Tales from the Gin & Tonic Garden

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As a rule, I don’t sit down, unless it’s to eat a meal or to work. When I make myself a cup of tea I tend to perch for the first sip and then get on with the next job that needs doing. When I read a book, it’s usually for 15 minutes before falling asleep. And when I’m watching TV, I’m probably ironing at the same time. The only thing that slows me down and encourages me to park my derriΓ¨re is the first drink of the evening, which is always a gin and tonic.

I have become, by occupation and by habit, something of a gin aficionado: I was a fan even before gin was fashionable, but now I’m a fanatic. These days there are hundreds, if not thousands, of gins to try in the UK alone. Slowly and surely, I am working my way through the lot. There are gins with samphire from Cornwall, distillations of rhubarb and tea from Yorkshire, gins with frankincense from Highgate and navy gins so strong they could almost put you in a coma. So what’s this got to do with gardening? Not a lot, but whatever the ingredients of a G&T, one needs somewhere peaceful and attractive to sit and imbibe it. That’s what I am attempting to create at The Watch House.



The cottage into which I have extended has a small courtyard measuring 20ft x 20ft. It has a southwesterly aspect, which is a novelty given the garden I have toiled in for eleven years faces east. The new space means that I can now enjoy sun beyond 4pm, when it departs from one garden and lingers on in the other. On a sunny day at the height of summer I might be able to catch the sun’s rays from 4am to 7pm, when the sun drops below the roofline of the terraced houses on the garden’s western boundary.



There is a lot of work to do before this garden gets to a point where I am happy with it. There is a grand design, but no grand plan for how to fund it. The previous owner of the cottage was a keen gardener before age weakened his limbs and mind, but he was a very poor DIYer. Consequently, just about every job that was ever done was either bodged or done on the cheap, often both. All the hard landscaping, which is rather a grand way of describing an assemblage of concrete slabs and bricks, needs ripping out and starting again. After 12 months of building work this is not job I care to tackle straight away.



So, in the short-term, I have resorted to pots and climbers to disguise ugly brick work and poorly laid paving slabs. The external wall of the garden room was such a horrendously scarred patchwork that I had that rendered and painted off-white – not Magnolia, but Farrow and Ball’s timeless ‘White Tie’. I had not considered the extent to which this pale finish would reflect light back into the garden and greenhouse, but the effect is quite dazzling.

Ultimately I want all the planting to be in shades of sage green, primrose yellow and dusky lavender, but I have a lot of plants I purchased before I made that decision and they will need to be re-homed before this pastel vision can be realised. There are magenta pelargoniums, molten-orange calceolarias, pink camellias and red salvias, none of which fit with the look I am hoping to achieve. The gin and tonic garden will be as different from the other garden as possible – less structural, brighter and more attractive to bees and butterflies. I am already staggered by the quantity of pollinators and the speed with which they have exploited my newly planted flowers. Provided they don’t fly lazily into my glass, I am very happy to share quiet time with busy bees. Seagulls are less welcome winged visitors who like to drink straight from my watering can. Perhaps I should fill it with navy-strength gin and see how fast they come back?



The greenhouse, which is an ugly and inappropriate feature in such a tiny space will remain, owing to its usefulness. Try as I may to clear it, the greenhouse seems to fill up again. I’ve planted chillies and cucamelons, and taken more aeonium cuttings than I know what to do with. The pathway which leads from the street to the garden is a challenge as it’s narrow and bordered by the slimmest of beds, varying in width between six and ten inches. Plants that spread, froth or flop just block the way or makes one’s trousers wet in inclement weather, so I have restricted the planting to clematis, which can be trained flat against the fence, and old-fashioned geraniums and pinks, which are compact and low-growing. The bonus is that I can also pick the flowers and propagate new plants very easily.



