Seeing the wood for the trees in a Muswell Hill garden

Jenny Baynes Muswell Hill Garden

Jenny Baynes in her Muswell Hill Garden - Credit: Nigel Sutton

At a recent gathering, Jenny Baynes was telling me about her garden, rejoicing in the radical changes it has undergone.

From having been overgrown it is now spacious and she is thrilled. When I went to Muswell Hill for a visit Jenny immediately said how she loved the wild fulsome look the garden had had before, but that it had been getting too much. In particular, the lolloping greenery was concealing the unevenness of the path.

Jenny moved into the house with her daughter and late husband twenty years ago. They liked the already mature garden’s sense of enclosure, with its old pear tree. They were also busy people (Jenny teaches literature and drama) so she just enjoyed some container gardening and hardly attended to the three sides of the 5 x 15 m plot.

But in time the central grass dwindled to a path and the back fence vanished under ivy.

Garden before landscaping

Jenny's garden before landscaping - Credit: Jenny Baynes

Later Jenny had a little spare money. The increasingly impenetrable garden beckoned, and she sought out Leo Smee of Living Spaces garden design. The idea of taking out almost all the greenery, of getting back to the side and end fences, began to take shape. Once bare, the rottenness of the two side fences was revealed, so in came new ones, now painted white. They, and the rope running between posts, give an airy, seaside feel.

This work created more space than Jenny had known was there, with the end of the garden now suddenly available for catching the last of the sun. Beds also reappeared, for such plants as euphorbia, rosemary, agapanthus, pittosporum, ferns, maple, lavender and lupin, while the old pear tree gives a sense of continuity.

Jenny Baynes Muswell Hill Garden

Jenny Baynes in her Muswell Hill Garden - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Living Spaces - for humans that is - seems an apt name for Leo’s design practice, as paved areas are frequent on his website. While Jenny is delighted by his work, saying, “now I feel an extraordinary surge of hope”, she admits that the robin was not.

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As the work progressed it seemed to be singing an echo of her own misgivings, “Whatever have you done?” But Jenny got through that doubting stage, (quite a common thing among clients, says Leo, but it usually works out in the end) … and the robin is still there.


* Seedlings grown indoors need hardening off before planting out. A cold frame is perfect, but a sheltered outside space eg near a wall, with some horticultural fleece rigged around them is better than nothing.

* Several local gardens are open through including Mysteries of Light Rosary Garden, NW5 4LB on May 29 from 1.30-5.30pm 

* Two events related to my new book, ‘Deeper into the Wood’ one at Barnet Library on May 26.

And on May 23 a walk on Hampstead Heath with Deborah Wolton as part of the Urban Tree Festival.