So why is a middle-sized garden different?

December 8th, 2013 Posted In: Uncategorized

Ten years ago, we moved from a terraced townhouse, with a 15ft x 20ft courtyard, to a house with a quarter of an acre. With no gardening knowledge, I muddled through, helped by people who knew much more than me, books and magazines.

Is it a proper garden or an outside room?

All the gardening books and magazine articles seem to divide gardens into two categories. There are now lots of stylish small ‘outside room’ town gardens. And the main power-houses of inspiration and expertise are the great (big) country gardens. We didn’t quite fit into either category. I have heard proper gardeners call three-quarters of an acre ‘absolutely tiny’, but the best small town gardens look so good because alot of money is spent per square foot on design, hard landscaping and planting. It would be unaffordable – for most people – to scale that up to quarter of an acre, let alone more. As a garden designer friend said to me once: ‘Darling, it would cost far too much to do anything about your garden.’

The mistakes you don’t know you’re making….

When something didn’t work out, I assumed it was my fault. Often it was, but sometimes what’s right for several acres isn’t necessarily the same in a quarter of an acre. It occurred to me that some of my garden’s challenges might be linked to its size. It’s too big to treat as an ‘outside room’, but we don’t have the space, proportions – or the budget – that many larger gardens have.


For example, take rosa banksia, recommended for covering up an eyesore. If your neighbour builds a distribution centre – or perhaps a dry ski slope – next door, rosa banksia will mask it beautifully. But my neighbour merely built a single garage, with one objectionable sky-light. Planting rosa banksia to cover up one rooflight is like using a nuclear deterrent to sort a parking problem. Its charming spray of creamy-white flowers romped so thuggishly across the garden (see the bench on the left) that we hardly dared sit down to enjoy a glass of wine in case its tendrils wrapped themselves round the glass and whisked it off.  We ‘pruned’ it several times a year, carting off car-loads of cuttings each time, but eventually it snuck up on us and brought the whole trellis down.  Although designers say it’s important to have big plants in all gardens, I am being more humbly middle-sized about its replacement.

If you’re middle-sized, too, please join me…

I’m going to be charting the middle-sized garden once a week in this blog, finding out where we are different and what to do about it. I’ll be asking experts for their advice, as well as reviewing gardening books, for their ‘middle-sized gardening’ tips, and inviting guest bloggers to say what they think. I’d love to hear from you – your problems, solutions and views, so please do either leave a comment, or subscribe by email or RSS.

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