Finally, I had to make space for herbs. They’ve mostly disappeared from the east facing garden as it’s become shadier, although mint and parsley still like it there. A new patch, in sun for the whole afternoon, is perfect for bronze-leaved fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), African basil (Ocimum ‘African Blue’) and Origanum ‘Hot and Spicy’. All are excellent to eat and magnetic to bees and butterflies when they flower.



Planting all of this up over the last six weeks has left little time for leisure. I have promised myself that the next couple of weekends will be more relaxed affairs. I’ve a freezer full of ice, a bowl of ripe lemons, enough tonic to fill a bath and friends coming to stay. Bring on the gin and let the good times roll!






Categories: Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, herbs, Our Coastal Garden, Perennials, Small Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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48 comments On "Tales from the Gin & Tonic Garden"

  1. Every gardener in the world lusts for a greenhouse. Take a good look at yours and imagine how many people would be thrilled to have it just as it is. πŸ™‚ And,sho in their right mind would be looking at the paved areas when they can look at all those plants. Pour yourself another and don’t worry about it. Everything looks gorgeous. πŸ™‚

  2. I look at the assembled variety and gorgeous colour and read of your plan for the restricted palette – good luck with that! I look forward to reading about the disciplined purchases and, no doubt, flamboyant execution of the plan it in coming months.

  3. We are awaiting planning on our listed house so building work must wait. However, the old house garden can not and we are loving working on it. The time will come when you have the strength and funds to make your garden into what you have in your imagination. Until then, enjoy your space. Your garden is glorious! I love that you seem to have picked in loads of plants and your pots look lovely. Enjoy your gin and tonic!

    1. Thanks. I will, although perhaps a little early in the day, even for me πŸ˜‰ I am fortunate in that my house is old but unlisted, and therefore converting the two houses into one was not too tiresome administratively. I wish you luck with your project. The garden will be your refuge whilst the work is taking place.

  4. Looking fabulous, Dan – such are the results of being a perfectionist. Who’d have the temerity to comment on the greenhouse after a G&T and with an array of beautiful plants around them?

    1. No one yet ….. although they may be thinking it! Trouble is, I keep going to Chelsea and other RHS shows and seeing those beautiful greenhouses made by Hartley Botanic, Alitex et al and wishing I had one of those instead. Dream on!!

  5. It’s all looking amazing, Dan. I’d rest a while, pour another g&t and enjoy the fruits of your labours. It’s all very well creating a wonderful garden but you need to slow down and revel in it!

      1. It went well, thank you. Saturday was fairly quiet but Sunday was buzzing. Reports from the organisers are that not as many tickets were sold as in previous years but they still made a decent amount for the charity (which is what it’s all about). It would have been lovely to meet you – another time, hopefully.

      2. I am sure there will be. You are welcome to pop in here any time, if you happen to be in Broadstairs. Well done for taking the plunge and opening your garden. I am sure everyone who came was very appreciative.

  6. Is there some Fever Tree tonic to go with that gin? Martha has promised to be an ample distraction from all your chores during our visit…

  7. I used be unable to sit still in the garden once. No sooner did I sit down with a cuppa (or other liquid) than I would spot a weed or something that needed pruning, deadheading or rearranging! Enjoy this phase of your gardening life, at 76 last birthday I am now forced to sit still and observe for much of the time, there’s something to be said for it once you accept it.

    1. Yes, I am sure there is. I have a feeling I might be a VERY frustrated gardener by the time I get to 76. That said, my grandpa didn’t stop gardening until 96, so I have 52 years left in me if I can match his longevity.

  8. Oh! How can you part with the lovely bright colours!
    Are you still on Facebook – can’t see post on there?

    1. I’ve not had Hendricks for a long while, but it really led the charge of new gins into the market. At the time the idea of putting cucumber in a G&T as opposed to lemon was quite bizarre. Now just about anything goes!!

