Big Dreams Small Spaces

Two years ago we appeared on the BBC 2 programme ‘Big Dreams Small Spaces’ with Gardener’s World favourite Monty Don.  This came about because I saw a Tweet from the production company requesting applicants for the show and at this point my Mum was just starting a difficult chapter in her life, living by herself after we lost my Dad to cancer and my brother and I had both moved out. It was certainly about time we all had something positive to focus on and her ‘story’ and small, scruffy plot sounded perfect for this new garden makeover show.

So, I sent off the required email with a bit of history and some photos of the garden and a few weeks later had an email back asking for a bit more info, then I spoke to a researcher who explained it wasn’t  a ‘suprise’ show so I would need to inform my Mum and they would then send someone to do a screen test and view the garden – it was all becoming more real.  I quite often phone my Mum on my 40 minute commute home and so I did this as normal and then dropped in “you mustn’t get too excited as it might not happen but”, and listened as she squealed like a teenager about to meet her idol.

After a couple more meetings and screen tests we were selected and the journey into TV land began!  We had a camera set up on the back of the house to capture all the action when the camera crew wasn’t on site and various dates were put in the diary for filming.  It was all rather exciting but came with a fair amount of pressure too as we had to get work finished by certain dates and this was difficult when working full time, having limited helpers and battling with poor soil and winter weather. But in true British fashion we pressed on!

In my family my Mum has the most horticultural knowledge, I have the creativity and my brother has the muscle (he has other skills too but as we’re just talking about gardening…) and so it fell to me to create the garden design based on the idea of creating a Cottage Garden.  Here’s how the garden looked when we started:

Mum had about 30 beloved rose bushes as well as a number of other plants to move from our old house so it was a tall order to fit all that into this small space.  My initial garden design included a separate rose border but on reflection I felt this would make the space look smaller so after much persuasion (and Monty’s agreement) Mum gave her approval to have the rose bushes interspersed amongst the other flowers and the plan became set.

  • We would keep the patio but get rid of the two huge conifer trees
  • We would create some form of privacy barrier between the garden and the patio so Mum felt less overlooked from neighbouring houses
  • The grass and garden structures would go as would the path
  • We would create a meandering ‘S’ shaped path from the patio, through the garden, to a greenhouse at the end and borders full of plants on either side.

Sounds relatively straight forward but here’s how the first few weeks looked:

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Monty visited 3 or 4 times in total over the year and was, strangely enough, just as he seems on screen in his cord trousers and braces, unkempt curls atop his head (much to my Mother’s delight!). He critiqued my design honestly which was a little hard to take at the time but absolutely worked out for the best.  His first and main suggestion was to include a greenhouse (I felt the space was better used for plants and still feel I may have been right! but…) as my Mother had always wanted one. His second suggestion was that my idea of having raised sleeper beds at the edge of the patio, planted up with tall grasses acting as a living barrier would not create the privacy required and having a more solid structure would work better. I was happy to agree on this one and after playing around with the idea of a secret garden I became stuck on using old wrought iron gates, welded together to form a fence with an arch through to the garden, this would eventually be covered in climbing plants and you would just see glimpses of the metalwork. Mum and I started collecting old gates and spent a few hours holding them in position to get an idea of the effect…we didn’t like it! It was too harsh for the cottage garden style and so we went to my plan B which was to erect 3 tall willow pillars, spaced apart by an arch one small and very beautiful gate.  The idea being the plants would completely cover the pillars and flow across the tops leaving picture windows through to the garden beyond.

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The programme aired over a year ago and I can’t say I enjoyed watching myself on screen but understanding the process of how a show is filmed was interesting and despite the moments of panic when things seemed to be against us and we were up against a deadline, overall it was the positive distraction we all needed and the garden has well and truly come into its own since.

Here are some recent photos which I hope show what can be achieved in a small garden:

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Thanks for reading

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