“Our city garden is inspired by nature”

Benn Storey shares the transformation story of his tiny terraced garden in Clapham, its eco-friendly design secrets and space-savvy planting ideas

Benn Storey's small terraced garden in Clapham

by Liz Potter |

“Our garden is quite large for London, in a very urban setting next to Clapham Common,” says owner Benn Storey, who lives here with his husband Brandon Perlberg. “We bought our basement flat in 2016 and started on the garden in 2017. This is its fifth year, and our first year of opening for the NGS.

“It’s a difficult sloping site, terraced into five distinct areas, so it’s multi-level and quite mixed in style. There’s a courtyard outside the flat with a backdrop of lush evergreens; a midlevel garden where anything goes; and a sunny veg garden, with raised beds.

“My granddad had two allotments, so growing fruit and veg is ingrained in me! Owing to limited space we only grow things we can’t buy in the supermarket such as a particular type of kale we like, unusual herit-age species and quick crops. Our tomatoes always taste better than shop-bought ones, and at the end of the season we make a delicious green tomato chutney.

“I grew up on a farm so the main level of the garden is inspired by natural hedgerows and grasses. It’s more cottagey than I intended, largely because of the heavy soil. I wanted to create a prairie-planting scheme with blocks of echinaceas, but we had to go for plants that could cope with it baking hard as a brick in summer, then soaking wet the rest of the year.

“I’ve used salvias, Verbena bonariensis, pheasant’s tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana), perennial sun-flowers, rudbeckias and pennisetums with a green ‘base layer’ of ferns, hellebores and foxgloves.

“I’m a graphic designer by trade, so I had a vision of what I wanted, then measured it all out to make a plan. We had no budget, so we salvaged lots of materials that were already here. We recycled the original retaining wall to fill wire gabions, used bricks from an old garden wall to make steps and created a log wall from sycamore trees that had to be felled.

“Although each room has its own distinct look, the whole garden has a natural cohesion thanks to self-sown foxgloves and erigeron, together with the commonality of gravel and slate.

“My plant combinations are based on texture, scale, leaf and flower colour, and also what will grow here. I’m not after big showy blooms – in my book, the less breeding and hybridising the better. Small flowers give a more natural look and they’re better for bees and other pollinators.”

VISIT: 152a Victoria Rise, Clapham Common, London SW4 0NW on 4 July (12-5pm). Adults £4.50. Pre-booked timeslots available via www.ngs.org.uk

Benn's sloping garden before the transformation
Benn's sloping garden before the transformation ©COPYRIGHT BENN STOREY
Anemanthele grasses give a wild feel
Anemanthele grasses give a wild feel ©COPYRIGHT BENN STOREY
A corten steel water feature with irises and waterlilies
A corten steel water feature with irises and waterlilies ©COPYRIGHT BENN STOREY
The garden in winter
The garden in winter ©COPYRIGHT BENN STOREY
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