Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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Definitely NOT outside the back door!

Over the past couple of weekends I have made a fascinating study of front gardens.  This isn’t a new passion of mine and I’m not about to re-title this blog anytime soon.  I have been leafleting and, I will put my hand up now, to admit that I am about to make a shameless plug for a amateur show that I’m involved with – Hounslow Light Opera’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors‘ (tickets still available – and there is a horticultural connection!!)

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We do many things to promote a show and door-to-door leafleting is one of them.  I’ll readily admit that it’s not my favourite task but it does provide a fascinating opportunity to see what other people living locally have done with their front gardens.

May be it’s just a South-West London thing but to me front gardens are definitely the poor relation.  How often has anyone said to you that you must come round as their front garden is looking stunning at the moment?  Living where we do, front gardens are either for car parking or skip parking as yet another house extends up, sideways or even down!

I will confess that local front gardens have sprung a few surprises on me recently.  For example, I have been surprised at the prevalence of plastic trees … yes, really!  Plastic box in tubs and hanging plastic box balls, which have a tendency to fade to blue, seemed surprisingly popular in one local street.  (Hampton friends reading this, it’s OK, it’s not you!)

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Another striking thing has been the multitude of different hues of gravel, from the humble grey beach pebble through to the designer purple slate chips.  I confess I quite liked the slate grey and white gravel in front the house with a matching slate grey door with white surrounds.  We have gravel in our front garden but it’s a fairly boring shade of brown (or gold as the packet claims).  Another neighbour recently gravelled her front garden as a quick option (they intend to extend in a few years and so don’t want to create a lovely garden and then plonk scaffolding in it) but she’s quickly discovered one big disadvantage – the foxes absolutely love playing in it at night!

Our own front garden has had a rather chequered history.  When we moved here, it was dominated by a monkey puzzle tree which was certainly a talking point.  Then all of a sudden, twelve years ago now, it died.  It was incredibly sad to see this and the speed with which it happened was truly shocking.  This picture shows it at the start of 2005 when it was still vividly green.

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But by the end of 2005, the branches were brown and crisp from top to toe and even more vicious than when it had been alive!  (Although they did look great in the frost and covered in cobwebs.

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Once the tree had been taken down, we really didn’t know what to do to fill the gap.  Pots, including one with a eucalyptus that became far too big, filled the space and continue to do so today.

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We never knew why the monkey puzzle died and that has always deterred us from committing again to something distinctive in the front garden.  So enjoy our spring hellebores, our potted hollies by the door and the blast of golden forsythia in the front and middle hedge every spring but, beyond that I realise we are just like everyone else and most of our focus is outside the back door!

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Still, I’m not going to complain.  At least these plants don’t demand blood!

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Ten years to go online

The very first Outside the Back Door appeared ten years’ ago this month!  Anyone who has edited any sort of magazine, church, club, whatever, will know that feeling of staring at vast amounts of white space between the essential news and the occasional item that someone has kindly bothered to give you.  Outside the Back Door sprung out of my need to fill anything up to two sides of A5 in my church magazine.  Over the years it’s proved to be a bit of a hit with lots of positive feedback.  All of which has led to me taking the plunge to move online!

So to give you a flavour of what’s to come, here’s a bit of reflection on what has gone before.  My first article was entitled A sad demise – not exactly a positive note to start on!  The article focused on the death of our monkey puzzle tree which was such a landmark feature when we bought our house back in February 2000.  It made it incredibly easy to give directions to where we lived – just drive straight to the end of the road and look for the monkey puzzle.  We never got to the bottom of what killed it and we’ve never taken the plunge back into monkey puzzle ownership!

It was perhaps ironic that my first article focused on outside the front door rather than the back and it’s rather sad to look back and see that our front garden, small as it is, seemeucaplyptus downs to have only featured when disaster has struck!  In the December 2013/January 2014 issue it popped up again, this time after the St Jude’s storm of the previous October which had felled our eucalyptus tree.  This had originally been planted as a tiny pot plant into a mixed container positioned to fill the space left by the monkey puzzle.  Being a eucalyptus (they rarely grow small), it had managed to take root through the base of the pot and had become far too big for its boots.  One freak gust and it had been uprooted.  Several attempts were made to re-pot it but it was to no avail.  The roots had been ripped and had sounded its death knell.  (The picture is rubbish but you get a sense of what happened!)

Apart from these episodes,  I’m pleased to say that the column has generally taken a more positive approach covering, amongst other things, the development of our vegetable plot, the creation of our pond and the arrival of our cats!  Overall our garden has proved to be a rich source of inspiration, underlining the importance of urban gardens to our environment and well-being.  This is currently being highlighted by the Royal Horticultural Society’s Greening Grey Britain campaign which highlights:

“Today one in four front gardens is completely paved over and our community green spaces are also under threat, with many parks facing a crippling lack of proper funding. This trend for grey replacing green degrades the living environment, increasing flood risk and reducing air quality. It has also been linked to growing mental and physical health problems as well as having dire consequences for wildlife.”

I am proud to think that our little patch of green can be helping the wider environment in some way.