  9. I love a good G&T! I use Tanqueray 10 and Fever-Tree tonic and fresh lemons I picked from our tree when I want to treat myself. The new garden looks lovely already but I love the theme and where you are going with it. It will be a fun journey! CHEERS : )

    1. Hopefully. The ultimate plan is to have an Islamic-style layout with olives, lemons (overwintered indoors), herbs etc. But I will only attempt that when I know I can do a good job of it. Fever Tree tonic is excellent, and there’s another called East Imperial which is worth seeking out. Cheers to you too πŸ™‚

  10. Dan, it’s gorgeous already. I’m truly jealous of your shady areas, and private patio garden. I’m trying to create that here in Florida, but it has gotten so hot that, except for putting a few caladiums and 2 lavender plants in the ground, I’m about done until cooler weather returns. Enjoy a G&T, while relaxing in your lovely garden.

    1. Cheers Maria. I plan to do just that tonight. I guess it is pretty humid for you too? I tried growing caladiums last year but it just isn’t warm enough here in the UK. They poked their leaves up and clearly thought they were better off dead!

  11. The only thing that is preventing me reporting you for cruelty to seagulls is your use of ‘White Tie’. A classic indeed and my go-to F&B white. Himself is a fan of Hendricks and cucumber. Navy strength, not so much..

    1. If he had a job like mine he might veer towards navy strength! It’s all that keeps me going.

      I have used ‘White Tie’ everywhere I need white in the house. It is the kindest of off-whites. Not too stark and not too creamy. Just right 😊

  12. Three cheers for a gin and tonic garden! Love the colour scheme you plan! My thoughts are racing with ideas! Surely borage is a must – or is that just for Pimm’s?

  13. There must be something in the air because last year, when I was having new paved areas created here in my garden, when it came to working out where to put the shed, summerhouse, veg patch and the like it all had to revolve around the spot I’d identified as being where the sun is last on the garden which I obviously named my gin and tonic spot. And very nice it is too… Cheers…Ceri

    1. Very wise Ceri. This is why one needs to live with a garden for a while and plan it carefully! No use treating your shed to the last rays of the sun, or cluttering your morning coffee spot with containers. Happy you made it work for you πŸ™‚

  14. looking gorgeous!!! I love the side planting Dan – it will look lovely when it fills out. Can’t wait till my next visit and I can join you for a G&T. Am so envious of all those flowers as I have nothing but a few daffs and plenty of citrus at present. Mum is loving your blog – she is showing it to all her girlfriends as many don’t have ipads or computers. You are spreading lots of love!!!

    1. Oh good. The more love the better I say! The garden room is next up. It’s looking very lush and exuberant, but still room for one or two more plants, naturally. Have a super weekend Helen.

  15. Really nice. I’ve pored over the photos and have a question. It looks like you lifted one of the paving slabs to provide in-ground planting room. If so, may I ask please how you did it? Our London courtyard is mostly granite setts and I’d like to take out a few for planting space but unsure as to what that actually entails. Many thanks for an inspiring blog.

    1. Well spotted. The area I think you are looking at was the old front doorstep. This was a solid slab of concrete, which we called the tombstone. It cracked in half when we moved it, so I decided to plant the area rather than re-pave.

      If you lift some setts then make sure your remove any builder’s sand / mortar / cement as these can all be caustic to new plants. I’d suggest digging out the soil underneath to a spade’s depth at least and improving it with grit and compost before refilling and planting. Under my slabs it’s solid white chalk rock – no soil as such – so I’ve had to add a lot of spent potting compost and grit. Don’t plant anything too rampant or floppy unless you have space for it.

      Beware with setts that the ones around the edge may collapse into the hole unless the ground is really firm. You might want to put some kind of discreet edging in, depending on the situation. I always top the soil with gravel to give a neat, attractive, flush finish. You should be able to find a tone that matches your granite.

      Hope this helps Anne?

    1. I hope you will Gill! I have not tried that one yet. We’re in the process of selecting a whole new range so I am working my way through them. Some Cornish ones – Curio and Caspyn Gin – are ones I can heartily recommend.

  16. Thanks for an involving post and great photos, I think you’ll get your garden(s) where you want them – but will probably be ever tweaking them.

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