Step out of the door, onto the paving and look before you.
Do the scent of roses climb around you? Does air dance in white and gold, as pollen strays from stem? Are you following a path soft with Corsican mint and thyme? Does it curl thick beneath lupines, dahlias, fennel, sweet peas, gypsophila and foxgloves, pulling you deeper into the forest of flowers that lead into an orchard of cherry and peach and out to a vegetable plot stained in berries and green with mescluns and root tops? Or do you turn right, crunching gravel and stopping to smell the lilacs as you make your way along the building's edge towards a walled garden, where medieval herbs peep from a maze of box? Do you see the darting dragon fly? Do you follow it left towards the rush of a babbling brook slipping on wet grass and violets down to where the weeping willows and the yews are thick? Is there a swimming pool hiding behind them? A hot terrace of potted orange, olive and cyprus trees? Do you run in circles trying to find it?
I step out of the door and onto the cold paving. The 6ft fence looks weather-beaten in spite of our neighbour's creosote. It creaks towards me in the wind. Beneath it, just between the broken concrete bolster and the crumbling breeze-blocks that hold up the bit of fence where the yard abruptly dips half a metre towards the house, the tiny house leek I stuffed into an old paprika tin sits sharp and happy in isolation. My eye follows the cracks in the concrete blocks along to the new shoots of the climbing rose, fighting through the aphids, heading out and up as if desperately aware of the drab surroundings.
"This needs colour!"
"This needs coordination. This needs impact!"
The pot of yellow Narcissus bob their downcast heads in agreement. I sit on the step overlooking them, trying to take in their scent. A terracotta pot of what was rather leggy viburnum sits above it resplendent now in full bloom. The soapy heads of cream and gold flowers nod comfortingly at me. It's blooms meet with the leaves of the smaller viburnum that sits above it. It could look like that if it tried, it's had everything it's golden sister has, but the red viburnum looks petulant and refuses, it's happy in its lot, leaning towards the cracked terracotta pot that we found when we first started renting here. Filled with herbs, the thymes and rosemaries are doing ok but the chives are looking sickly again. I think about the grey-green chives in mum's garden standing like stately senators. I let out a deep sigh and look back towards the flat, where I notice the apple tree by the kitchen window. Green fresh leaves are uncurling, but still another year and no hint of a blossom. I walk over to it, past the trough of tulips and the dancing purple of the newly bought chocolate vine, past the tatty drain pipe we've tried to disguise with pots of oregano, chocolate mint and sage, past the small table and chairs with pinks and succulents, the stack of trays we've picked up to build a strawberry tower, past the ever reliable hellebore and hydrangea and over to the tree. "Why won't you flower Mr tree?" I say stroking the horizontal branches I've tried to fan out in a bid to stimulate it's reproductive hormone. Just one flower that's all I ask, not even an apple, just a flower. But the tree is silent, because it's a tree and not, despite my verbal interrogation, a human hermaphrodite. I wonder the whole two steps back towards the flat and lean against the doorway, looking out.
It is then I see the jasmine. For the past month it has sulked, strung out against the fence, tips of its leaves burnt against the creosote, struggling along the train we've forced it on. But there, just at the bottom, almost hidden by the stump of pieris japonica, there is a single white flower. The jasmine is flowering.
Evidently the garden I want is not the one I have, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still bring me wonder, even when it appears so stolidly underwhelming. There is always something to surprise me, something showing me that against the odds and expectations, life grows regardless.
We've been renting our flat for seven years now and I still can't bring myself to call the paving and concrete outside a garden. I garden yes, I've created a container-garden true, call it a yard maybe, but a garden it is not. This is mainly because until very recently, an old garage took up much of the space, leaving us with a damp corridor that backed onto my office and a small paved yard that flooded in heavy rain. It felt simply pretentious to call it a garden. Over the years however I got to know what suited the tiny south-facing space, with its slither of sky. Beetroots and carrots mocked my lack of earth, sunflowers looked perplexed by the sudden shade they routinely found themselves in. This was contrasted by the corsican mints and ferns which gave up altogether when the harsh midday sun appeared. I learned to put my efforts into...
These all appeared oblivious to our lack of outdoor water-source, they coped well with our lack of earth and lack of money for decent soil or a composter. By the summer of last year, our little pots established themselves into an urban oasis.
But in January our landlord decided he wanted a retirement project so the garage was to be pulled down. We piled the plants into a corner trying to protect them, but they were still showered with concrete dirt as old oil stains and rust were blasted away. Concrete silt left everywhere, clinging on for weeks.
Slowly our plants have re-emerged into a new space, a much bigger space, maybe even a garden. But while the space has increased, our budget remains exactly the same. How then will we turn our little oasis into a jungle? What is to become of my little bit of earth? I guess watch this space...
Historian by trade. Gardener by passion.