Alys Fowler on why she loves her garden and the oldest gardening book
The gardener and writer tells Sophie Hannam about her collection of natural curiosities and desire for a fully compostable Christmas
I fell in love with my home’s south-west facing garden. When I viewed it for the first time, I walked right through the house not looking at a thing until I had seen the garden. The first piece of furniture that I bought was an art deco sofa. It cost me a whole month’s pay and I think it was made for a bedroom, where someone might drape across it. A few years ago I came to my senses and realised I’d never have a bedroom big enough for it, so I sold it locally to a mum and her son. They came to try it out and fitted on it together perfectly and said they’d use it for reading. It found its rightful owners in the end.
The most recent addition to my home is a funny box seat that I found on the street. It looks like it was made in the late 1940s. The craftsmanship is lovely, but it needs stripping and repainting. At the top of my interiors wishlist are some big velvet cushions. I have a lovely chair from the 1930s that my mum bought for me that folds into a daybed. I think I’ve found the perfect cushions for it, but I’m just deciding whether they should be a bold pop of colour, or blend with the room.
My home in one word is a Wunderkammer [a cabinet of curiosities]. I collect a lot of curious things: from moose teeth and badger skulls to dried moss. I’m mostly drawn to pieces of nature, but I also like to buy art and I have a growing collection of hand-carved spoons.
The best thing about my home is the garden. I don’t actually think of it as a room per se, but it’s the part of my home that I love the most. I like it because, unlike interiors, there’s no control going on: it exists and I tend to it.
My most treasured possession is a hand-forged pair of scissors from Romania, which a long-ago boyfriend brought back. I’ve never had to sharpen them and they handle like a dream.
My favourite place to shop for my home is The Rag and Bone Shop in Machynlleth, Wales. Almost all my purchases come from there – most recently I bought a tiny prayer stool.
At the moment I’m reading a modern translation of the oldest gardening book in the world, Sakuteiki. It’s about Japanese gardening around 1,000 years ago, but it feels like it could have been written yesterday. I’m desperate to learn kintsugi. It’s the Japanese practice of repairing cracked pottery with a gold or metal lacquer – I have a lot of chipped pottery to fix!
Currently, on a free day you’ll find me in Wales, hunting for a plot of land on which to self-build a cabin and grow some fruit trees. I decorate my home for Christmas in a pagan way. This year I’ll bring some evergreen foliage into the house and some holly or ivy to garland around, but not much more. I like to be able to compost Christmas. I often decorate the tree in my front garden, instead of one in the house.