“If one is going to tell a story with plants, it may as well be an adventure story.”
I love all the rooms in my ‘new’ house: the bedrooms for their modernity, the bathroom for its extravagantly patterned floor, the library for its beautifully painted panelling and the garden room for being elegantly unfinished. All of this was achieved without actually having to move, which is a bonus, although not without adding a few more grey hairs to my scalp. Despite making the ‘old’ house look a little shabby in parts, the project has refreshed my enthusiasm for living so far from London. I can honestly say that not a day that goes by when I am not happy to arrive home.
It’s unusual for me to approve of a space that’s a bit rough and ready: I am generally a ‘polished’ kind of guy. The floor of cracked red linoleum is the floor I inherited from the previous owner. It must be at least 35 years old. In places the tiles are chipped and worn away at the edges, but I don’t care about that when I am plodding in from the garden or taking lazy aim with my watering can. The wall at the back of the garden room was rendered but never finished: the money, and my patience, ran out. I intended to paint the wall white and cover it with vines, in the style of a Victorian greenhouse. Now I’ve fallen in love with the warm, Demerara-toned surface and am working with, rather than against it. I am on the look out for a big ethnic mirror and some shallow Zulu baskets, up, over and between which I will train passion flowers, Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) and Indian morning glory (Ipomoea indica).
A fireplace was made for the library which turned out to be too flammable to be safe. Quite a serious design fault, but try explaining that to an itinerant builder. As a result said white elephant was ingloriously removed and dumped in the garden room, deemed suitable for decorative purposes only. There it stood, until I needed somewhere to store logs, and now it is full of them. The mantle shelf is an ideal place to display a growing collection of streptocarpus, particularly S. saxorum ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘White Butterfly’. Streptocarpus detest direct sunlight but like bright conditions, so the garden room suits them perfectly. Where streptocarpus grow, so do many begonias and impatiens. I have taken advantage of cool, light conditions to bring on cuttings of Impatiens kilimanjari x pseudoviola ‘Pale Pink’ (which is actually pure white), Impatiens niamniamensis and Begonia luxurians. If you think I am making these names up, I can promise you I am not!
Earlier this year at Great Dixter Spring Plant Fair I purchased a length of ginger-like root that has given rise to a splendid specimen of Impatiens flanaganae. I was told to expect flowers by late summer or early autumn, but in the shelter of the garden room they started to appear in mid June. It’s hard to imagine a more handsome plant. The leaves are large, neat and a good strong green with a rhubarb-red central rib. Thin flower stems extend from the leaf rosette carrying perfectly balanced bluish-pink flowers that dance in the slightest breeze. Quite special although I expect, in its preferred conditions, rampant. Sad to say Impatiens flanaganae is rare in cultivation and endangered in the wild, so I shall take special care of my plant.
One day the garden room will divide the library from a large shower room. The latter won’t be completed for a little while. In the meantime, I have blocked the doorway with a spare plasterboard panel and positioned my desk in front of it. From here I write this post, surrounded by abundant greenery and lit from above. Although this was never the plan, the garden room of all my new spaces works most effortlessly. It is lovely to look up through the library from the dining room and enjoy the softly lit plants from afar. Their silhouettes are dramatic and varied. For the evenings I have secreted uplighters beneath the foliage to create dramatic shadows on the wall and ceiling. Shortly there will be hanging planters hanging from newly procured copper hooks.
I am in no hurry to finish this particular tale, which is fortunate because I can’t afford to. The garden room will evolve and change with the seasons. I am quite content to let it go and see what happens, elevating successes and removing failures. I want it to develop into a living Rousseau painting. Support will be required as climbers venture skywards, and I imagine at some stage I’ll need a machete to get to my desk. If one is going to tell a story with plants, it may as well be an adventure story. TFG.