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Design a garden based on your personality

Drive pots in hot colours, July 2018
Drive pots in hot colours, July 2018

Don’t copy other people’s gardens – reflect your taste, good or bad

Copying is the sincerest form of flattery but it’s rarely one that makes your garden a personal, intimate sanctuary.

Yes, you could throw thousands of pounds to have the best designer create a ready-made work of art but will that reflect you?

The best gardens are those that are flawed, frayed around the edges, but created with love.

Being unfinished is a special thing – the thought of my garden being ‘finished’ horrifies me – imagine a plot with no future plans to look forward to! If I say my garden is finished, it’s time to plant me – six feet under.

If you feel your garden needs a makeover, make a note of the things you love in life, no matter how abstract and removed from gardening. Find pictures that sum up how you feel (Pinterest is especially useful for this – here are some I made earlier).

Arty types call them mood boards. You’ll often see patterns emerging – use them to influence how your garden will look.

Plants overload: Madeira

Close to my heart this summer have been trips to Madeira and London. Travel really does broaden the mind and seeing plants grown in very different ways can make you appreciate them more.

In Madeira, there’s a colourful mishmash of ‘houseplants’ grown outdoors (huge Monstera, Pelargoniums, spider plants, succulents, Coleus, etc).

Next to these are the tropicals – Strelitzia (bird of paradise flower), clivia, canna, agapanthus, palms, passion flowers (and fruit), and bananas.

Finally – and oddly to my eyes, our own garden staples like hydrangeas (which I’ve now bought), hollyhocks and roses.

London’s dark, bony vibes

In a whirlwind four days around London, the influences became more lateral – the gothic weirdness of the tiny conservatory in Hackney’s The Last Tuesday Society’s museum and cocktail bar on Mare Street.

Black walls, absinthe liqueurs, two-headed lambs, fake mermaids, heavy and lush dark green planting surrounding a battered dark red leather Victorian armchair. Think overgrown Swiss cheese plants, ivies, spider plants in a tumbling profusion around animal skulls –  http://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org/

There was more animal bone inspiration from the Natural History Museum (goodbye Dippy, hello blue whale Hope).

Frida’s Mexican brights and culture clashing

On to the Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up exhibition at the V&A. Already a big influence on my office and tropical pots in bright, clashing Mexican colours, Frida’s love of life and courage in the face of horrendous health problems is enough to inspire anyone. Her courtyard garden was a sanctuary for her, with greenery, begonias and succulents.

Clashing cultures never look so good in Camden (markets and henna tattoos), Brick Lane, Whitechapel and Shoreditch. No colour combination is the wrong combination!

Finally, my first look around the Garden Museum in Lambeth since its makeover – the use of huge-leaved rice-paper plants (Tetrapanax papyrifer Rex) and Fatsia polycarpa are on my ‘wants’ list, along with passion flowers.

Literary influences

Derek Jarman's Modern Nature
Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature

I’m an avid reader (proper books, from people in shops, no Kindle) and have been dragging myself away from my usual non-fiction choices.

Book of the year for me has been The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, a ‘new Gothic’ Victorian novel picked up as part of a 2-for-1 offer.

There’s a theme of darkness, ‘monsters’, folklore, religion versus science – and the colour blue.

I’ve also tried my luck with Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth series, recommended ‘if you can’t face delving into Discworld’. The first one is excellent, so I’ve bought the other four – lots of ecological food for thought.

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth

Finally, Derek Jarman’s account of the building of his garden on the unforgiving beach at Dungeness. One I feel everyone should read.

What can you pull out of that lot? More a confirmation that I’m already growing and decorating in a style I like – there are already black walls, exotics, large leaves, tropical and Mexican influences.

However, new plants have revealed themselves – hydrangeas, rice-paper plants (Tetrapanax papyrifer Rex), Fatsia polycarpa and passion flowers – looks like I need to stock up on skulls and absinthe, though!

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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