It’s been a long road from scrapyard to wheelchairfriendly idyll, but the results speak for themselves. Annie Green-Armytage makes a visit
A garden designed for a very special purpose
THE GARDEN behind Moira Smith’s house in Wensum Crescent looks as if it has sprung directly from the pages of a design magazine. Large circular patios are linked by wide paved pathways and flanked by borders holding a diverse range of plants with sculptural shapes and foliage as well as more traditional summer colour.
The jewel in the crown is a contemporary garden room with wide glass doors and a gently curving roof. Nestling in a sheltered valley, Wensum Crescent takes its name from the river which meanders into the heart of Norwich through a sliver of green space carved through built-up suburbs.
The small settlement of houses here were built in the late 1980s over the site of a scrapyard, and the builders, needing to raise levels to avoid the danger of flooding, imported spoil from a local industrial estate and spread it over the land. “There’s all sorts under here,” says Moira. “Bits of cars and lorries, helicopters, even tanks!”
Moira moved here in 2011 along with her wheelchair-bound mother. Moira was determined to make a garden which her mother could enjoy to the full. “The idea was that she could be pushed to one of the patios to sit and talk to me while I worked in the garden,” explains Moira. To achieve this took a team effort of monumental proportions, as the garden needed levelling and remodelling: around 150-200 tons of concrete and buried scrap were excavated using digger and wheelbarrow, followed by the introduction of 30 tons of imported topsoil.
A local garden design company was commissioned to create an initial plan for the new garden, which builder and friend Neil Myhill then translated into reality. This included building the garden room from scratch, based on Moira’s idea of a beach hut ‘because that’s where my mother and I used to spend our summers.’
Finally Moira lent her green fingers to the planting, which, she says, opened her eyes to new possibilities. “The planting plan broadened my horizons. I’ve always had fuchsias and roses, and bedding in the summer, but it educated me to look at foliage as well, something that will be of interest all year.” As a consequence unusual tender plants such as loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) and rice-paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) sit alongside her favourite pink and purple flowers, which include lavender, hydrangea and hebe. “Pinks and purples make me feel happy and contented,” she explains. “It’s a bit of an obsession. When a lily came up yellow I had to cut if off!”
Sadly Moira’s mother died in 2013, but not before she had enjoyed the garden for a full year. “We could sit in the afternoon and have a cup of tea in the garden room, which was lovely,” says Moira. She still sits in the garden often, although she admits to being distracted by the odd weed. “I love the garden but I’m not a gardener,” she insists. “I don’t know many of the names.” The plants don’t seem to mind.