It’s all very well gazing at gardens with sweeping lawns and avenues of tall, tall trees, but let’s face it: very few of us have this kind of space. So today it’s incredibly inspiring to feature Martyn Cox’s tiny but incredibly beautiful back garden in East London.
Martyn is a garden writer and has filled his plot to the brim with around 400 gorgeous plants. Even though it only measures 30ft by 15ft, he has managed to pack in hundreds of rare and unusual plants, including a collection of more than 40 different aeoniums, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, a black Hamburg grapevine grown from a cutting taken from the famous Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace, a male Muehlenbeckia complexa ‘Ward’ and two hardy begonias – Begonia palmata and Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana.
Five years ago, though, the garden looked very different. ‘It was uninspiring, boring and unkempt,’ says Martyn. Key features back then included a weed-infested lawn, a couple of thin borders plated with a motley assortment of shrubs and a ramshackle shed. ‘There were no fences, so no privacy and nowhere for me to grow wall trained fruit.’
Martyn needed a garden where he could indulge his passion for rare plants, and so he set about transforming the tiny space into a corridor of planting, with plenty of surprises around each corner. He painted the fences green to add year-round colour, and created a slate patio. A shingle path leads through two beds, one of which is edged with pieces of sleeper stacked on their sides in different sizes. At the bottom of the garden, a small deck hides under a shade sail. But that’s not it. Martyn has also managed to pack in a wall-mounted shed, a greenhouse, a pond, water butt, worm bin and a brick storage seat which doubles as a stage for plants.
Cramming the garden with so many plants has been difficult at times. Martyn says: ‘The biggest drawback to having this garden is that there’s no direct access. Everything has to be traipsed through the house.
‘You can almost guarantee that whenever I have to carry bin liners of garden debris through the kitchen that one of them will split open, resulting in a big pile of rubbish on the floor and plenty of fruity language that should only be heard after the watershed.’
If you’re inspired to transform your own plot after peeking at Martyn’s, you’ll be thrilled to discover that he has written a book, Big Gardens in Small Spaces. And his marvellous garden opens to the public under the National Gardens Scheme on 27 June from 11-5.30pm. It’s one of the smallest to open under the scheme, and the address is 24 Brunswick Street, London, E17.