Every May I watch the tiny green teardrops of my rose buds swell and the tantalising stripe of colour appear before they burst into glory at the end of the month.  The excitement and anticipation never fade.  My old friend Gertrude Jekyll is usually the first to pop out, with her deep pink, classic rose scented swirls.  I can’t help but talk to her as I bury my nose in the bloom and feel the cool velvet petals brush my face.  ‘Hello Gertie, welcome back’.  The neighbours must think me mad. From that first bloom I know that soon there will be riot of climbing pink along the wall, running behind the cool, hand-cream blossom of Gentle Hermione, the delicate dancing heads of Buttercup and the rich lemon-sherbet scent of Jude the Obscure. 

What wonderful names roses carry, and so many of them invoke people.  Maybe that’s why I talk to them, as Alice did when she stepped Through the Looking Glass and found herself in a garden full of chattering flowers.  Her rather snooty roses were drawn by Tenniel as chubby children’s faces, embedded in the blooms like Victorian Cabbage Patch Dolls.  Mine are dear old friends, each with their own personality and charm.

When we moved to this house, the space they now fill with scent was a dreary patch of grass, backed by the sun-baked red brick of a 1950s semi.  A single hypericum plant had been dumped under the living room window as an afterthought.  A rampant ivy probed its way through the window frames and the neglected privet hedge rose and dipped lumpily between the two gardens before bulging over the footpath in front.

 I have always been blessed with a vivid imagination and immediately saw this space filled with colour and scent, its forbidding hedges enclosing my own Secret Garden under the noses of the neighbours.  My husband and I set to, stripping ivy, carving out flowerbeds, digging up roots, laying gravel thickly under the living room window to make space for a bench.  

This was in the days when I could still spend a whole day digging and weeding before sliding, thankfully into a hot bath.  Now this part of the garden is a blessed retreat where I can sit and enjoy a quiet meditation on the beauty of nature.  I have made a tiny pond in a washing up basin, and can sit lost in the depths, watching tiny life forms scoot around.  Cats and hedgehogs come to drink, like lions and warthogs at my own mini-watering hole.  In the summer we sit with a glass of wine, listening to the blackbirds’ evening chorus and drinking in the heavy scents of jasmine, honeysuckle, lily and rose.  As the sky darkens, the swooping house martins and swifts are replaced by flickering bats, hunting the insects that are drawn to the jasmine’s tiny white stars.

It took a few years for the honeysuckle and jasmine that we planted by our bench to cover the brick wall, but the roses transformed the space within a year.  We had limited funds to fill the flowerbeds, but pulmonaria and wild pink geraniums spread out from under the hedge without asking and we bought cheap spring bulbs from the local market.  These pop up faithfully, more every year, filling the space with bright colour and hungry winter bees.

Gardening is always an act of hope and imagination.  Seeds take time to emerge and even longer to fulfil the promise on their packets.  My secret garden began as a dreary, empty space and after much effort it stayed that way for months as the first small plants and bulbs settled in.  It wasn’t much to look at then, but it was already transformed in my mind.  I looked at it with the satisfaction of a job well done and saw in my minds eye the space that it would become.  I watched for and welcomed every sign of growth and it continues to be a source of fascination throughout the year as the flowers and wildlife come and go.

In the early winter I delight in the first sharp spikes of snowdrop and crocus under the hedge, knowing the colour that will follow.  The first crimson leaf shoots appearing on the rose branches lift my heart and point to the flowers to come.  My little plum tree opposite the window and the arch at the entrance to the garden provide a perch for dozens of sparrows and dunnocks, blackbirds and starlings, bluetits and robins.  There is always something to watch, to anticipate, new growth to lift the spirits.  This spring I have filled a gap by the bench with a big tub of sweet peas.  They are only small now but in my imagination they sprawl up into the tangle of honeysuckle and their blooms fill my house with the scent of summer.

Do you have a small corner, a patio or balcony where you can sow something beautiful and watch it grow?  Try planting a pot full of bulbs for the spring and top it off with winter pansies for some immediate beauty.