Monday, 22 June 2015

A garden is a lovesome thing.....

....and I am lucky enough to have two of them now.   The full-size garden - courtyard really - has been in existence for a number of years but since opening Small Worlds two years ago I have rather neglected it.   

This year my excellent neighbour, Bara, who takes care of things when I am in the UK, and who cuts the grass at the back of my house, urged me to "bring the courtyard alive again", promising to schlepp the containers around and plant them for me.

So I had a perfectly lovely time at the end of May buying lots of beautiful plants and leaving her to do all the work.  It's so nice to be able to come back from Small Worlds in the early evening and just sit and look at it.

I had long been totally fed up with two granite troughs that never got any water when it rained so I resorted to cheating - and sneaked some mini items in at the same time - those who know me well will not be surprised to see evidence of my obsession with fungi....

The mini-garden was a somewhat different story.   The need for it arose because of an unexpected space in Small Worlds.   Whilst moving the dilapidated Triang Cex to reach something behind it I found traces of dreaded woodworm dust beneath it.   Although I couldn't find any signs in the house itself, its condition was anyway so bad that I decided to dispose of it.   The furniture from inside - my examples of 1960s Czech Tofa, covered last year in a great article by Rebecca Green, editor of the Dolls Houses Past and Present online magazine - are waiting to be sprayed and monitored although thank goodness I can see nothing sinister at the moment.

So I was left with a large bottom shelf with nothing on it and a need to fill it rapidly before Small Worlds opened to the public on 13th June.

As luck would have it, just before I left the UK I went to a giant car boot sale in Cuffley and picked up a strange little house, of uncertain scale - smaller than 1/24th anyway.   Butterfly (who is having a lovely third birthday giveaway on her blog) cast doubts on its usefulness......

And buried somewhere in the drawers around me I knew there was a substantial amount of the component parts of a Britains Floral Garden - though not packaged in such a nice tidy box as seen here of course!

I had been vaguely thinking about some gardening after reading the delightful Miss Barbellion's Garden by Irving Finkel.   The illustrations, by his sister Jenny Kallin, were clearly based on a Britains garden. 

The company of William Britain was best known for its lead soldiers and farm animals.   But it also manufactured a garden range in the scale of 1:32 which had to be constructed from fiddly, tiny parts.   Made in lead until the end of the 1940s, the range then went out of production, only to reappear again in the 1960s, in plastic.   

I have no idea where my collection came from - I probably picked it up in a charity shop at some point.   I certainly didn't pay the sort of prices that are being currently asked on ebay!

I scrabbled around for hours in the garden drawer, finding many tiny bits but no flower heads.   Fortunately I remembered that they were actually neatly filed away in some little drawers.   

After a considerable amount of searching I laid out everything I had unearthed on a large pin board. 

I found I had no fewer than five greenhouses!   Thoughts of a market garden crossed my mind, but I rapidly rejected that idea as I had no vegetables at all.   

I took the greenhouses home to wash, along with a few other shed-like parts.

I called on Jenny Kallin for help in identifying some of the bits and pieces.   Crucially, she explained to me how to make the roofs stay on the greenhouses. And that the red and green squares did not belong to the range.  

The greenhouse shelves are a nightmare - as fast as one is lodged into position, the one on the other side falls off again. Grr!  

But in the end I managed to get one greenhouse to stay together, complete with shelves, pots, and the only two seed trays that I possess.

Having gathered everything together, it was time for some garden design.   The size of the garden was easy - I wanted it to take up the whole of the shelf space available.    I measured, and then laid out a base which in the end consisted of two polystyrene ceiling tiles and one piece of foam board covered with the only three original pieces of Britains lawn that I had.   The little house was placed at the back of the base.

The walls and hedges are of course a fixed size and so it required some juggling, and ingenuity, to make everything fit as I wanted - it wasn't until right at the end of the process, for example, that I realised I would do better with a zig-zag path to the front door....

