In Northamptonshire, our cottage garden might have been advertised as holding the National Snail Collection; the molluscs used to emerge from crevices in the walls with specially fortified shells. The chief characteristic of our Pimlico yard — to call this space, overlooked by beetling terraces, a garden would be overdoing it — is Stygian shade.
I look up from our bench and feel I might as well be at the bottom of a well. ‘In Heaven’s light we live again,’ sings the prisoner chorus in Beethoven’s Fidelio; I feel much the same when I go onto the street. We buried our cat here, but did not — could not — return for some time. Not due to an excess of sentiment, but because we’d let the basement flat.
Recently, I’ve been out with trug and secateurs. When we came to the house, a gardening friend pulled no punches: ‘The walls simply scream “Paint me white and put up some trellis”.’ That was more than 20 years ago. Now, the white brickwork may be blotched and the trellis may be rotten, but they’re covered in climbers, mostly jasmine — delicious on the nose, although tending to block out the light. Over the weekend, I spent some happy hours hacking back and I couldn’t help marvelling at how much vegetation a very small space can produce — and how many new plants it’s possible to squeeze in.