ago, I was asked to create a plan which mapped Perch Hill Farm, the grounds of renowned gardener, writer and producer Sarah Raven for her latest book, ‘A Year Full of Flowers’, published by Bloomsbury this month. In watercolour, it shows the old barns and oast house, the rose and herb gardens, the vegetable patch, the chickens and Sussex Red cattle. You can visit Perch Hill on open days, buy plants from there or sign up for cookery or gardening courses.
I was also commissioned to produce the instructional drawings throughout the book which take the reader through a year of gardening. In January, secure your rose trees. In March, plan for your sweetpeas. In September, plant your amarylis bulbs and in December come into the warmth and make Christmas wreathes. As an illustrator with a curious mind, researching something new is always fun. As a new gardener, it was interesting to realise how much of this arcane knowledge there is still to absorb.
And so I face into another year with the shoots of a new garden – bluebells, primroses and wood anemones pushing greenly upwards. It’s still basic but I love it and I now have a growing interest in gardening techniques thanks to Sarah’s book. Maybe one day I’ll map my own garden properly and despite its size, give it a plan worthy of it’s value to me.
‘A Year Full of Flowers’ by Sarah Raven and published by Bloomsbury can be bought here.