They say good things come in small packages. I am certainly enjoying the small this week. I am staying in a narrow terraced cottage, set back from the high street in the middle of Tenterden. Most of my time however is being spent in the tiny garden at the back of the property, beneath traditional Kentish white-weatherboarding, and outside the kitchen door. I am planning to visit the famous, awe-inspiring gardens of Great Dixter and Sissinghurst later this week, and I know I’ll be blown away by these grand horticultural wonders. This little courtyard of a garden however, I’d reckon could rival any of them, not in stature or prowess, but in the fact that for my needs of the moment, and in regards to the qualities I look for from a garden space – peace, beauty of texture and form, connection – it’s just right.
Approximately 4mx4m – I can’t quite touch the walls on either side with my arms outstretched, but you’d have to go out onto the tree-lined street to pace up and down for a good think. Brick walls, aged with encrusting lichen, radiate the heat of the sun and block its glare at different parts of the day. Plants fill the space; grown in pots, wedged in corners, climbing up makeshift trellis. A huge ball of lavender is in bloom, a variegated maple-leaved acer is a surprisingly large tree in so tiny a space, adding height and dappled light. Below the tree is a clump of parsley that has bolted and gone to seed, and I rather like it.
My eyes are irresistibly drawn upward to the patch of blue above the garden. I’d imagine it to be a square lid, echoing the footprint of the garden below, but it is not so. Instead the canvas is a polygram; I try to count its numerous sides and angles. First it runs along the top of the wall. Then changes direction and shoots up the side of the house before zigzagging along the roofline – two triangles like mountains I’d draw on childhood pictures. Then it wiggles around the fringe of climbing honeysuckle and the acer (whose top-most leaves catch the last shinings of sun before it drops into the vanishing point of the street), and finally scoots along the top of the containers that perch on the shed roof, meeting itself on top of the gate.
Despite the joys of colour, texture and pattern within the garden, it is the influences that reach in from the world beyond that add the magic and life that makes this secure, enclosed space feel alive, connected and special. It’s the wind that skips over the wall to tousle the leaves of the tree. It’s the honeybees that come to the lavender blooms, back and forth with precious pollen loads to their nest under the gutter-eaves of the end of terrace down the street. The swifts that slice open the sky to slide in on the wing of a screech, seen for a segment then flicked out of sight. The starling gangs that flock up from behind the wall, first sound then physical form, to gather on the tv aerials that interrupt the sky’s progress. But isn’t that true of life? Much of our joy and inspiration comes from outside; whether we go out to seek it and bring it home, or sit in the back garden and wait for it; we have to be open and extend our senses beyond the four walls of our own space.
This weekend I have been soaking up inspiration, empowerment, and wonder, at the Wealden Literary Festival. More on that in a later blog post probably, and in the meantime there’s plenty on my Instagram feed.