How to have IT in the Garden by Vandra Costello


Inspired by Alexa Chung’s new ‘book’, I have decided that it is time I too allowed a grateful public a few glimpses into my glamorous world and shared a few tips on how to be fab like me.  It’s more a stream of [self] consciousness and a list of things I like and really useful tips. I am waiting in anticipation for Penguin to come knocking on my door bearing large wad of cash in advance of sales.


Gardening is probably the main, number one thing I can do — that I’m best at. Gardening is also a really cool thing do. Gardening means plants and stuff that you ‘grow’ in a ‘garden’. If you would like to get into gardening it would help if you had some land. A small field will do, or even a real ‘garden’ at the back of your house. I like to curate my garden with a mixture of plants; some trees and weird little tree things called shrubs and even some flowers. Flowers are things that grow in the ground. They have petals and some smell.  Flowers are not to be confused with flour. Flour is a white powdery thing you use to make cakes with. (Note: never eat flour. Flour based products include bread, biscuits, pasta and other stuff that can make you fat.) You can eat some flowers – Nigella eats flowers in her Pimms and puts flowers on her salads. To be on the safe side buy these flowers in a shop.

I buy plants from lots of places. If you like vintagey stuff you can shop for flowers in markets or you can just go to a shop.  Like Alexa I have a weird mental block every time I go shopping that means I forget what I already own the moment I cross the threshold.  

Making a Garden

If you would like to have a garden you can hire someone called a ‘garden designer’ to draw one for you. Then you can look for a little man to come and do all the dirty work and digging while you look on and look pretty.

Garden Style Icons

When I am in the garden I like to reference some of my favourite gardening heroines. Sometimes I reference Demi Moore in Indecent proposal and wear a tea dress tucked into my knickers, a straw hat and a fetching plumber’s belt to hold my tools in. When channelling Demi it is important not to get any muck on yourself or your clothes. You can use a brightly coloured trowel and pretend to be planting lettuce which you can buy already grown in shops.

Another person I like to reference is Vita Sackville-West – for this look it helps if you are quite old and have an incipient moustache. Wear a floppy hat and plus fours with boots. Ask a friend to come and help you and pretend she is your new Sapphic bit on the side. She’s also my favourite character to reference when getting dressed in summer months, although it helps if you own a castle or historic house to pull this one off.

If I am having issues of gender confusion I work an Alan Titchmarsh look – a nice Bawneen Jersey and matching cap from Blarney woollen mills worn with a pair of slacks usually does the trick. When feeling Titchmarshy I like to build in the garden and makee rockeries out of concrete or create mini Japanese gardens filled with dwarf conifers and a goldfish pond.

My relationship with my wellies is incredibly special. I have a large collection of wellies which I archive and keep in my shed. (Note: never confuse wellies with willies, this can lead to trouble). I also have kind of a thing going on with gardening gloves; I have hundreds of single gloves in different colours and materials which I mix ‘n’ match for a funky look. When I get new gloves I dedicate some time at home to shoving mud on them so they don’t look squeaky clean.

Beauty in the Garden

I like to rock a simple look in the garden. Eyeliner aside, sometimes I go crazy and add a red lip to my make-up look, but it has to be a very special occasion. To add authenticity to the outdoors look scatter some twigs and bits of manure in your hair. My favourite garden scent is eau de merde.

So now I have let you into my psyche I hope you will be inspired to become as fab as me.

Autumn Days

The garden is too depressing to talk about right now. I have just had a skip full of thorny, twisted and horribly overgrown climbing rose prunings and chunks of a badly neglected philadelphus taken away and bear the scars to prove it. Now I have a big space to fill. I am thinking of moving a very nice little clematis viticella to grow up the gnarled remains of the rose – which I hope  will regenerate, but expect little from it next year as it is too traumatised by my brutal surgery. The plants have still not recovered from the sustained drought and neglect this summer so I really can’t wait to cut them all back and make plans for next year. On a brighter note, I emptied a compost bin today and turned a heap and have loads of gorgeous, brown, friable mulch to spread around. My resolutions for the coming garden year are:

  • Less is more – to stop being so greedy for variety and over stuffing the beds with bits and pieces and go for a more refined and controlled scheme. More of the same plants in large clumps to add some coherence to the scheme (what scheme? I ask). This is very difficult indeed as I adore plants but have a tiny garden.
  • To use pots more – I saw a lovely scheme the other day outside the Magpie gastro pub in Dalkey. A welcome change from the usual pub hanging baskets of garish petunias and begonias, they had two large planters filled with a large, common or garden red hot poker and some ferns – dryopteris felix-mas I think – and they looked superb. The orange flowers of the Kniphofia were a bonus, but the foliage alone looked great together.
  • To lift my dahlias and store them – every year I am unsure if the tubers have survived winter and just plant more willy nilly and end up with a terrible jumble of plants squashed on top of one another. It is time I joined the grown up gardener world and dried my tubers and put them in newspaper. I will give them a bit of a spray in spring and take cuttings and make lots of plants for next year, which I will keep in pots and place artfully around the beds in an orderly fashion.  I hope.
  • Take out most of my campanula – I have some rotten ones that do next to nothing and some lovely ones that spread like mad and are only good for a week or so and clog up the beds. I shall be very strict and leave a few good specimens and bin or give away the rest.
  • I will buy more frilly, fluffy, tall and blowsy plants – I want my garden to look more like a good impressionist painting than a Jackson Pollock (much as I admire his work).

On a happier autumnal note, here are some things I love about this time of year:

  • Magpies eating elderberries – clumsy and too heavy for the branches they are fun to watch – I alone seem to admire these beautiful, noisy resourceful birds.
  • Murmurations of starlings, like the synchronised fliers in the Red Devils they swirl and swoosh above in the pale autumn sky chirruping merrily away and punishing the people who park their cars outside my house all day by dropping plenty of mess onto their bonnets and windscreen.
  • Early evening bats whizzing about in readiness for Hallow ‘Een.
  • The smell of fires, especially turf.
  • Annual weeds dying off at last.
  • Seedheads – especially agapanthus and teasel.
  • Children in their new school uniforms.
  • New tights.
  • Bracing swims in the sea.