Gardening: Australasian charm lands in Muswell Hill

Mona Abboud's open garden. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Mona Abboud's open garden. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Ruth Pavey discovers an oasis of hot-weather plants in a musician’s “thought-provoking” Wood Vale garden

One cold wintry day, years ago, Mona Abboud and I went to Myddelton House for a guided, and protracted, garden walk. I felt at the time that this outing was not going down well with Mona, but what I didn’t know until now was quite how badly it was going… badly, coldly, enough for her to have developed a Permanent Horror of Snowdrops (Mona has an emphatic way of speaking). Badly, coldly enough that she has long dined out on the extremity (and Englishness) of this event.

I should have known better – Mona’s garden is in essence Mediterranean, and although her mother was Russian it would seem that her Lebanese father has had more influence over her feelings about temperature. Snow and ice are certainly not what spring to mind when you stand looking down at the first, most formal section of her Wood Vale garden, with its central fountain and well pruned trees and shrubs – the more likely associations are with pleasant shade from the hot sun, the scent of jasmine, the splashing of water, etc.

Mona is a musician as well as a gardener, but she feels that there is another calling she missed – that of a sculptor. She loves to think of the shapes the trees and shrubs are making, to prune them into becoming lighter, airier, more transparent than they might otherwise be. Her treatment of the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, in the first part of the garden is a case in point. She has also added a new element to surprise visitors when the garden is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday August 16, following inspiration from Sue Whittington’s garden at Southwood Lodge, Highgate.

Sometime ago Mona was getting despondent about her planting, but then made a mental shift from the Mediterranean to Australasia, specifically, to New Zealand. She was already interested in corokias, but somehow the thought took hold that she could make a thing of them. She is now a National Collection Holder-in-Waiting.

In the lower part of the garden she is experimenting with a corokia hedge made up of the different species, C. buddlejoides. C. macrocarpa and C.cotoneaster, and some of the hybrids she has been collecting (of which there are more details on her website,

In common with some other Wood Vale gardens, Mona’s follows an odd ground plan. It starts fairly wide and straight, then kinks into an extensive narrow section before broadening out at the end.

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The land gets wet further down, so is perfect for a bog garden, with rodgersias, equisetum, lysimachia, etc. The equisetum makes a showing further up as well, softening what used to be the stony look of the fountain. The middle part of the garden, very long and narrow, is a tricky space to fill. Mona felt she wanted more flow, something to soften the path, so she has constructed beds for herbaceous plants and grasses.

It was this new planting, new since we featured the garden six years ago, that I was invited to see. One of the eye-catching plants (although neither a grass nor herbaceous) is a small New Zealand conifer, Dacrydium cupressinum. It has a weeping habit, with tight little spiralling leaves of a good yellowish green (having looked it up, I now know that it should grow very tall, but not for a long while). However, this conifer is just one among many other unusual plants in this distinctive, thought-provoking garden, which is well worth seeing.

Mona Abboud’s garden at 33, Wood Vale, N10 3DJ will be open on Sunday, August 16. 2pm–5.30pm

Plant in focus

Several years ago, I was asked to choose perennials that would survive full sun, no care and all the attrition consistent with being at the entrance to a primary school.

Predictably, some of the lavenders, sages, photinias, grasses etc. have done better than others, but no plant has been such a success as Perovskia. When the outgoing premises manager, not known as a gardener, said that he would like to take a root of it home, and that he loves its flowers and the aromatic brush of its leaves, I knew that this was a plant to celebrate.

Perovskia, a sub shrub, is a native of Afghanistan and the Himalayas. It positively loves poor soil, so long as it is well drained (in London clay, adding gravel when planting is recommended). The bed in which this particular specimen has flourished and spread did supposedly have some good top soil to begin with, but has received very little nurture since. So… if you have a sunny ill-fed flowerbed, sit back and let Perovskia look lovely, smell great, attract bees and take care of itself.