For many, the opportunity to spend more time in the garden recently has been a rewarding experience.
As garden centres prepare to re-open, we have invited avid gardener Anj Handa, Founder of Inspiring women changemakers and one of Grant Thornton's "100 Faces of a vibrant Economy" in 2018 to share with us her own garden transformation story.
I walked into the back garden and gasped. Not with delight, but with horror at the jungle before me! It was 2008 and I had gone to view a house, built in the 1930s. It had been left unoccupied for some time. While the first photo in my collage from the estate agent’s listing looks bad, the reality was much worse.
The grass was waist height, weeds were running rampant and the base of the shed was completely rotten. The inside of the house was not much better. However, I could see that it was structurally sound and could visualise its potential.
The compact back garden was part of the appeal. At the time, I was the regional Director of a non-departmental public body. My busy role frequently took me away from home, so I wanted a space I could easily maintain. Once my offer was accepted, I spent three months renovating the property before moving in - I spent so much on the interior that I had to wait until 2012 until I could bring in landscapers.
My home is on a slope and the combination of a high water table and clay soil meant that the lawn was always soggy so I opted for an Indian Stone courtyard in shades of pink, ochre and grey. It was pricey but worth the investment.
Despite the small size of my garden, it was quite a job. The landscapers had to dig down a whole foot, add a step and raise flower beds, installing a retaining wall to ensure the old brick wall wouldn’t fall over. The wall is full of character and to me is an integral part of a cottage garden. On a small section, I have painted on mandalas of varying sizes using cream masonry paint. It’s not only quirky but a nod to my Indian heritage.
There were a few gems amongst the weeds that I kept: two small firs and a juniper, a delicate scarlet hellebore and a honeysuckle. The firs are located by my kitchen window but that hasn’t prevented wrens, blue tits and robins from nesting in them over the years.
Until last year, my one regret was to leave the ugly concrete shed base. I tried covering it with decking but once it started to warp, I removed it, painted the concrete floor slate grey and added an outdoor rug made from recycled plastic bottles.
The raised dining area is one of my favourite features now. To appeal to all the senses, chimes are hung to tinkle in the breeze and the plants smell as heavenly as they look. My beds and large pots contain clematis, jasmine, foxglove, lungwort, salvia, verbena and other pollinator-friendly flowers.
Another addition was a container pond to attract dragonflies and damselflies, my favourite insects. They’re like small helicopters whizzing overhead whilst I enjoy my morning cuppa. New species of bees, butterflies and birds visit my garden the more changes I make.
Upcycling, repurposing and recycling are important to me. Since my initial landscaping outlay I have spent very little on my garden, despite creating so many small areas of interest within the space. I’ve incorporated a vertical pallet ‘nursery’, a planter bursting with ivy made from a discarded chiminea, an old mirror to reflect my Buddha and a black sphere surrounded by alpine plants, a small wooden trunk, and the base of an old cabinet as a table, upon which stylish bottles, a candle, a moss garden in a bowl and a glass vase full of lilacs are placed.
These additions have helped the flow from the kitchen through to the garden, which is essentially my outdoor living room. I planned my garden design using Feng Shui principles and it certainly feels balanced and inviting.
I also love that my property came with a section of private bridleway directly behind the garden, filled with fruit trees and shrubs, leading to a small wood. It’s a haven that attracts all kinds of wildlife, including bullfinches, jays, a Mistle thrush. I even had a rare migratory visitor, a Wryneck woodpecker, which hung around for two weeks!
During this lockdown period, apart from continuing to rewild the bridleway, I’ve painted two trellises slate grey to tie in with the pallet nursery, have made a mini flower bed and stacked breeze blocks to display herbs in terracotta pots at different heights. I’m also growing beans, garlic, strawberries and chard for the first time. My next project is to paint the breeze blocks with moss, which I believe will look spectacular.
Like many fellow gardeners, I’ve missed not being able to pop to the garden centre but even when they reopen, I won’t be in a rush. In the meantime, I’ve scattered seeds gathered last year from friends and family gardens and divided established plants to fill spaces.
My garden looks lovelier than ever and it’s still evolving! That's the beauty of taking care of plants. Even if you don't have a big space, there's always something that you can do: a container garden, a window box, even a houseplant or two to nurture. For more inspiration, you’re welcome to follow my gardening tips on Instagram: @AnjHanda or Pinterest.