Seven years since we arrived at this house, with the van-load of plants from the backyard of our first house. Climbers that were shown on early photographs of the garden as tiny things creeping tentatively up trellis are now enormous mounds of foliage draped across wall-tops and the shed roof.

2003 saw a lot of fantastic hot weather - we had, for once, had a proper summer, day after day of hot weather and little rain. In that kind of summer, a garden can be properly enjoyed as the "outdoor room" so often talked about by garden designers, garden centres and DIY warehouses (and any other place that wants us to part with our money, inspired by their vision). In northern England, the idea of a garden being a "room" is, most years, a ridiculous idea (unless, like me, you've lived in a flat where the roof leaks a lot, and you're used to sitting on damp furniture). This year though it was a great summer, weather-wise.

Our cat, Spike, died at the end of June, after living with us for all of his fourteen years. He was with us in various places, but liked this one best. He is buried, near the ivy-covered wall, with Leaps, who died two years previously. Both of them, right until their very last days, liked sitting in the sun in the garden. Wise creatures, cats, particularly Leaps and Spike, who are still missed. Rosie the cat, adopted in 2002, now enjoys sitting in the sun in the garden.

Other creatures have taken up residence in this small garden over the years, including many birds, bees, insects of all shapes and sizes, a toad, and this year, many, many frogs. After the pond played host to some frog-mating, in spring, frogspawn appeared, then tadpoles, then tiny froglets, all over the garden. These were discovered every time I moved pebbles near the water feature or bits of wood in Woodland Corner. I realised that my rather laid-back attitude to my garden this year (a result of having less free time to potter about and disrupt everything at regular intervals) meant the wildlife was, it seemed, colonising this small space as its own.

With autumn came a robin that appeared to be claiming this garden as its territory, singing and calling daily from the branches of the cherry tree. A pair of collared doves came to the garden daily too, though they weren't as tame as "Colin".

Since I started to make this garden in 1996, so much has changed. Some for the better, some not so good.

It's two years since my sister Kay died. She didn't visit York after 1996, so never saw this garden. (I sometimes wonder how she pictured it from my descriptions.) Looking at it now I know that her illness and her death were the catalyst for much of the effort I've put into the garden. And I wonder how many things in this world are made from people's anger and grief.

Sometimes, in the morning, starting the day standing in the garden with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, I think about how much has happened since the autumn of 1996 when we moved here. If I'd known of some of the events I might have wanted to give up immediately and bury myself under the shrubs in Woodland Corner. But then there wouldn't have been the good bits - many of which I hope I've described on this site - and I wouldn't have read the many wonderful emails that people from all over the world have sent me. To friends in New Zealand, the US, Australia, Japan, Europe, and of course the UK - friends worldwide - thank you for your messages and for sharing your thoughts.

I know now that whether good or bad happens, however troubled you are, a garden offers comfort and peace, and that nature continues to bring flowers into bloom, whatever. And that through the rather more modern phenomenon of the internet, even on the days when you're in a bad mood and don't care about the flowers in your garden, there's someone else in the world who cares about the flowers in their garden, and wants to tell you about it. Marvellous.


From 'Kitchen Corner', September 2003

Above: From "Kitchen Corner", looking towards the morning sun, September 2003. Top left: Lily "Star Gazer"

Garden plan (link opens in new window)