The Geek’s Garden Part 2: A Man, A Plan, A Laser Measure

I was alerted to the existence of Monty Don’s Big Dreams Small Spaces (MDBDSS) a few weeks ago, which helped a fair bit with inspiration. Though I would like to discuss with the BBC their definition of “Small Spaces”, given that only two gardens of the twelve featured were on a similar scale to our 18m2. In both these instances, Britain’s Favourite Gardener (a title I presume Monty Don won by beating Alan Titchmarsh to a pulp in a cage before thousands of hooting Gardener’s World fans) pretty much confirmed my first thoughts: a vertical garden is the best option in such an enclosed space.

Bow before my Sketchup skills!
The left side is North.

The fence running along the northern wall is the most logical place to plant upwards, as it gets the most sunlight. Unfortunately the extant fence is, frankly, a shambles and I don’t think it can take the weight, so I’m going to have to replace it with something a lot sturdier.

Great artists steal. From garden centres, if need be.
Great artists steal. From garden centres, if need be.


I won’t take up the entire wall with herbs, because there is an upper limit to the amount of seasoning two people can consume. The yard is divided into uneven thirds by bricks that support the north wall, and the largest middle section will be where the herbs live. The western segment will be an assortment of cottagey flowers, and to the eastern side there will be some trellis with a mirror on accompanied by some climbing plants, an idea stolen shamelessly from a local garden centre.


This'll really confuse cloud-to-butt users
A water butt! No idea what to accompany it with, though…

I’ve already repainted the southern wall, which is external to our extension, because it was a hideous yellowish colour turned brown with years of grime and mud. It’s now a standard issue plain white. Attached will be some trellis, and a climbing rose suitable for shade will wind around the bathroom windows. That’s the idea, anyway.

There’s not much to the eastern wall as it’s taken up by windows and drains, but a potted tree, possibly a bay tree to fit with the edible theme, will sit in the corner, behind a bench. The western wall is still a blank canvas; I have not been able to make a decision whether to use it for further climbing plants, some raised bedding, or a gurt big water feature. Ideas on the back of a postcard, please!

On top of the grand designs (home improvement pun!) I’ve laid out above, the whole thing needs re-paving, because the current paving doesn’t cover all of the floor and is best described in style as “robbed from a council leftovers pile in the 1950s”.

The 3D models dotting this article were created in Sketchup, which is free and handy for planning out a space properly instead of on the back of an envelope. Another thing that helped was the ELEPHAS laser measuring tool I picked up a few weeks ago, as it made getting the exact measurements of the yard really easy.

The Geek’s Garden Part 1: Inception

It’s a little over two years since me and Coralie took over the smallest cottage in the village. It was a bit run down, but that’s par for the course when your budget looks like ours. Since then we’ve made a lot of improvements, and while there’s still a lot of work to do (I’m led to believe that this is the natural state of all houses ever), we’ve done enough of the “need to do” stuff that we can now work through the “nice to do” stuff. With summer approaching, top of my list is the garden.

The mudpile
The mudpile

Calling it the garden may be overselling it somewhat; it’s a paved courtyard, a little over two and a half metres wide and about seven metres long. When we arrived, the defining feature was a heap of soil over a metre long covering the rear width of the yard. It may once have been a carefully maintained raised bed, but when we arrived it was home to a combination of nettles and daffodils, with a few large pot plants dumped on top.

Bless this mess
Bless this mess

Maybe this was all deliberate and I’ve harshly judged a neatly assembled modernist piece. Indeed, we may have inadvertently enhanced that effect by adding some installation art in the form of a spare tyre, an old oven and a collection of copper and plastic pipes as we renovated the insides of the house. Seeing as there’s no obvious signs of Arts Council members issuing prize money, I have to assume not and return to my original conclusion: our courtyard is a dump. It must be razed to the ground and we must start again.

The brief for the project is pretty lofty; I feel that in a small house every square foot must pull its’ weight. It must be a nice place to relax, with seating enough to entertain guests. I want a herb garden – this is an English cottage and I want our yard to play the part of a much larger English cottage garden. Also I hate paying seventy odd pence a time for fresh herbs at the local Tesco only to have them decompose within a few days. The whole garden must be incredibly low maintenance, because I am absent-minded at the best of times and I struggle to make sure I get enough water, let alone the plants in my care. Lastly, the project must be done on a fairly meagre budget, because I much prefer to spend my money on shiny gadgets and when you get down to it, most gardens are a combination of soil, stones and plants, and it does not feel satisfying to spend lots of money on these naturally occurring and plentiful items.

I’m blogging about this partly because I feel that making a target public will pressure me into meeting it, and partly because it might be useful for other amateur gardeners who can learn from my inevitable mistakes.