winding paths and secret corners adorn this lovely find in south Shropshire

I so frequently advocate gaining inspiration for one’s own garden from visits to ‘stately homes’ that it is all too easy to forget what is on one’s own doorstep. Actually, the notion sprang into my head when I was a considerable distance from home. This last weekend, I was participating by invitation in a ‘Garden and Book-Arts Festival’ on the English/Welsh border just outside Knighton, Powys – though on the other side of the River Teme, in Shropshire. My kind hosts took me to a couple of open gardens “in the middle of nowhere”.  I suddenly realised that here were examples of small scale gardening at its very best, and an opportunity to talk to owners about the nature of the soil, difficulties or otherwise of climate or location (steep hillsides for example)  under which they toiled. 

Exploiting what is there

Along a quiet lane in South Shropshire lies a garden carved out of a steep hillside
Every space in this hillside garden was filled with floral or edible delights

At ‘Lane House’, I was able to indulge in a spot of quiet photography and writing. Here was small space gardening as an art form – a garden carved out of the hillside into a series of even smaller interlinked plots, shielded by shrubs and crammed full of roses and perennial herbaceous plants. There were vegetables, too, and on an upper terrace a carefully concealed polytunnel and greenhouse, step-over pears and a view of Offa’s Dyke across the valley. We had much else to do that Sunday – I would have liked to stay but there was more to see, including the festival offerings at the Church at Llanfair-Waterdine.

Small scale gardening can be achieved even in churchyards
A serene spot in the graveyard at Llanfair-Waterdine Church

Even there, small space gardening was in evidence. How I wish graveyards incorporated mini-plots around the graves and gravestones! So much more soothing than wilting bunches of flowers. Herbs are always a good choice – and a useful idea for the odd nooks and crannies at home, for they need little attention and have other uses besides the decorative effect of blossom or foliage.

From the old to the young

Packed with produce, raised by children in a 'get growing' village scheme
This joyous plot within a community garden is devoted to encourage children’s gardening

With time to spare between festival events, I negotiated another steep hillside on the Welsh side of the river, upon whose tranquil slopes flourishes a community garden, allotments and fruit orchard. This is one of my regular must-visit venues with small plots that are always filled to excess with produce. It truly is a community spot (and one I have featured regularly); everywhere is beautifully cared-for. Sheds add colour on a dull day, and are far-removed from the shanty-town look of so many allotments. Another excellent example of small scale gardening for no plot is so large as to overwhelm How good it was to see that children are encouraged. In fact, the village (Knucklas) runs a weekend scheme for children, with their own plot within the allotment. Parents may join the children if they wish; a perfect way to introduce a new generation of gardeners to the joys of growing food.

Eco flower bed at the school entrance
Willingly to school when you pass this at the entrance

Schools of course can do even more to encourage a love of gardening in the young (as an ex-primary school teacher from a long-way back, this is still steeped within my conscious being). Three of my grandchildren attend just such a school, and it was with great joy that when attending Open Day a fortnight ago I noticed a glorious bed of insect-attracting wildflowers adjacent to the school entrance. Even more interesting and informative was the fact that the school are participants (and award-winners for five years) in the Eco-Schools Green Flag programme. Eco-Schools can follow a choice of nine topics; most relevant here is the one relating to school grounds, which encourages teachers to: “Involve pupils in the design and creation of new features in your school grounds can help to develop new skills and new ways of thinking, as well as instilling a new sense of respect for students’ surroundings.” 

Small scale gardening at home

Space for perennial flowers within the veg plot
Reclaiming part of the veg plot for a new cut flower patch

After being away for much of the last month, it was a delight to be back in the garden yesterday seeing how my own small scale gardening venture is faring. All seemed well – weeds as usual (my wildlife haven!), but all the new plants recently acquired from Dobies are flourishing. It’s a story based on necessity: the new bed that they were to go into as a perennial cutting garden was still under grass. Keeping the plants alive in small pots whilst I was away would have meant that by now they would have all been dead! The only space in which to plant them was to purloin (or rather ‘borrow’) a part of my husband’s vegetable plot.

A cutting patch within the veg plot
One month later and already productive

This I did by arrangement, for at the moment he is increasingly unwell and half the plot would soon be beyond redemption for this year. So on a single day in May, I hoed the annual weed, pegged out two small plots (8ft x 6ft), and in one planted all the perennials I had obtained for the cutting patch. They were crammed almost solid to deter weed seedlings. New varieties of Dobies runner beans that I was trialling also went into adjacent space, plus squash and cabbage – anything that would fill the ground and save the plants so lovingly acquired. It’s amazing what you can achieve: “small scale gardening” triumphed.

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