I was acutely aware that it was going to be difficult to find enough seasonal flower heads to fill the beds.   I had plenty of leaves and stems but relatively few heads other than daffodils, which I really didn't want to use alongside the roses.   (Though in this strange year I could well have had them flowering alongside each other.)   

One of the reasons for the lack of summer flowers was that I had turned the delphiniums (or they might be lupins) into wisteria a couple of years ago....for the Karlovy Vary spa colonnade.

I  love the rose pergolas!   But like the greenhouses, they fall to pieces as fast as you put them together.   And as for the tiny pin holes in the rose heads into which you have to insert the not very firm minute plastic bits on the stems....suffice it to say that my language was not suitable for young Czech ears.   Just holding the rose heads is a challenge.

And that was nothing compared to trying to hinge the gates. Arrrgh is all I can say to that.   You have a tiny plastic loop that fits into the wall - and nine times out of ten falls out again - and then you have to insert the hinge on the gate into it.   Because I had decided to double up the gate height I had to get four hinges into place at the same time.  
Hah!  Three in, one out.   Two in, hinge falls out of wall, four in, drop whole thing on the floor.   Swear a lot and in the end leave the gate hanging on three hinges.   As long as no one wants to go up the garden path that should be just fine.

The layout was now taking shape, complete with trees and hedges and it just remained to fill the beds.  
I had little choice over trees - although I have a vast quantity of foliage for what seems to be a pine tree, I had no trunk or branches for one.   So I was left with what the Britains catalogue describes as an apple tree, a weeping willow and something that looks a bit palm-like. 

The rockery and flower beds were a doddle after the gates.  It was just a question of trying to eke out the available flowers as intelligently as possible.   The system is very cunning - you have a little gardening tool with which you press the stems, complete with flower head, into the holes.  Distribute rocks around as you please and there you have a rockery and flower beds.

There are dinky little bricks to finish off things neatly.   I was determined to have a vegetable bed to join the shed, kennel and rabbit hutch at the back of the garden.   No vegetables however.....but as long as one doesn't ask about the precise nature of what has been planted, I think it works fairly well.  There are certainly lettuces and tomatoes.   Possibly some asparagus too?

I not only had a surplus of greenhouses, but also of ponds - four of them.   So I felt able to sacrifice one and cut it up to frame the garden path which looked rather lonesome making its way from the gates to the front porch.   

One of the other ponds took its place centre stage by the rose pergolas, with the addition of one of the few non-Britain items, some water lily flowers.   I am afraid the leaves were added yesterday, after I had taken the photos......but they are there now, plus a few more lilies. 

I will end with some more views of the finished garden. For once it is an advantage for something to be on one of the lower shelves because it is best viewed from above. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this indoor gardening, even if it involved much swearing and cursing and I can't wait to get my hands on some more garden stuff, particularly people.  The lack of people makes me very jealous of this gardener....  Tantalisingly, I am fairly sure I have a bench like the one in the article but can I find it?   Not at the moment anyway.

And don't forget to close the gates gently when you leave!

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of my gardens and I will leave you with one of my favourite poems, by Thomas Edward Brown -

A Garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Fern'd grot -
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not -
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.


  1. I can empathise totally about the frustration of the gate hinges, and some of the other fiddly-faffy pieces in your garden - I and my siblings loved floral garden and had a large boxful, but boy does some of it fall apart easily! Your end result is fantastic however - and provided some lovely memories.

    1. I am so glad to have brought back some lovely memories. I suspect many people had these gardens as children so I hope you won't be the only one to find fond memories here.

      Fiddly-faffy is an excellent term - the Czechs have one too - "piplačka" which I hear very often as people go round Small Worlds.

  2. Love both of the gardens and pictured sitting in the wonderful courtyard in the chair by the pots. Wonderful to have found the bargains and been able to use them in such a beautiful way.

