Personal Growth is an occasional column that asks how people become gardeners, what they love most about their gardens - everything but the gardening.
What kind of gardener are you?
I’m a busy gardener, maybe a little too busy. I definitely overplant, I tend to go mad at Woottens [the nursery in Suffolk]. I go with a plan and suddenly see something and think, “Oh, I need one of that, and one of that…” I felt ambitious and got their irises one year, and two or three years later I’ve had about two flowers.
Once I start, I can’t stop. It’s a bit chaotic. I begin with a plan to work my way around in a logical manner, and then I spot something on the other side of the garden and have to do it straight away. I spend hours looking at it and thinking, “I should be doing this,” but I’m quite enjoying the way it’s looking at the moment.
We’ve been away for three weeks and the kids have been looking after the garden; when we got back it looked awful. But a bit of watering and deadheading makes such a difference.
What’s your idyll?
I want the cottage garden look. Everyone tells me, “You need structure, Margot,” but I hate the idea of structuring it all. Now I’m beginning to realise I probably do need to. There’s a lovely cottage in St James’s Park opposite the Churchill Office [Duck Island Cottage, above], and there’s a beautiful cottage garden there. I sort of watch what they do and try and copy some of it. Theirs is obviously much better.
What was your garden like as a child?
We had half an acre of land [in New Zealand]; it was pretty rough and ready. We had a big vegetable patch, a tennis court, hundreds of hydrangea that we used to throw ourselves into. We weren’t precious about anything. There were lots of trees, and a lot of lawnmowing went on.
It just sort of evolved by itself, it wasn’t preened. I think that’s in my genes now, the natural look. I couldn’t do neat gardening anyway. I’ve tried to, but you have to be out there the whole time. did you grow into gardening? I think gardening goes with your children getting older. Women hit the menopause and we can’t make babies any more, so we have to grow plants instead. It goes hand in hand with cooking, too. Making bread and things like that, where you’re watching something grow and transform. With gardening you can be a bit crap, though, and still end up with something that looks all right.
Could you live without a garden?
At the moment I wouldn’t, but never say never. We used to live in a flat without a garden, but I love coming down early in the morning and giving everything a water. It’s the greenness and softness of it all. And then you go off and get on the Tube and all that – a garden helps with life, I think. I could see myself in a bungalow with an acre of land around it.
What inspires you?
I like to take pictures and think, “I should be doing that.” I really love the indoor bit of Chelsea [the Great Pavilion]; it’s incredible what they do. I hate the barriers outside, and I really hate all that furniture for sale. Chairs, tables and sculptures – awful stuff. But the plants in the Great Pavilion – the walls of clematis and everything. You walk out and feel a total failure.
What’s your favourite time of year?
I’ve enjoyed September this year, but I really like clearing everything out come springtime. I love chopping, I find it quite cathartic. I’ve decided next year not to prune quite so much, though. I want it to be a bit more chaotic. Plus I think I did everything at the wrong time this year, so I didn’t get all the flowers I wanted. My mood changes all the time, though – these purple daisy things we have right now I was thinking of pulling out, but at the moment they’re really rocking my boat.
Do you see much wildlife?
We have a fox at the moment. My friends think it’s great, but I’m not a fan. There are bees at the back – not mine – but there’s a bee man with a hive and tons of them in the garden, which can only be a good thing. And we have some sort of unusual birds in the tree. The tree is dead, but I don’t want to chop it down as it’s our only bit of structure. Instead I want to populate it with roses – I think it’s working, they’re definitely growing. Things are always happening, evolving in there. We even get some huge frogs and toads coming across from the neighbours.
Do you grow things to eat?
I’ve found vegetables quite tricky, to be honest. They need a bit more space. I plant herbs and I’ve got some beans – I’ll definitely be doing runner beans again next year, they were real fun.
One of my biggest mistakes was trying to grow blueberry bushes, which I ended up taking out. I planted two big bushes, a male and a female, for my grandchildren. I don’t have grandchildren yet, but the plan was that I would take them out and we would pick blueberries together, or the bushes would be growing in abundance by the bench so that [my husband] Fergus could eat blueberries and drink champagne there.
We got a few berries, but they weren’t nice. You just can’t have all these things in our tiny, tiny garden.
Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch; Rochelle ICA, The Mall (arnoldandhenderson.com)