What a treat today! We have an absolutely lovely post by Sharon Ibbotson in praise of her garden. Sharon writes for Choc Lit.
It seems strange to talk about a garden as a lifesaver, but for my family over the last eighteen months, it’s a statement that’s definitely true.
My husband and I live ten miles outside of the centre of London, and we love our home for many reasons. When people talk about London, they generally refer to it as an unfriendly, cold, or dirty place. We’ve found the exact opposite to be true. In our neighbourhood, people are friendly, helpful, and keen to be involved in their community. Our little pocket of this city is warm and wonderful, and we’re very happy here. But it is still London, and while it does have more green space than many other urban centres, it is very built up. This is why, when my husband and I were planning our future together, a home with a large garden was top of our requirements.
Our house itself is fairly unremarkable, the kind of detached post-war building you can find repeated across vast swathes of the city. But our garden, over the years, we’ve turned into something individual.
When we first settled together in our house, the garden was neglected and overgrown with weeds and brambles (in fact, the brambles reached our back door!). We spent the first two years cutting back mainly, finding all sorts of hidden treasure along the way – as well as a fair amount of rubble from the Blitz. But, when our son came along nine years ago, we had to escalate our plans for the garden quickly, so that he would have a safe place to play.
We wanted our garden to be a refuge from the city. We wanted it to be a haven for nature. We wanted it to be a working family garden but also attractive to the eye. In all honesty, we’ve spent far more money and time improving our garden than we have our house, which shows where our priorities are! Still, after the last year, when Covid19 forced us to spend most of our time at home, and alone, that investment paid off magnificently. In 2020, our garden became the most used room of our house. It became a schoolroom and work space. It became our dining room and play area. It was, quite frankly, a life saver.
We have a pond in our garden, with a rockery and cascade. It’s a large pond, filled with water lilies, and is home to a large colony of newts. In the summer, our son Ben spends hours by the pond with a net, trying to catch them (or butterflies, or dragonflies, or frogs). When we have barbeques or coffee outside, the sound of running water is in the background, blocking out the frequent planes and trains noise of London (although in 2020 that was not a problem).
Our daughter Sarah has a fairy garden she built herself, with little houses and bridges, including a Red Lion pub my husband created for her out of an old tree stump (I’m sure even the fairies appreciate a pint). At the back of the garden, there is a fort for the children to play in, with a slide, climbing wall, zip-line and swings (yes, we built a playground at the back of the garden, and no, we don’t regret it!).
But the garden isn’t just for the children. No, it is very much a refuge for the grown-ups in our household too. My husband and I are both keen gardeners, and we both have areas of the garden we have claimed for ourselves, to grow our favourite plants and flowers in (we have wildly different tastes at times!). My husband loves evergreen shrubs and trees, and perennial flowers. He takes care of the rockery and pond, and also of the camellia bed he planted for me (camellias are one of my favourites). I have a kitchen garden and care for all the patio pots and flower beds. The kitchen garden, full of herbs over the spring and summer, turns into a pumpkin patch by September when the gourds take over, the vines spreading far across the patio floor.
Luckily, we’re at the stage now where we can grow most of our own plants. For my 30th birthday, my husband built me a greenhouse. It’s a large brick and glass building, and my husband – who is a mathematician and physicist – designed it so that the foundations of the building are a giant heat sink, so it’s nice and toasty inside too. I spend HOURS in that greenhouse. From the greenhouse, I can see both the playground and trampoline, so I can watch the children play while I work. And I do work in the greenhouse; I have a chair in there, a small table, and access to power and Wi-Fi so I can write among my seedlings when I chose to.
The smell of the greenhouse is incredible. Its rich, earthy, moist, and fresh. I grow dozens of tomato seedlings simply because I love the smell of them (I give the excess plants I can’t use to neighbours, the local school, and friends). I grow all my herbs myself, filling the room with lemon thyme, cinnamon basil, apple mint and dill. Last year, with time on my hands, I branched out into exotic plants, buying up Australian seeds and trying my hand at germinating more difficult crops. I grew my first Australian Banksia last year, which was ridiculously difficult. I had to freeze the seeds, scarify them, boil them, and then keep them at a steady temperature of 21 degrees for 28 days (I bought a special heat mat for that purpose). I planted 18 seeds and ended up with one plant which I nursed like a baby over the summer. I’m nothing if not dedicated!
I’m very keen on attracting wildlife to the garden. This year I’ve set aside a wildflower patch for the bees (conveniently close to my blueberry and strawberry plants for pollination) and we have bug hotels scattered around the garden. Behind the playground we also have a section for rotting wood, to let the stag beetles live in. We also keep nesting boxes for birds high up in our trees, and have a family of blue tits return to the same nest year after year. I have to keep my cat inside when the birds fledge, which is a trial to both him and me, but its worth it to see those lovely baby birds learning to fly.
I wrote most of my second book in the garden, as well as my fourth and fifth. There’s nothing quite like sitting at the table next to the pond, the sun of your face, for inspiration. Likewise, sitting in the greenhouse when its grey, warm and toasty while the rain falls on the glass, is lovely, and the perfect setting for writing winter romances.
I think people underestimated their outdoor spaces before Covid19. I think even I did. But after the last year, when we spent so much of our time out of doors, I won’t ever take it for granted again. Gardens are a wonderful space in which to live and create, and I’m so lucky to have a beautiful one to call my own.
(Wow that all sounds amazing! What a lovely tribute to your garden. I shall be in touch as I have some Australian seeds in the cupboard, but have never been brave enough to try to start them off! Thank you for the lovely post. Mx)
About Sharon Ibbotson
Sharon Ibbotson was born in Sydney, Australia, to British emigrant parents and lived there until her sixteenth birthday, at which point she was schooled in the U.K. She started writing from an early age, including a long-foray into ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fanfiction, and was a Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year in 1997.
Her first novel, ‘The Marked Lord’ was published by Choc Lit in January 2019, followed soon after by ‘A Game of Desire’ in June of the same year. Her third novel, the U.K’s first inter-faith Hanukkah romance, came out in December of 2019 and was discussed on a panel at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair.
In 2020 Sharon was a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award.
By day she can mostly be found parenting her two small children and black cat, while by night she writes, often into the early hours.
Sharon currently lives in London, the U.K, with her husband, son and daughter.
To contact Sharon use the following links –
Facebook: Sharon Ibbotson – author
Buy link for Amazon: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Sharon-Ibbotson/e/B07NDLQLMD/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
Thank you for your lovely post, Sharon!
Watch out next week for an extract from my own new release Summer at Lucerne Lodge published on 20 April 2021.