greentapestry : 'Blooming Small'

Thursday 10 January 2013

'Blooming Small'

Why does a new year always bring out the urge to spring clean and sort in me? Most scary.This year the bookshelves are getting some long overdue attention - there are some rather alarming sags and it is definitely time for a serious pruning. However I'm being seriously sidetracked by old favourites, so before I know it just a quick flick through has turned into an hour or two of revisiting them. I have some books that sit untouched for months but which are still most precious to me. I thought that this year I would share a few of them here instead of my usual Wordless Wednesday posts - well probably not every week but as and when. I know it's Thursday today but I was too busy reading yesterday. I think that this task could take some considerable time.

So here is the first title which is 'Blooming Small' by Sheila Jackson was published in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1994. Sheila was a most talented woman - an artist, author and costume designer. Her achievements including designing costumes for the television series 'Upstairs, Downstairs'.  If my memory serves me well I read a review of the book in a gardening magazine and then as you do scoured bookshops for it. On initial viewing I was hooked by the beautiful water colour illustrations and so the book just had to come home with me. The book was inspired by the author's own tiny garden (approximately 24ft x16ft) in Camden Town, London which overlooked the main railway line into Euston station. Her garden used to open under the National Garden Scheme and also featured in a number of magazines and books including Lucy Gent's 'Great Planting'.

Sheila relished the idea of a small garden writing that "the small size of the garden suited and pleased me. As an illustrator of books I am used to the small page and have been trained to have a seeing eye; to be inventive with colour and shape is part of my trade, and that important quality - a sense of scale - has developed with the years.

The book chronicles Sheila's gem of a garden throughout the course of a year - recording successes, failures, garden visitors and garden visiting, her delight in horticultural shows, plant buying advice as well as seasonal maintenance and propagation techniques. There is a lot of valuable information which can be applied no matter what size your garden is e.g "to achieve unity in a small area, colour needs to be both restricted and restrained so that the eye can wander gently from place to place without experiencing sudden jumps from one bright colour to another. It is important to avoid the fussiness of too many small- leaved plants and to include large and dramatic leaves". Sheila relied a lot on growing many plants in containers including even a plastic kitchen bowl, as these could be moved around to provide focus points and different combinations as the year unfolded. She answered her need for growing at different levels incorporating tall chimney pots, shelves, a Victorian saucepan - stand as well as the cracks in the concrete. I was fascinated by the skill and the ingenuity she displayed in creating her 'pot banks', the range of plants she grew, her planting combinations and by the sheer dedication she showed in maintaining this garden space to such a high standard.

Looking at this book again has made me think about the north - facing courtyard space in front of our house. I have neglected the area of late but intend to make more of it this year.

Sadly Sheila died in 2011 at the age of 89 .'Blooming Small' does not appear to be still in print but copies can be found via the usual internet sources and also through second hand booksellers. It might take some time and effort to track down but that's all part of the fun.

N.B. The above illustration is from the book and shows some of the plants that featured in Sheila's garden in the month of January.


  1. I really like your paintings, they are so fresh, so alive and have a sense of the immediacy. It does sound like a fascinating book. Maybe we could a page at the start of each month?

  2. yes, I'd love a monthly snippet of fresh ideas for a well-loved small garden.

  3. Sounds like a lovely and gentle book to read. And isn't it always the case, you start tidying up your books and you can't help but browse one, and another, and another... :)

  4. Sheila sounds like she would have been an ideal candidate for starting her own blog about her small garden. I shall certainly keep an eye out for the book.

  5. That sounds like a wonderful book, no wonder you got sidetracked when you came upon it. I love watercolour illustrations in gardening books.

  6. Beautiful illustrations, sounds as if she was an inspired and inspiring gardener. I've been thinking a lot about calm planting recently wrt my new front garden, wondering if I can return to a more restrained palette if I let loose in the back garden.

  7. Anna, This sounds like a wonderful book. I have a large pile of Christmas gift books that have no place to go because all my existing book shelves are full to overflowing; I guess I should take on a book pruning project, too. (Instead, I've just been thinking about where I could squeeze in more bookshelves! :-|) -Jean

  8. Thanks all for your comments :) I like Jean's logic. I'll try to include one or two more of Sheila's illustrations in future posts.


All your comments are much appreciated and treasured. I wil try to reply to everyone who leaves a comment, but it may take me a few days, especially when I start spending more time in the garden and at the lottie. I know that you will understand :) I am sure that I will also visit your blog if I have not already done so. If you have any specific questions I will either reply to them here or you can email me at :


- Anna.