Two for one:

How two gar­dens be­came one tran­quil space, de­spite over­whelm­ing odds

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: An­nie Green-Army­tage

How two Nor­wich gar­den­ers ex­panded their hori­zons

For years Alan In­ness had ad­mired the gar­den next door with its seven stately oak trees. “I al­ways thought, ‘what a lovely gar­den’,” he recalls. “But never in a mil­lion years did I think that I’d get the op­por­tu­nity to pur­chase it.” When his new part­ner, keen gar­dener Sue Collins, joined him, she was equally smit­ten. “It was a bit wild in here,” she laughs. “I used to peep through the gap in the conifers and think, ‘Wow!’” In 2009 their neigh­bour of­fered them the part ad­join­ing their gar­den and the cou­ple jumped at the chance. They didn’t re­alise that its pur­chase would be bit­ter-sweet.

“As we were go­ing through with the trans­ac­tion, Sue was di­ag­nosed with stage four cancer, and given 12 months to live,” says Alan, mat­ter-of-factly. Apart from the ut­terly dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect that this had on their lives, he started to have sec­ond thoughts about the gar­den pur­chase, but Sue urged him to con­tinue. “I felt I didn’t want to give up,” she re­mem­bers. “I still wanted to gar­den be­cause gar­den­ing lifts my mood. Be­ing out­side and do­ing some­thing with na­ture is in­spi­ra­tional.”

In the event, af­ter a trau­matic pe­riod of che­mother­apy, surgery, and say­ing good­bye to friends and fam­ily, the hospi­tal dropped an­other bomb­shell. Sue had been mis­di­ag­nosed and didn’t have cancer at all.

As she grad­u­ally pieced her life back to­gether, the gar­den un­der­pinned and in some ways mir­rored her process of re­newal and restora­tion. The conifers were ban­ished in a suc­ces­sion of huge bon­fires, and borders were dug out, un­cov­er­ing an enor­mous amount of house­hold rub­bish and build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

The grass was re­seeded around the oaks, which turned out to be multi-stemmed – three sets of two stems and a sin­gle – from the time when this area was cop­piced wood­land. “The Tree Pro­tec­tion Of­fi­cer told me that a lot of the tim­ber from here was sent to north­ern France in the First World War, to be used in the trenches,” ex­plains Alan.

Most of the now L-shaped plot was rel­a­tively shady, so Sue cre­ated a back­bone of plant­ing cen­tred around ro­bust shrubs – ma­ho­nia, eu­ony­mous and vibur­nums – and drought­tol­er­ant ferns such as Dry­opteris. The cou­ple have en­hanced this, af­ter be­ing in­spired by the late Will Giles and his Ex­otic Gar­den in cen­tral Nor­wich, by adding a jun­gle feel with bam­boos, Fat­sia japon­ica and even a Te­tra­panax in the shel­tered wood­land at­mos­phere. (Alan has also fallen un­der Will’s colour­ful shirtwear­ing spell.)

Closer to the house the gar­den is sun­nier and more open, and Sue’s plant­ing be­comes more colour­ful, with peren­nial geums and gera­ni­ums rub­bing shoul­ders with an­nual es­chscholtzi­a, pop­pies and pelargo­ni­ums. These last hold a par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for Sue: her fa­ther, who in­tro­duced her to gar­den­ing at a ten­der age, passed on his col­lec­tion of pelargo­ni­ums, all prop­a­gated from a sin­gle plant ac­quired in Italy dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Although these sadly suc­cumbed to a vi­cious frost (de­spite be­ing in a heated green­house), to­day’s re­place­ments still hold an air of nos­tal­gia. “I love gera­ni­ums (pelargo­ni­ums) be­cause of my dad,” she says.

The gar­den is now uni­fied into one in­te­grated whole, flow­ing from one area to an­other via curv­ing path­ways, and held to­gether by a re­stricted plant­ing pal­ette which changes with the con­di­tions but has an over­ar­ch­ing sense of peace and tran­quil­ity. The con­ti­nu­ity is strength­ened by the two sum­mer­houses which serve as dual fo­cal points at the far end of each sec­tion. The first was self-built by Alan, re­cy­cling two old sheds in the process with the help of his for­mer brother-in­law; “He did all the clever stuff, I did the don­key work”. This is styled as a French-themed rum­pus room where Alan can lis­ten to the foot­ball and play his 70s vinyl. The other is a more serene spot at the top of the new part of the gar­den for Sue to re­lax and en­joy the seclu­sion. “The lovely thing about be­ing up there is you’ve got no view of the bun­ga­low,” smiles Alan. “It’s like sit­ting in the woods.”

ABOVE: A curv­ing path­way cre­ates in­ter­est and soft­ens the lines lead­ing down to the bun­ga­low. The paved path­way also makes a well-de­fined edge for the lawn and the border

LEFT: Put your own stamp on your gar­den. Bud­dhas fea­ture heav­ily here as Sue dug one up just be­fore she found out she had been mis­di­ag­nosed; to Alan and Sue they are a sym­bol of hope and tenac­ity

ABOVE RIGHT: The ma­ho­nia, shown here with sum­mer seed­pods, is an in­valu­able shrub for shade. It has at­trac­tive, if spiky, ever­green fo­liage and scented yel­low flow­ers in the win­ter and early spring

Add in­ter­est in a shady area with con­trast­ing fo­liage colour and tex­ture. The plant­ing fea­tures var­ie­gated Eu­ony­mous, in­clud­ing E. ‘Kathy’, Fat­sia japon­ica, ferns (Dry­opteris sp.), and an Echium in the fore­ground. Alan’s ‘rum­pus room’ sits at the back.

LEFT: Make the most of any bor­rowed land­scape. Alan and Sue built this raised plat­form to en­able them to en­joy the view over the neigh­bour­hood, with the Wen­sum val­ley in the dis­tance

ABOVE LEFT: Add colour with an­nu­als such as the Cal­i­for­nian poppy (Es­chscholtzi­a cal­i­for­nicum), which con­trast with peren­nial Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’. Pots of red pelargo­ni­ums on shelves be­yond pick up the vivid colour theme

Alan In­ness and Sue Collins at the top of the new side gar­den. Hostas and ferns in the fore­ground.

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