This urban garden transformation was the first gardening I ever did. The garden was in Tooting in South London and was about 9 metres long by 5 metres wide.
Although it contained a fair bit of rubble that I had to dig out, the soil was a surprisingly good loam, except in one corner where the London clay was only just below the surface.
I’ve described the creation of this garden as follows:
“I came to gardening quite late in life. As a child all I remember doing was playing sport. As an adult, in my twenties and thirties, I can’t really recall going outside much at all, except to get to the pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants I spent all my spare time (and money) in. But around the time I turned forty, it suddenly occurred to me that I could do something with the space attached to the back of my house, other than smoke in it. So, I made a quite deliberate decision to start gardening. For me, that meant learning everything I could about gardening in as short a space of time as possible – my bookshelves still creak under the weight of the countless gardening books I bought at that time.”
The garden featured here was the ‘space attached to the back of my house’. I’d renovated the inside of the house and decided to tackle the outside.
As you’ll see, there aren’t many ‘before’ or ‘during’ pictures, as I didn’t even have a proper digital camera then.
The ‘before’ shots actually show my earliest gardening efforts. The real ‘before’ shots, if they existed, would have shown a bare patch of dirt overshadowed by an out of control buddleia, surrounded by weeds.
When I first came to work on this garden, knowing nothing of gardening, I assumed that a small garden like this needed a tidy patch of lawn and some neat borders with some compact plants. And that’s what I started to create.
Before long, however, my reading led me to understand that:
- a garden didn’t necessarily have to have a lawn,
- a small garden didn’t necessarily have to have small plants, and
- a garden didn’t have to be dominated by flowering plants.
With those principles in mind, I set to work. I was heavily influenced (still am) by Christopher Lloyd and Great Dixter, by various gardens I visited in Cornwall, like Trebah, by Will Giles’ exotic garden and, in a great flush of enthusiasm, by almost everything garden related that I read and saw.
So, whilst I started attempting to create an urban exotic garden, I threw in a few random bulbs and perennials, like Thalictrums, along the way that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of Miss Jekyll’s creations.
Click on the first pic below and use the arrows to scroll through.
The urban garden transformation in pictures
The next garden step
It was after gardening here for a couple of years that I I felt the need for more space to garden in, hence my move to the suburbs.
Martin Cole has been an avid gardener for more than 20 years and loves to talk and write about gardening. In 2006 he was a finalist in the BBC Gardener of the Year competition.
He previously lived in London and Sydney, Australia, where he took a diploma course in Horticultural studies and is now based in North Berwick in Scotland. He founded GardeningStepbyStep.com in 2012. The website is aimed at everybody who has been bitten by the gardening bug and wants to know more.
Gardening Step by Step has been cited by Thompson and Morgan, the UK’s largest mail order plant retailer, as a website that publishes expert gardening content.
Check out my comprehensive step by step guide, with plain language explanations and ultra-useful images and illustrations. This is for you if you love dahlias and want to the best out of the dahlias you grow.
6 thoughts on “Urban garden transformation: small space, big plants … and lots of them”
I love this garden. Fantastic what you can do with a small space. Greening up the urban environment is a must, I think. Well done
Thanks Jean. I agree, I think gardens can almost be more powerful in urban environments than elsewhere. A matter of contrast I suppose.