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A Warm Welcome From The Watch House

A Warm Welcome From The Watch House

Thank you for visiting Dan Cooper Garden. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to one of my great passions, my garden at The Watch House. It’s from my desk looking out over the trees to the English Channel that I will pen regular newsletters and create new content to share with you here and on my blog, The Frustrated Gardener.

The Watch House is tucked away in the back streets of Broadstairs, a bustling seaside town on the east coast of Kent. In common with many gardens in the UK, the garden is small, urban and overlooked. It’s packed with subtropical plants and dominated by foliage of all shapes, sizes and textures. Exuberant flowers introduce drama and colour through the spring and summer, starting with hyacinths, daffodils and tulips and ending with exotic gingers and vibrant salvias. It’s not a winter garden, which is something I’d like to put right one day. Gales can be cold and harsh late in the year, so I focus on making the most of the lighter, brighter months. Semi-sheltered on four sides, it’s a perfect place for entertaining guests and home to lots of wildlife. My garden is genuine urban oasis - I liken it to the heavenly courtyards found at the heart of Moroccan riads, only without the scorching heat. It’s a retreat, a haven and a pleasure to be in.

We face a few challenges creating a garden here. The first two are physical: the main space, which we call the Jungle Garden, has vaulted cellars beneath it, hence it’s effectively a roof garden; the consequence of that is that there’s no ground to plant in. Everything must be grown in raised beds around the boundary of the garden or in pots, a situation I have embraced and then taken advantage of over the years. The smaller garden, which we call the Gin & Tonic Garden, is on solid chalk rock so, again, no soil to plant in. Here we do have a small greenhouse which, despite its age and condition, is a treasured asset.

My greatest indulgence is an outdoor kitchen which was built fourteen years ago and is still going strong. We use it all through the year, even in winter to cook a sunday roast. My garden is what greets visitors to our home and provides the picture I enjoy daily outside my windows. It’s calming, invigorating and uplifting all at the same time. It’s not perfect, far from it, but that’s okay. Private gardens are personal endeavours and should made to please you and your family, no one else.

Outdoor kitchen, The Watch House, Marianne Majerus

About My Garden

  • Location: Broadstairs, Kent, on the east coast of England.
  • Aspect: Mainly east-facing. Sheltered from the west but sadly not the south and south west. Surrounded by high walls and fences creating a sheltered microclimate. Overlooked on all sides. We have 8 neighbours in total!
  • Soil: Imported topsoil over solid chalk. The main terrace sits directly over vaulted cellars or "undercrofts", hence my profligate use of pots and troughs.
  • Weather: Relatively dry and warm compared to other part of the UK (we receive less than half the rain that the west of England might experience). Frosts and snow are rare but do occur. Subject to strong, cold easterly winds in the winter. Equivalent to USDA Zone 9a.

The Plants I Grow

Like my Cornish grandmother, something about gardening on the coast has always appealed to me. Perhaps it's the challenge of battling the elements, but I think a stronger attraction has to be the opportunity to grow plants that might struggle further north or inland. The Isle of Thanet, jutting out into the English Channel, is surrounded on three sides by the sea. This creates a unique microclimate with higher than average levels of sunshine, very few frosts and low rainfall. This suits many plants from New Zealand, South Africa, California, Tasmania and the Canary Islands that might be considered tender elsewhere. A case in point is the magnificent giant herb Robert (Geranium maderense) that survives four out of five winters here, lighting up the garden with vast domes of pink blossom in April.

Tender evergreens such as agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus) and giant honey flower (Melianthus major) flourish here, as do evergreen trees such as Chatham Island Lancewood (Pseudopanax chathamica) and green olive (Phillyrea latifolia). I am fortunate that my garden is semi-protected on all sides, but when it blows, it really blows. Surrounding buildings create very effective tunnels that accelerate the speed and power of the wind: I have lost a few trees during my time here. Meanwhile, the sea air has a balancing effect, keeping the garden slightly cooler than inland during the summer and reducing the likelihood of frost and snow in winter.

My Style

My planting style is resolutely 'more is more'. I love collecting plants, getting to know them and trialling new varieties. I like to pack plants in and allow them to mingle - not just outdoors but inside as well. I’m not careless and I will choose plants that I believe have a good chance of survival, but I also don’t get sentimental if something dies. Every departure creates an opportunity for a new arrival.

By August there is barely sufficient room for me and my family to move around. When we open our garden for the National Garden Scheme, we do so just prior to the point where the plants take over. The summer garden is bold, exuberant and colourful; visitors love it, perhaps not for themselves, but as a suggestion of what might be achieved in their own outdoor spaces - it’s like a delicious buffet table of ideas and inspiration.

For the Gin & Tonic Garden my original plan was to create a feeling of the Mediterranean using aromatic, drought tolerant plants. What has actually happened is that it's started to become jungly too, although I feel it has a very different, slight more cottagey atmosphere. Plants flower more abundantly here than in the Jungle Garden and the greenhouse provides useful shelter for seedlings, cuttings, succulents and tender plants. The Gin & Tonic Garden is where I like to end the working day with an appropriate drink in my hand. All work and no play makes Dan a dull boy!

Both gardens are works in progress and that’s fine - no garden will ever be finished (how dull that would be!). Time, money and physical conditions restrict how much one can do, ontop of which, the weather and the natural inclination of plants to grow mean that nothing ever stays the same for long. I embrace the dynamism and grow with my garden. Dan.

For more information and updates about life at The Watch House, follow my blog The Frustrated Gardener.

For helpful hints on how to create a beautiful garden in a small space, here’s some further reading.

The Gin & Tonic Garden, The Watch House

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