Award-winning garden columnist Jane Moore explores two beautiful gardens in Bedminster, ahead of their appearance on Gardener’s World – and Jane’s own presenting debut!
My own home plot is a modest town garden overlooked by just about everyone in the neighbourhood and with just enough room to swing a cat.
The humble garden chez moi is also rather like a builder’s house, always a work in progress and never finished, much to the horror of my partner who laments the lack of a lovely spot outdoors in which to eat his lunch on the three days of summer that would allow him to do so.
“Maybe these gardens will give you some ideas for ours,” he said hopefully as he packed me off with a ham sandwich to keep me going during a day’s filming. Yes, yours truly is about to appear as a guest presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World talking about small gardens. I will have about 18 minutes of fame in six minute chunks across three programmes in September – so make sure you don’t get up to make tea at the wrong time or you could miss me. On the other hand, that could be exactly what you want to do.
Anyway back to these small gardens, the first batch being in Bedminster. I could have retorted to my other half that ideas are not what I’m short of, but having seen these gardens now I’m not so sure. It’s easy to get things right with a big garden because there’s just so much room, but in a small garden every little bit has to count. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.
Elegance in Bedminster
“The great thing about having a small garden is that it’s such an intimate space. You’re close to the plants and the garden kind of wraps around you,” says Matthew Symonds, whose elegant, leafy garden is exactly the sort of space my other half aspires to. Not to be deterred by a somewhat precipitous drop just outside the back door Matthew has cleverly designed a glass balcony and staircase leading down into the garden, a welcoming dell of ferny mossiness, accented by elegantly planted pots of white violas and lush looking leafy plants such as fig. Deceptively simple and terribly classy and just the sort of place where one should sip very cold white wine and make interesting conversation.
“We do come and sit here after work – it’s very good for your sense of well-being,” says Matthew. And it is just that – a wonderfully cool, calming space with the gentle sound of the water spout trickling into the weathered steel trough Matthew treated himself to as a birthday present.
“The challenge is trying to find the space to have the things I want, like space to sit as well as the plants I want. I edit as I go along and there are lots I can find space for by thinking vertically.”
Matthew not only seems to think vertically, pruning shrubs into standards and then under planting to make the most of the space, but also laterally by making the stilt hedge of hornbeams one of his very first plantings.
“The hornbeams really enclose us and blot out the houses behind,” he says. “We’re in our own world here.”
Just a little way down the road I leave Matthew’s world behind and enter that of Tony Eastman and his little garden. Here I’m transported around the world in 80 short steps. We walk from the leafy jungles of Sumatra, complete with tiger, to the Zen like calm of Japan. There’s a corner devoted to New Zealand and Australia dominated by a tree fern and the blue walls and pots of pelargoniums that conjure up the South of France. I know what you’re thinking, it sounds too much for a small space. But Tony is an artist and has approached his garden in an artistic fashion, linking together different influences and passions with plants and colour.
Tony Eastman’s growing bananas in his globally themed scheme
“I wanted to get that Côte d’Azur effect so I started to use the blue paint. I thought that the garden would always have some colour and it does. But it’s at its best at dusk when it glows.”
When Tony first moved in the garden was empty. Since those days he’s honed his horticultural skills with a flair for the bold such as the gigantic echium and the totally tropical such as his stand of sky high bananas which are even producing some fruit. “When I look back, the garden has changed dramatically over the past few years – and it’s unrecognisable from when we first moved in,” says Tony.
And that challenge is one that Tony and Matthew have both met with style and substance. Just goes to show that it’s not what you’ve got but what you do with it that matters.
See more of Matthew and Tony’s Bedminster gardens on BBC Gardeners’ World on Friday 9 September.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at the Bath Priory Hotel. Follow her on Twitter @janethegardener.