City garden with the spice of variety

by Abigail Willis

PondVariety is the spice of life in Jan Tallis and John Lock’s east London garden.  Measuring a roomy 30 x 90ft, the south-facing garden contains seven distinct areas – an accommodating layout that allows Jan to indulge her plantaholic tendencies. Colour-themed beds run the gamut from whites and pastel pales to the eye-popping magentas and yellows of the vibrant and hot beds.  At the garden’s far end lie a shady woodland garden and a fernery, and one of three ponds.  The only feature that’s missing is a lawn – not so much of a hardship since the house backs on to Manor Park cemetery and at the front overlooks Wanstead Flats, a prairie-like grassland that signals the start of Epping Forest.

The garden was created from scratch eight years ago by Jan and John when they built their handsome contemporary house on the site.  Jan’s previous garden (just a couple of streets away) was, she says, a conventional lawn and bedding plant affair but she relished the prospect of designing something more expressive, “We spent two years planning the house, the next step was the garden – although we could only get into half of it at first, the rest was brambles and rubbish!”   Once the garden was cleared, the hard landscaping went in, including slate-tiled paths and the rectilinear formal pond, and copious manure was added to the neglected soil.

Seating areaWith money tight after the build, Jan initially filled her new garden with homegrown plants.  “I was really successful with dahlias”, she recalls, “I had no idea they would do so well from seed.”  Although she still raises some stock herself, Jan now also uses mail order supplier Crocus as well as trusty local nurseries such as Clockhouse Nursery ( and Glebe Nursery (  An ardent Francophile, Jan keeps her eyes peeled for likely specimens when on holiday – her favourite salvia was a cutting taken from a plant outside a Normandy restaurant, while the elegant crab apple that stands sentinel by the formal pond was acquired in Bordeaux.

Potting shedClever design details make this a garden that repays close inspection – particularly when it comes to the ‘disappearing’ shed.  Lack of light at the end of the garden meant that Jan and John had to site Jan’s beloved potting shed more centrally.  A potential eyesore, the shed however disappears seamlessly into its surroundings, thanks to a mirrored surface and a sedum roof installed by John.  The penny whistle fountain in the formal pond is another quirky idea from John, who couldn’t find an off-the-peg water feature he liked.  Gratifyingly, according to John, the whistle required no adaptation for its watery repurposing and provides just the right level of soothing splashing.

ferneryAs with any garden worth its salt, 111 Capel Road is still evolving. The woodland area took several ‘goes’ to get right; previous incarnations included a veg patch and a wildflower meadow (although vestiges of these remain in the ‘Redlove’ apple and ‘Stella’ cherry trees and the native daffodils and primroses).  A happy addition, the ferns are thriving beside the wildlife pond, accessorised by artfully placed ‘urban driftwood’ liberated from nearby Wanstead Park, and Bush Wood.  The multi-stemmed silver birch ‘jacquemontii’ comes into its own in the dark winter months and every autumn Jan washes its trunks to ensure maximum luminosity.  The woodland garden is also home to a much-prized forest pansy (Cercis canadensis), whose pretty heart-shaped leaves flame fiery red in the autumn.

wildlife pondWith the garden so visible from the large, triple-glazed windows of the rear elevation, establishing year round interest was a priority for Jan.  A novice when she started, she followed the simple strategy of visiting the garden centre every month to see which plants were doing their stuff, and purchased accordingly.   The result is a garden that is, as Jan puts it, “nice all the time” – and one whose charm has been recognised by the NGS (see website for the garden’s 2014 NGS openings).


yellow flowersIn spring the garden pulsates with vibrant azaleas, alliums and tulips, while hibiscus, hellenium, heliopsis (including the eye-catching variegated Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’) dance into the limelight later in the summer.  Near the house Jan has created a little corner of Mediterranean magic, using plants that positively lap up the balmy microclimate there – oleander, brugmansia, plumbago, olive, figs, a pot of lethally effective carnivorous plants and an annual crop of tomatoes.  Going against prevailing fashion, Jan happily admits to ‘not doing drifts’ as this wouldn’t allow enough room for the variety of plants that she likes; using containers is another way of maximising plant potential, with specimens such as camellia and witch hazel moved around according to season.

figsWine weevil – the almost inevitable corollary of containerized gardening – has been an occasional pest but rapid deployment of Provado seems to have done the trick.  Similarly Jan uses glyphosate to tackle the brambles that come in over the cemetery boundary, but is otherwise as chemical free as possible and her collection of roses (including a lovely apricot-coloured R. ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ on the pergola) go unsprayed.  An advocate of homemade compost and leafmould, Jan always packs leafmould into planting holes to help new plants get off to a good start.


bedhead sculpturesWith only weekends available for gardening, Jan has got her garden regime down to a fine art, modestly claiming that, “it’s now just a matter of keeping it under control – just a lot of deadheading.”  She attributes her transformation into a fully-fledged gardener to her house, whose transparent glass façade made it inconceivable that she could settle for a simple lawn and border garden. And while the house arrived pre-fabricated on the back of a lorry from Hull, her garden is the result of an altogether different journey.  It is worth making a trip of your own to see it – either on an NGS open day or by appointment.

111 Capel Road, E7 0JS

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