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Be inspired by this North Norfolk cottage’s small garden

PUBLISHED: 15:23 04 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:39 05 September 2017

View of tiny area outside the conservatory, including the gazebo built recently by the couples son-in-law Ron, and a decorative metal table perfect for an afternoon cuppa. Foliage of Crocosmia adds structure in the foreground, with herbs in pots next to the kitchen door, including a standard bay tree (Laurus nobilis). An ornate metal swan presides over the raised bed in the background, while ferns and valerian (Centranthus ruber) nestle in the top of the wall

View of tiny area outside the conservatory, including the gazebo built recently by the couples son-in-law Ron, and a decorative metal table perfect for an afternoon cuppa. Foliage of Crocosmia adds structure in the foreground, with herbs in pots next to the kitchen door, including a standard bay tree (Laurus nobilis). An ornate metal swan presides over the raised bed in the background, while ferns and valerian (Centranthus ruber) nestle in the top of the wall

© Anne Green-Armytage 2016

A cottage on the north Norfolk coast sounds idyllic, but for gardener Katrina Jackson it came with a big compromise. Annie Green-Armytage investigates

View of the main garden looking towards the patio area with its Plantation-Garden-inspired barbecue. In the foreground in a blue-apainted summerhouse surrounded by pots and tubs with plants including pinks (Dianthus vars), pelargoniums, and Antirrhinum, or snap-dragon, one of the few plants Alan can name with confidence! View of the main garden looking towards the patio area with its Plantation-Garden-inspired barbecue. In the foreground in a blue-apainted summerhouse surrounded by pots and tubs with plants including pinks (Dianthus vars), pelargoniums, and Antirrhinum, or snap-dragon, one of the few plants Alan can name with confidence!

There’s no getting around it, Norfolk House has a small, awkwardly shaped garden. The cottage sits on the edge of Wells-next-the-Sea, far enough back from the narrow, winding streets to have room for breathing, but its tiny back courtyard, dark narrow passageway, and oddly-shaped front plot leave something to be desired for an enthusiastic gardener.

“I was very disappointed with the size of the kitchen and the garden when we moved in,” recalls Katrina. “The kitchen was easy [they extended] but in the garden…” She trails off, and husband Alan laughs and supplies; “We’ve got older!” This may be true, but the evidence suggests that the couple are still working tirelessly to make the best possible use of the irregularly-shaped plot.

A fern thrives in a shady spot on the old flint wall A fern thrives in a shady spot on the old flint wall

Next to the back door the paved area is dense with pots of herbs and a cheerful painted gazebo transforms the tiny space into a welcoming spot for afternoon tea as the sun hits at about 5pm. One of the ways Katrina has optimised the space is by going upwards and a raised bed next to the gazebo gives way to vertical planting, much of it self-seeded, along the flint wall bordering the narrow corridor through to the main garden area.

The wall itself magically morphs halfway along into a convenient shelf for potted petunias and through a rose-covered archway the main garden is dotted with shelves and alcoves filled with pots and hanging baskets. “I love nooks and crannies,” says Katrina with a smile. “I like to see ferns, and the shady corners let me grow those.”

The old brick and flint walls are softened with pots of plants including petunias, ferns and a small-flowered campanula (C. poscharskyana) The old brick and flint walls are softened with pots of plants including petunias, ferns and a small-flowered campanula (C. poscharskyana)

One of the main suppliers of nooks and crannies is an amazing structure in the corner, built as a barbecue and patio area by Ron, the couple’s son-in-law. It adds a dimension all of its own with higgledy-piggledy brick, flints and other pieces of building materials recycled from the rubble of two garden sheds, knocked down when Alan and Katrina arrived here in 2007. “We saw a wall built of bits and pieces on a visit to the Plantation Garden [in Norwich],” explains Katrina.

“So we asked Ron to use whatever we had here and build it up with the flints.”

View through rustic archway with climbing rose R. 'New Dawn' to garden with lawn and blue painted summerhouse View through rustic archway with climbing rose R. 'New Dawn' to garden with lawn and blue painted summerhouse

Throughout the garden there are similarly quirky elements, and nothing travels in one direction for very long, much to Alan’s good-humoured chagrin – he would have a garden of straight lines and symmetry. “I mow the lawn, and keep things tidy,” he says with a smile. “I like the plants but I don’t touch them – I pull the wrong ones up!”

When the couple first moved in, a five-foot deep leylandii hedge dominated the plot. “My reaction was; ‘Aagh, get rid of it,’” remembers Katrina. “Alan’s was, ‘Isn’t it good, it keeps down the noise and it’s nice and straight and manageable.’”

Creamy white peony, Paeonia lactiflora 'Bowl of Cream' Creamy white peony, Paeonia lactiflora 'Bowl of Cream'

At a house-warming party for their new neighbours Alan decided to try and settle the issue. “He suddenly appeared,” says Katrina, “with a clipboard which said ‘Hedge up? Hedge down?’ and went round everybody, asking for their vote!

The ‘Hedge up’ won,” says Alan, laughing. “But inevitably it came down to make room for plants.”

The garden is full of objects like this rusty anchor found on the local beach. Ivy twines through it (Hedera helix) The garden is full of objects like this rusty anchor found on the local beach. Ivy twines through it (Hedera helix)

In its place are various flowering and evergreen shrubs, including several mature Solanum crispum, a member of the potato family, which add height and colour during the summer with their long-lasting flowers.

Under this top storey are a variety of shrubs and herbaceous plants, including a couple of pre-existing peonies which Katrina used as starting points for her curving borders: “I thought they were so beautiful that we brought the line of the bed out to include them,” she says.

Katrina and Alan Jackson in their summer-house at Norfolk House, Wells. Objects on the shelves include finds from the local beach and countryside Katrina and Alan Jackson in their summer-house at Norfolk House, Wells. Objects on the shelves include finds from the local beach and countryside

Although they are both now retired, Katrina and Alan, despite a recent illness, are both still active outside the garden too, having been a top-class diver and swimmer respectively for many years.

As part of a regional relay team Alan has even broken a world record for veterans: “That was when the combined ages of the four of us added up to 280-plus,” he smiles. “Now we total 320, so we only went for the European Championship this time!”

Petunias, lobelia and alyssum cascade out of a hanging basket above a blue-painted wooden bench with cushions. In the background is the door to the outside world, complete with stained glass panel Petunias, lobelia and alyssum cascade out of a hanging basket above a blue-painted wooden bench with cushions. In the background is the door to the outside world, complete with stained glass panel

These days, Katrina divides her time between painting and colourful silk scarf printing, and these activities inform her eye in the garden, although her colour schemes tend to get disrupted by nature. “Everywhere, especially around the pots, plants spring up and if they spring up, I think they’re meant to be there,” she says.

“There’s no real set plan, it’s about getting a plant and finding a little place that it likes.” She pauses. “I suppose you could say I’m not a gardener of great knowledge and structure - I’m more a gardener of the heart.”

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