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Carmella Froster

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Tuesday, 31 August 2010 16:11:39 GMT

Gardening by the sea

I’ve spent the weekend searching for a bungalow in Whitstable – not a phrase I ever imagined I’d utter – but within the lookup for a reasonably sized back garden, a bungalow appears the only answer. All of the greatest places have been colonised by the first wave of gardeners. How I covet their old fishermen’s cottages and their beachfront plots. Walking along the seafront on a windy day, I got tantalising Old Country House Plans glimpses into tiny gardens, brief images, prior to I looked away, not wanting to pry. About the roadside, trying to match backs to fronts, I knocked about the door of a ideal small Georgian home, and met Georgina Jenkins, a passionate gardener, who moved to Whitstable from London 10 many years ago and opened a stylish guesthouse just 20 metres from the seaside (www.copelandhouse.co.uk).

Even though frantically busy with her morning chores, she took the time to show me her plants: a felix palm bought from Columbia Road market, which made the trip down with her inside a pot, and now flourishes in the sand and shingle; healthy-looking potted pomegranates, chillies, and oranges; a mature robust Pittosporum tobira, salt tolerant and scented, much admired through the streams of passers-by; along with a perfect rosemary hedge bounding one region from another within the arrangement of garden rooms. The whole is united by Georgina’s subtle use of colour, greys, blues and greens; by old timber groins, originally purchased for £1 a metre, interspaced with gravel and pebbles, and by a general fertility resulting in enormous growth. These gardens were tiny fishermen’s yards – sand-based but benefiting maybe from blood, fish and bone, the soil drains freely and regular watering is really a must. Even though frosts are rare, Georgina’s gigantic cordylines, phormiums, ferns and figs are sometimes damaged by scorching from easterly windburn, but rarely cut back in the winter. If the sea wall shelter fails, they come back doubly the following year.

I left with an introduction to near neighbour, art teacher Barbara Gilbert, who has recently designed a stunning new garden inspired by visits to New Zealand. Again utilizing timber from old groins in the seashore, she has built a fabulous eating-out area having a monolithic table, sheltered from the sun by a sailcloth awning, next to some enormous raised bed, house to clipped eucalyptus and olive trees, and scented with lavender, fennel and sage. Only roses fail to flourish, so jasmine and vines criss-cross her wooden structures.

Barbara’s family have always had connections using the area and moved here from London having been bombed out throughout the war. She originally owned a little yard, but was able to purchase this garden fronting the seaside from a builder four years ago. Snug in between them is really a small piece of land housing two beach huts, currently up for sale for offers over £125,000!

A go to to artist Carol Grace’s back garden, several doors down, shows a more ethereal face among the sturdy grey groin structures and architectural plants – a perfect suntrap, out of the wind, featuring a circular central bed using the solution for fast-drying soil: a covering of white pebbles. I was heartened to see salads inside a raised vegetable bed, with sweet peas along with a cordoned apple. Flowering tamarisk, Miss Wilmott’s ghost and Romneya coulteri soften the garden’s edges and lead on to a trellised area echoing the circular motif and covered with fruiting passionflowers, via to some table having a view on the beach.

I envy these gardeners. My personal search for any larger (and cheaper plot) is floundering and has gradually led me away from Whitstable and its whispered Fifties south London gangster connections, along the coast to Tankerton with larger plots, laid out in the Thirties by the Quakers. Perhaps a home and back garden with the nonconformists and a beach hut among the fishers, with just a bike ride in in between?

As I write my notes about the train house to Suffolk, on the backs of agents’ particulars featuring mean jerry-built bungalows, bringing back not entirely happy memories of holidays in Sandbanks, I realise perhaps I have to go back towards the drawing board with my plans and rent.

Source: Telegraph UK


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