A grey rectangle of concrete that runs along the side of our house – it’s where I washed my bike, but never parked our car. It was where I leant over the low, slightly rickety fence to talk to my neighbour. It was a transition place; a way to get to the back door. A featureless void.
Until one day, a few years ago, when I was at home for three months recovering after a severe bout of nervous exhaustion (I love that phrase, it sounds like, but is nothing like, something out of a Jane Austen novel) when I decided that a few big feature plants in pots would be a good idea. Not I hasten to add because I had belatedly realised that this void space could be a garden, but because I was so agoraphobic at the time that I was terrified to go out of the back door in case I was expected to speak to my neighbour across the fence.
“But she’s a lovely old lady, you always talk to her,” said my rather confused husband. But I would brook no opposition and so a few large but fairly ropey conifers were acquired and gave me just enough shelter so that I could feel that I could venture safely out of the back door. It was a defensive wall of green soldiers keeping me safe from the rest of the world. Gradually I started to recover and the day-to-day things that had seemed so entirely beyond me started to become achievable and I needed my green barrier less and less for protection.
To this day I credit our tiny plot with a large part of my recovery. The sofa was moved in front of the patio doors and I could spend time with the doors flung open and the sun streaming into the house allowing my shattered nerves and overwrought brain the time and space they needed to heal, gradually.
It was then that I started to realise and appreciate how lucky we were to have such a space, whatever its size, and the first of my transformative garden projects was born.
The ropey conifers soon got new friends, every battered and neglected pot I could collect from round the garden was filled with something growing and were lined up down the driveway, no longer green sentinels but the reclaiming of a grey, unused space. My victory over the bleakness.
Despite protestations from my husband that someone would steal the pots and plants no-one did and I was able to continue my ‘regreening’ project until I unexpectedly fell pregnant with our first and only child. Life and the garden went on hold, while preparations for and recovery from his arrival took priority.
But once he started to walk we soon realised that the driveway would need a gate to stop our little escape artist heading for the street, and so putting a roof over the area with a wooden trellis gateway seemed the ideal solution. It created a little courtyard garden, trellis allowed me to still speak to my neighbour and also train clematis over it. Why had I never thought of this before?
But the really major transformation came when I decided that we should full on turn this 11m-long by 2.5m wide space into a proper garden and roof it all the way along and run trellis along the top of the fence. We laid a green carpet over the concrete to brighten the whole space and I made a series of rectangular planters to run along the fence in which go spring bulbs, runner beans and tomatoes in between the Montana clematis and a beautiful hop that zings with green leaves in the spring.
It’s still very much a work in progress and I add new things to it all the time. But when I look at this space it reminds me of a very low point in my life, when everything was grey and lifeless, which is now full of plants, life and a swing. It’s my son’s favourite playspace.