The best of Dorset in words and pictures

A Dorset garden: Annalal’s Gallery, Christchurch

Susy and Colin Varndell visit an extraordinary 37x13 foot garden and gallery

The garden is arranged in three paved patio 'rooms'

The garden is arranged in three paved patio ‘rooms’

 

Annalal’s Gallery is the small and utterly delightful home of two artists, Lal and Anna, and their dog, Charity. The enchanting cottage, which they consider to be part of the garden experience, features a tiny patio garden on three levels. Sculptures and paintings are hidden amongst the flowers and shrubs, all placed there with the intent of charming and entertaining the visitor – which they do very successfully.

There is little to frighten even the novice gardener from the planting perspective

There is little to frighten even the novice gardener from the planting perspective

The house is in the middle of Millhams Street, in the centre of Christchurch. From the outside it looks like an unassuming terraced cottage down an ordinary back street, but on closer inspection the front door has an interesting name plate…two artists live here. The owners consider that visitors to the garden begin their horticultural experience as soon as they step inside the Victorian terraced cottage. Your first impression is that you are surrounded by the most beautiful objects carved out of wood as well as exquisite paintings and art. It is so unexpected that it makes the experience even more special. If you visit this delightful oasis, you will not only be regaled with beautiful objects but also you will become aware that the owners have a highly developed sense of humour.

In a slight corruption of the cliché, Charity is at home, in the lee of the rocking horse

In a slight corruption of the cliché, Charity is at home, in the lee of the rocking horse

The garden, which is only 37 x 13 feet, has been developed over quite a few years. To begin with, this tiny garden was a sloping lawn area. Plenty of clearing was necessary. Now it is arranged in three paved patios, or rooms, with steps leading from one area to the next. The intention is to make it feel bigger than it really is, which indeed it does, although it would be a bit of a squash if too many visited at the same time!

A signature element of humour in this indoor-outdoor visiting experience

A signature element of humour in this indoor-outdoor visiting experience

Most of the plants which they have chosen are evergreens and of no particular named varieties. The pyracantha, which was one of the only plants here when they bought the cottage, is now being trained to curve around the top of a wall; it acts as a shield from any inquisitive eyes as well as a nesting site for a blackbird.
Many of the plants are climbers which scramble over the high brick wall and which give the impression of the garden being bigger. As Anna likes the garden to feel like a wilderness, the climbers do their job admirably.
There is a jasmine with delicate white flowers and an arch is enhanced with a clematis which has pretty bell flowers. Honeysuckles are selected for their scent, evergreen clematis keeps the garden green all the year round.

The French windows outside also act as a frame for the garden when viewed from indoors

The French windows outside also act as a frame for the garden when viewed from indoors

The cruel vine, Araujia sericifera, has lovely fragrant bell-shaped flowers, which develop into big pear-like fruit. These huge ribbed seed pods are an added attraction and later burst to reveal a mass of silky floss and seeds within. It needs a warm wall for this gorgeous twining evergreen climber to flourish.
The amusing pencil gate, which is loved by children, was made by Lal. It leads to the entrance of the second level. Lal’s sense of humour is reflected throughout the garden and cottage. For instance, Lal assures us that the pencil tree is where the pencils ‘grow’.

The pencil gate made from the fruits of the pencil tree

The pencil gate made from the fruits of the pencil tree

Sculptures hide amongst the foliage and they all have stories to tell, so if you are curious, don’t forget to ask the artists. The garden is also enhanced by a number of objects that have been picked up from the dump, restored, and then utilised to decorate and add interest around the garden. These include many mirrors, strategically placed to reflect light and to make the garden feel bigger and lighter. Some of the other objects you will come across on your visit will be a rope sculpture, a sculpture called ‘a bit of rough’, and a special plaque on the old brick wall at the far end of the garden which reads: ‘On this site Sept 5 1782 nothing happened!’ The green sheds are like sentry boxes but with a sedum roof which in turn attracts lots of insects.
But it has to be said that the garden is almost of secondary interest compared to what the visitor finds inside the tiny cottage. The entrance to the garden is through the house and this is packed with incredible wooden sculptures.
Lal is the creator of these masterpieces, which he develops in a tiny shed in the garden. Look carefully and you will see one hundred eggs, superbly crafted, all in different woods and all of different sizes.

Entrance to the garden is through the house, which is, as the name suggests, a gallery of Anna and Lal's work

Entrance to the garden is through the house, which is, as the name suggests, a gallery of Anna and Lal’s work

The rocking horse, the ballet shoes, the boot, the credit card, the rather special photo album – the list goes on. Lime is apparently one of the best woods to use.
Beauty and incredible masterpieces are everywhere and Lal is happy to tell you the story behind each object. The creative owners of this paradise want everyone who visits to go away feeling happier. They succeed admirably.

More of Lal's sculpture indoors

More of Lal’s sculpture indoors

Anna and Lally Sims open 25 Millhams Street, Christchurch, BH23 1DN as part of the National Gardens Scheme. for details visit www.annasims.co.uk or www.ngs.org.uk

Dorset Directory