How to have a garden in London
Create your own urban sanctuary with our guide to making the most of London gardens, from bijou balconies to soulless cement blocks
Londoners may not be blessed with much green space to call our own, but that just adds to the peculiar appeal of a city garden. Inevitably shady thanks to high walls and fences, typically overlooked by surrounding high-rise flats and all too often neglected, our little urban jungles need some love before they blossom and bloom.
Whether it’s a window-box of herbs or a full patio for barbecuing, now is the time to spruce up your outdoor space for maximum summer smugness. Here's how to embrace the glamourous (and practical) side of gardening.
Pots are the building blocks of any good garden. Pleasantly portable for the renter who doesn’t want to put down roots, and easy to keep adding to, they offer instant decoration for spaces of all sizes. The trick is proportion and variety. Don’t dwarf small spaces with over-sized troughs and remember that a cluster of colourful, mismatched ceramics will jazz up even the most perfunctory of green spaces. And make sure you chose styles with drainage holes otherwise summer downpours will drown your plants.
Left to right: Bismark Garden pots, £6-£12; Petersham nurseries planters, £8-£495; Ridged Terracotta Pots, £10-£32
Think vertically to make the most of smaller spaces. Plant ladders and individual stands allow you to stack and layer plants, candles and string lights with as much flair as art arranged in a gallery. The varied levels add interest to dull concrete box gardens, cover up ugly fencing or make the back of a balcony into a plant-wall.
Left to right: Flower Rack, £101.88; Plant Stands, £32-£45
The easiest greenery for every kind of garden
There's no point in blithely picking out all the plants that look pretty, only to find them withered and dead a few weeks later. Most of being green-fingered is understanding the constraints of your garden and the time you have available for weeding and watering. We've done the research for you, quizzing the experts at Patch on the perfect plants for every kind of garden. Instead of wasting weekends trawling around garden centres, then spilling soil everywhere as you lug your purchases home, you can order plants online and have them delivered right to the door. Delivery on orders over £50 is free to London postcodes, Beckenham, Ilford, Kew, Kingston, Richmond and Surbiton.
Plants that will thrive with shade and neglect
As no amount of money can give you more time or sunshine, choose plants tactically. The Fatsia japonica (left) has big glossy leaves that stay dark green all year round. There's no need to prune or pamper and Patch promise a 'practically bombproof' plant that is 'happy in pretty much any location, especially tricky sites'. The Chamaerops (right) is equally hardy, tolerating shade, wind and drought and adding a little excotcism with fanned-out palm leaves.
Reap what you sow and eat what you grow
You don't need acres of allotment to feel the thrill of homegrown produce. Mediterranean herbs will fit in tiny pots or window boxes. Patch make it simple with a starter set featuring thyme, sage and rosemary (right). If you can find a sunny spot or window-box, you'll be rewarded with fresh flavours with oodles more taste than powdery dried herbs. If you have more space to fill, go for an evergreen and low maintenance bay tree (left). The tough, dark leaves add colour to the garden and depth to stews and sauces.
Plants to boost privacy and fill space
The tall stems and dense but delicate leaves of an Umbrella bamboo make a little garden that's overlooked by all the neighbours feel like a jungly retreat. As long as you make an effort with watering it for the first few weeks after planting, the bamboo should grow quite happily in light or shade. Or create a curtain of trailing leaves by filling a few hanging baskest with Muehlenbeckia, or Australian ivy as it's known, which will grow up to 40cm in length a year.
Tools of the trade
Gone are the days when a trowel and spade were an uninspired gift for your great-aunts. As gardening gets cooler, so do the necessary accessories. And as those of us with limited London spaces rarely have sheds to hide away our hoes, invest in tools that are pretty enough to display. Start with the basics: a watering can, trowel, fork and some gloves.
Left to right: Scandinavian Dusty Rose Watering Can, £45; Gardening Gloves, Dustpan and Brush and assorted tools, £6-£12 from Arket; WallPaper's Vivero Watering Can, £95;