Gardens

London

I love gardens, especially secret ones like this. Whilst in London last month I met up with a friend in Chelsea and this was her secret garden, can you imagine? It was across her building and locked for just her buildings use and, had it not been raining so much, we would have used it too. Everyone, especially city dwellers, need some nature. And this rings especially true for me.

Growing up my family always had a potager which if basically just “kitchen garden” in French. The portager is meant to be useful (you grow vegetables to cook with) and beautiful (they grow up trellises or have beautiful flowers incorporated). Whatever the case, they’re always defined, raised beds which makes gardening so much easier (less weeds, easier to maintain, you can walk around it without stomping on something).

My family moved a lot – sometimes we owned, sometimes we rented. Sometimes we were out in the country, sometimes in an urban setting. But whatever the case, each spring my father built the potager and my mother sewed it and I ate it all come summer (and this is what they almost always looked it).

I do not have a green thumb, the desire to study botany nor have I ever really had the patience to lay out a kitchen garden. But I do love gardens and the refuge they can provide from a sometimes hectic life or a really ugly view of the next flat. That’s why I’ve always kept a simple garden – even if it’s just a couple of containers outside my front step.

garden kit

This is my gardening kit; an easy to find, one stop shop for all my flowering needs. The most important thing? My Felco Classic Pruner For Smaller Hands #F-6. I have very tiny hands and these make cutting a breeze whether it’s pruning trees or snipping roses. I’ve had them for about 7 years now and they’re still like brand new (the green ones came with the basket (a kit from Anthropologie) and I couldn’t tell you how they work – they just look awfully pretty where they are).

Years ago I read Paul Hawken’s book, Growing a Business and have since always bought the best tools I could afford so that I only have to buy once and can withstand the terrible disregard I generally put them through. When I had a yard I kept forgetting my shovel out in the ice storm and rain yet that $45 shovel worked perfectly come spring whilst my neighbours $10 special – in the shed – did not. So although I first balked at the cost of my pruners, I smile now every time I use them.

Also in this kit are gloves although truthfully, I don’t wear them much. I’ve bought fancy pairs and a cheap pair are currently in the basket but I often find them more trouble then they’re worth. I don’t mind dirty hands and have no manicure to protect. Also in the kit are a couple of kinds of floral tape (green and brown), twine, silver containers for transporting, and the trowel and shovel. I also use the best organic (local) soil I can get for potting. It’s these basic tools have given me blooms like these:

Most of the time, my plants are in containers since I a. move a lot and b. usually don’t have a yard. And when I did have a yard in Austin, Texas, I actually kept a lot of plants in containers instead of putting them in the ground. This is because ground in Austin is extraordinarily rocky and the soil isn’t very good. So I planted huge shrubs and a couple of trees and mixed in a few smaller bushes and pretty flowers in containers. I made sure that all the plants were native (I asked my local green gardener) so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them surviving the heat and drought.

When I lived in Seattle Washington, things were a little bit easier since anything and everything seems to grow there. I had a very small balcony which I put a lot of containers on to give me privacy from the building across and the parking lot below.

When I looked outside the kitchen, dining or living room, that’s what I saw. It looked anything but urban. And I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed this garden. Hawks, racoons, and blue jays all showed up all the time. It was some kind of nature party.

There are three things I like in my garden: green hedges (Japanese Box Hedges are my favourite – they are so hard to kill), flowers that I can cut and arrange for indoors and flowers that smell amazing like jasmin and gardenias. I’m not a huge rose fan – if a property has them fine but I don’t grow them. I like a simple garden but a full one. That’s the beauty of nature – no plants ever clash. Somehow the colours work and the styles all mesh which is especially important when you have no idea what you’re doing (like me) and just throw containers together. Perhaps one day I’ll learn the scientific names or built the portager, but for now, I’ll keep gardening this way. It’s simple, it works and the pay off is always more than expected.

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