    Love Chrissie xx

    1. It's turned very cold here so at the moment I can only peer out at the pots which continue to flourish despite the weather....

  3. Heavens, you have been busy! A delightful addition. The roses are particularly wonderful.

    Even without your description of your travails, the idea of all those teeny tiny parts of things makes me feel slightly ill. I've thought of another quiz question for your visitors - how many pieces are there in this garden?

    Andrea x

    1. Well now - I invite you to come and count them so that I can pose the question! Should one include the individual hinges I wonder?

  4. Love both gardens! Would you believe I have finally discovered a passion for gardening? Flowers no longer lose the will to live when I am around...they are growing! My precious osteospermum is back for a second year after nearly dying over the winter...have added pansies, fuchias, petunias and verbena..and a plant that I have no idea what it is because I threw the label away!!! I am even delving into doing cuttings....Your miniature garden is very inspiring! Perhaps need to add that to my list of things to do one day! Lots of love and hugs L xxxx

    1. Oh that's lovely, I look forward to seeing them all in a month or so - and maybe I can identify the mystery plant. Here's a useful website - send them a photo and someone will tell you in a very few minutes! It's very friendly and useful - you'll find me on there fielding the occasional fungi question. And asking many too...

  5. My brother and I each had a Britain's garden and he had one of their farms, so we used to create quite a landscape! I remember the frustration of the fiddly hinges, greenhouses and pergolas, too. As I was so much older - and thus more dexterous - than my brother, [I always made up his Airfix aeroplane kits, for instance] I did most of the actual putting together of the gardens, and we argued about where things should go! ["It's *my* rosebed, I want it here!" "But it would look much nicer here!!"]

    1. And just consider how much smaller and neater your fingers were in childhood than mine are now!

    2. We had those when I was little! I had remembered the flowers, and what fun it was to plant them, but I'd quite forgotten the brick edgings until your photo reminded me.

    3. I do like the brick edges - very clever. They make such a difference to the look.

  6. Struggling with envy, here.
    I had a small quantity of the Britain's 60s plastic garden items. Even in those days when they were still being produced, they were not cheap for some one with meanxxxxxx careful parents who paid only 9d a week pocket money and only then when all chores for the week had been completed. I also inherited my cousin's lead farm - which may account for my return to childhood - all that lead and lead paint being bad for the brain.
    So, I kept it and my daughter played with it. Then, in my second childhood, much like dear Miss Barbellion, I decided I needed to increase my garden resources. Sadly, unlike her, I haven't yet found somebody selling off a huge carton of it at a knock down price.

    But you seem to have so much and a great deal of it looks pristine. The prices on Ebay now would often require a mortgage, so it's back to my little Britain's backyard border for me - not the rolling acres I had hoped for!

    Wonderful stuff, so wish it was still in production, but the safetly police wouldsoon ban it as children all seem to ingest their toys these days.

    Happy gardening, both large and small scale!

  7. Keep searching the charity shops Jenann - that must be where mine came from, or a car boot sale, since I too could not/would not pay the sort of prices I am seeing on ebay.

    And I will happily send you a greenhouse and a pond if you would like them? You can find my email address on the Museum information page and you can let me have your address that way.

  8. I have the plastic 70s Britains Farmyard, bought it recently on Ebay as I had one as a child but mine got broken and dumped. I still had all the farm animals and people though so it is now all set up in my shed :). I never knew there was a garden too though, it is fantastic.

  9. Perfect post for the time of year... the courtyard looks amazing, and I've had such a happy time looking at the miniature gardening. I remember so well playing with those, planting them in the holes, and even hanging the gates. Lovely!

  10. i hadn't actually realised they were around when you were children. I have no clue where they came from then. Clearly not an early ebay purchase! So nice how many people are having happy childhood memories on reading this post.

    And that strange house came in useful after all....

    1. Yes, we used them as a garden for the Lundby - I remember the gates, paths and plants and the layout very clearly x