The Best Room in the House

Set within the conservation village of Carmunnock, Glasgow, this tiny garden owned by Norma Sterling, measuring just ten metres wide and twenty five metres long, is the most outstanding example of what can be achieved in a small space.

Packed from corner to corner with pollinator friendly, floriferous blooms, stepping inside this tiny garden transports you to a verdant paradise of loveliness and Norma calls it, ‘The Best Room in the House’!

Norma’s cottage was built in 1858 and when she moved into the property, the garden was mainly laid to lawn. But Norma increased the size of the borders to give the garden a traditional cottage garden feel.

With the cottage having only a front garden, as well as the greenhouse, Norma built a little shed for storage and hid the bins behind it; she built a wood shed for the wood burner and a pull out washing line that attaches to a hook on the tree.

She also grew a tall hedge to surround the front garden for privacy, and also to act as a wind break. “To my delight, dozens of entertaining sparrows now call the hedge their home. Most days you can hear them chirping away. The locals call it ‘the singing hedge’ and I had one passerby knock on my door to say the cheeping cheered her up every morning on her way to the village shop.”

Norma is a keen photographer, spending hours lost in the garden with her camera, capturing bees, birds, and flowers.

What do you love most about your garden?

“What I love most about my garden is that I have created a wildlife haven for the birds, bees, and insects who are constant visitors – I love to photograph them. All my insect loving plants, bird feeders, and nesting boxes are within arm’s length of my camera: hence the higgledy-piggledy appearance of my garden.”

“A very rare winter visitor to gardens is the tiny Redpoll with its lively twittering and patches of red on its head and breast. They arrived when I first put out the nyjer seed which they take from a special nyger feeder which has tiny seed ports.”

“Every spring, the faithful blue tits return to the same nesting box to build their warm nest and raise their brood of chicks – a full time job for both parents.”

“I also love that I have created a private sanctuary for myself, to breathe and get lost in, especially welcome after a stressful shift nursing when the garden was first created in 2006. Now that I am retired, some days I am so engrossed and focused in the garden, I forget to go up the short garden path to go home, totally oblivious to time.”

Do you have a favourite spot in the garden?

“My little greenhouse is such an asset in the garden, as my wee cottage is quite small with no back garden. Building this opened up my horizons as the birds, for whatever reason, do not seem to see me in there taking their pictures.”

“When my little greenhouse arrived, the instructions said it could be built in a couple of days. I had the offer of help of two kind neighbours: between the three of us, it took a full week to build it! I call it my ‘community greenhouse’ and I will never forget their kindness.”

“The greenhouse was placed where the last of the sun warmed the garden so I could sit with the door open and feel the heat of the sun on my face and be sheltered from the Scottish weather!”

“I grow tomatoes in the greenhouse and the scent of the green leaves brings back fond memories of my dad’s plot and greenhouse in Govan where we played as children.”

Tell us what else you have done to encourage wildlife into the garden.

“My favourite flowers are the insect magnets to encourage the pollinators and it is amazing to photograph the minute details. I love the Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ with simply masses of white flowers from August to October. It is loved by the bees and hoverflies. I take my camera and a stool and sit by this flower and wait for the magic to happen. I have let it spread to all corners of the garden.”

Verbena bonariensis is another favourite with its elegant, tall, nectar and pollen rich purple flowers. It attracts the butterflies and bees and provides seed for the birds. I treat it as an annual as it is not very winter hardy in my garden.”

“The metallic blue flowers of the globe thistle Echinops is a wonderful plant for the bees and butterflies. They just love it and cling to it for hours. I can photograph them easily as they seem hypnotised from the pollen.”

“My blue Eringium, which is loved by all the pollinators, has reached great heights. I planted this in 2006 and it is now well over 8 foot tall.”

“I grow Astrantia ‘Pink Sensation’ at the edge of the border and love how it flops gracefully over the grass. It’s a wonderful plant for the pollinators and is a very photogenic macro image.”

“Another bee magnet which I love is the perennial wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’. I have even had this flower in mild winters.”

“For the butterflies, I have four Buddleja in the garden: Buddleja ‘Pink Delight’, ‘White Profusion’, and Buddleja x wyeriana ‘Sungold’, a bi-colour, sweetly scented one with various shades of pink and orange. I planted two side by side to make an arch. I would plant more but I have no more room.”

“For the birds, I make sure there are plenty of bird baths and seed feeders scattered around the garden.”

Which plants do you think grow particularly well in a Scottish garden?

“For height, I love the electric pink of my Lychnis with its silver stems and I planted Twisted Willows on either side of the garden path to grow together to form a natural arch as an entrance to the garden. For gaps at ground level, you can’t beat Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ for coverage and if I find any empty spaces, I usually plant a fern. I also have a beautiful tree Magnolia ‘Susan’, which has a profusion of pink flowers and grows well in the shelter of the garden.”

The Best Room in the House

“My parents were keen gardeners, my mum grew all her colourful flower beds from seed: watching Geoff Hamilton was our family’s favourite TV show. I always wanted a country garden and this style of garden suited my wee cottage.”

“I had a dream of designing a garden as a place of peace and tranquility, at one with nature – I think I have achieved it. I hope I have encouraged the circle of life in the earth that I love, in my little garden: the best room in the house.” 

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