What is a garden for?

I have a friend who wants to downsize her house, as she needs to reduce her mortgage debt, but is quite understandably is sad about losing her large garden.

I’ve spent years casting a covetous eye over anyone with a large expanse of grass and plenty of room to swing several cats. Yet, I’ve put a lot of time and effort instead to embrace the smaller garden that we have. As a result we’ve gone from having a rather mediocre space to having something that draws comments and admiration from visitors. I’ve chosen to celebrate the garden space we have and risen to the challenges that space limitation offers.

To do that I really thought hard about what a garden should be for, as for many things in modern life, gardens can also become status symbols, and as such appreciating them for what we actually gain from them and learn from them becomes overlooked.

Our garden performs many functions and meets many of my expectations despite its small size:

  1. I can grow fruit and vegetables in it. I grow up walls, in planters and pots and in our front garden. As such, despite the small harvests I have learned about the growing cycle and can eat food that has been grown in our soil.
  2. Somewhere to sit is important. Having somewhere to sit in a garden and listen to the birds, enjoy the fresh air and be among green, growing things is key for me, hence the six seating spaces. One allows me and my son to sit and watch the son come up and eat our breakfast. The second is next to our (very small) pond, but it is home to a frog nonetheless. The third is in the front garden. This is one of my favourite seats – in the summer the sun moves to the front of the house and it’s a great place to enjoy the evening warmth and stillness. A fourth is an area of decking where a living roof of a grape vine and boston ivy grows. Another is a raised bed on which I’ve built a little perch. I want to plant a scented clematis near this so I can enjoy its fragrance. Finally I built a very little summer house with a pull-down table and two benches.
  3. We have several trees, one of which, a rowan has had a treehouse built around it, which leads me to point number 4…
  4. It offers somewhere for our son to play. We don’t have the space to buy off-the-shelf garden toys such as swings, climbing frames etc, so we have built a treehouse with a slide, and a couple of dens. We don’t have the room for him to play football, but as we live around the corner from a large playing field, I’m rather glad that he won’t spend all his summers round nextdoor’s asking for his ball back!
  5. It offers a place for wildlife. We have trees for birds, berry-bearing shrubs such as cotoneaster, rowan and pyracantha. The front garden is maintained with minimal intervention to leave it to wildlife.
  6. A garden is the first place that a child interacts with nature. It’s also in an increasingly urban world a place where adults can interact with an environment that allows them to engage with things that aren’t plastic and manufactured.
  7. Hanging washing out. I love the smell of washing when it’s dried in the open. We have a covered area at the side of the house that means I can dry washing all year round.
  8. In modern parlance gardens are now entertaining spaces or outdoor rooms. We have a lovely enclosed area filled with wooden benches and underneath a golden birch where we can sit and eat in the summer or sit outside round a chiminea at Christmas time.

In short, despite its size, our garden is a little piece of urban paradise and fulfils all the things that a garden should do.

“My little plot, my little Eden I call it. So small, but so well beloved.” EF Benson.

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