A garden writer’s garden

PUBLISHED: 10:30 12 May 2014 | UPDATED: 10:30 12 May 2014

Lovely plant and colour combinations from tulips and spring flowers

Lovely plant and colour combinations from tulips and spring flowers


Garden journalist and editor Zia Allaway turned a dark conifer-dominated space at her Harpenden home into an inspiring contemporary garden. By Philippa Pearson

When we first moved here,’ says gardening writer Zia Allaway of her 80ft garden stretching out from her Victorian house in Harpenden, ‘the garden was full of conifer trees which blocked out all the light.

‘I think the previous owner had a large rock garden here and planted lots of dwarf conifers, which didn’t stay small for very long!’ Zia and her husband cleared around 30 trees out of the garden, no mean task, which unveiled the space and allowed other plants to flourish.

She kept two damson trees, which gradually regained their shape after being swamped by the conifers and, with a young family, laid the garden to lawn with a scattering of flower borders.

Zia grew up in Barnet where her love of plants began thanks to keen gardening parents. ‘Gardening was always happening at home as my parents enjoyed pottering about in the garden.’

This nurturing horticultural environment led to Zia training as a writer and she has concentrated on garden writing and editing for more than two decades. She writes features for many national magazines and has written and edited several gardening books in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society.

As a qualified horticulturist, it was only a matter of time before her Harpenden garden started to gain more of Zia’s attention. ‘With young children the garden was essentially a playground for a few years,’ she explains. ‘But then I wanted to add more interest in the garden and began developing different areas. I remember seeing a photo of a pebble pool in a magazine and thought that feature would work well in my garden.’

Her children watched amused as Zia began work on her own pebble pool, but they soon began to enjoy the wildlife the feature attracted to the garden, as frogs, birds and other creatures became regular visitors. ‘It really helped the children appreciate and learn about nature,’ Zia smiles.

The two damson trees that escaped the conifer cull filled out and grew well, but brought too much shade to the lawn underneath in the north-east facing garden. So Zia replaced the struggling lawn with a circular gravel area and surrounded this with flower beds. ‘This area looks so much bigger now’ she says, ‘and it’s much easier to look after.’

Where the children’s climbing frame once dominated the lawn, Zia’s husband has built a garden office for her to work from. It’s an inspiring space for a gardening writer as it looks out over a mature and colourful informal space which includes a courtyard area nearer the house.

With her horticultural knowledge and experience, Zia is hosting gardening workshops this year, with full and half day courses in her garden. These will include advice on how to create beautiful borders and containers. Refreshments are included and lunches on the full day workshops will be cooked by a cordon bleu chef.

The garden has also caught the attention of the National Garden Scheme and Zia will open it up to the public for the first time next month. ‘It’s the perfect time to see tulips, which I absolutely adore,’ Zia enthuses. ‘I’ve got masses planted in borders and containers throughout the garden, which along with alliums and spring flowers, create colourful planting combinations’.

Her favourite tulips include the lily flower-shaped Ballerina, Angelique with it luxurious double peony-like pink flowers, the dark burgundy blooms of Queen Of The Night, and the fresh-coloured Spring Green.

‘The tulips do really well in the semi-shade aspect of this garden,’ explains Zia ‘and tend to keep their colour and shape for longer’.

Zia’s garden is colourful, contemporary and natural and inspires ideas for planting combinations - just don’t forget to take a notebook to write all the plant names and ideas down.

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