I need a plan. Literally. Sometimes it’s good to try and see the bigger picture, so I have removed myself from the real thing for a few hours and put my limited Photoshop skills to work, creating a virtual garden: a simple bird’s eye view of a tiny square that I can look down on and try to make sense of.
If I draw an imaginary line from the top right to the bottom left, two triangles are formed. The bottom one defines the shady half of the garden and the top defines the sunny. This is a condition I am stuck with, along with two trees: one, a large silver birch, in the sunny side, and the other, an unknown evergreen in the shady side. Some years ago we removed an immense old pear tree in an attempt to extend our sunlight allowance, and excavated a small paved area by the house. This little space now benefits from afternoon sun from May to September, so we can sit here in the Summer and survey our plot. Old brick steps lead to a rather badly kept area of grass, and a rectangle of granite sets marks the sunniest corner.
For ten years this plan form has been broadly maintained unquestioned. The south-west facing triangle was lavished with attention whilst the dark side was ignored. However there is a limit to how long one can live in denial when tending such a small space, and no matter how determined I was to turn my back on the gloomier side, I started to find gardening in the sun a little limiting. I found myself looking over my shoulder at the dark side, and saw interest there. Whilst tending my half a garden, I had created further division. Now I had to start seeing it as a whole. This tiny patch of land could offer far more unified than it could divided, so rather than ignore the dark and rebellious side, I decided to introduce it to the sunnier other half and see how they both got on. In a bid to encourage some cohesion, I planned a new planting zone in the centre that would straddle both dark and light sides. I imagined it as a unifying presence, cohabited by both shade and sun-loving plants, enclosing a corner of the terrace.
Encouraged by the cohesion this has started to provide, I have begun to address other problematic areas. I have removed the thick tangle of growth which up until now has concealed the broken fence on the north side, and I have relocated an old stone bench. A garden this size with so little sun cannot be expected to support a lawn of any quality, so what little that is left of it must, I think, be reduced further. I have retained it in the sunnier side, but eliminated it almost entirely where there is permanent shade, replacing it with an extended area for planting.
In January this year I spent two wet days on my hands and knees hammering in lengths of metal edging which has given me a nicely defined planting zone and housemaid’s knee.