From Sulk to Silk; (1)ECLECTIC: The Victorian Conservatory, above, and Collection of Plants in Pots, Left, Set off against the Painted House Walls (2) FRUITFUL: Susan in Her Garden, Which She Turned from an Uninspiring Space to One of London's Finest
Byline: MARTYN COX
When Susan Collier moved into her Victorian townhouse in Clapham,SouthWestLondon,in 1999, she spent a long time regretting the decision. Not because she didn'tget on with her new neighbours or that the house was in bad shape, but becausethe garden was not a patch on the one she had left behind.
'My old garden was so pretty, but this was full of evergreen shrubs, a windingpath and nothing else. I took one look at it and sulked for a whole year,' saysSusan, a textile designer whose main reason for upping sticks was to inherit aglass-fronted, detached garden studio where she could work from home.
After 12 months, a good friend persuaded her to tackle the T-shaped space (91ftlong by 20ft wide, opening to 57ft wide at the bottom) that stretches outbehind her three-storey, four-bedroom home.
She started by removing the shrubs and then discovered the garden had the mostfantastic soil, probably a result of several former owners composting on aregular basis. 'It was an inspiration to me and was like a base cloth on whichI could make a design,' recalls Susan, 68, who runs Collier Campbell,considered to be one of the most successful textile design businesses inEurope.
Since selling her first designs to Liberty in 1961, Susan's work has been indemand from many household names, including Yves Saint Laurent, Habitat andMarks & Spencer.
Today, the uninspiring space she took on is a distant memory and the garden isofficially one of the finest private spaces in London.
It opens annually for the National Gardens Scheme and is in its famous YellowBook directory of 3,500 gardens that open their gates for charity.
This year it had the ultimate honour of being in The Good Gardens Guide.
Through the utility-room door you step on to a small patio paved with Yorkstone slabs arranged in an informal pattern. A rustic table and chairs havebeen set up against a delightful Victorian conservatory, while the paintedwalls of the house make the perfect backdrop for an eclectic collection ofplants in pots, some arranged on tables and others on the ground. There arepelargoniums, aeoniums, aloe, echeveria, agapanthus, hostas and a rosemaryspilling out of an old tin bath.
A gravel path snakes through the middle of two borders deeply filled withperennials and shrubs. At the back are taller plants which provide privacy fromoverlooking windows, including an imposing stand of golden bamboo(Phyllostachys aurea), a glaucous, serrated leaved honey bush (Melianthusmajor) and a spectacular Mount Etna broom, or Genista aetnensis. …