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Local & Community

Preloved Member: A Tiny Back Yard with Heaps of Character

Sally’s love of gardening grew as soon as she bought her first house in her early 20s. Although she dreams of a large garden, since leaving her office job 8 years ago and starting a small garden maintenance business, she admits it’s nice to come home to a fairly low maintenance yard where she can potter around doing some dead heading and watering the pots – with her old galvanized cans of course!


My garden is a tiny back yard. From my back door, I am five steps from my back gate and at the gate end, it is only about a yard and a half wide. I still have lots that I want to do with the yard, I fancy old cobbles or a Victorian path. For now I have the inherited 1980s slabs that are supposed to represent block paving.


Image Credit: Sally Crossley

I have five different clematis and three different jasmine plus a small climbing rose growing through an old iron gate and Edwardian bed ends, which I obtained from an online auction site for just £2.75! I did feel a little guilty when the seller asked if I was going to renovate it. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him it was destined for a shabby trellis. I do have two other bargains that were free: my old cream painted 1930’s gate which gives support to my Princess Diana clematis, and a fire bucket, which has the variegated grass carex in it. My neighbour Matty gave me these before he moved house.

Brass bed trellis

Image Credit: Sally Crossley

Choose your plants carefully

As the yard is South East facing we get lots of sun until around 4pm, when it disappears behind the neighbouring houses. Because we have a 5ft fence either side, one side is quite shady at the base. I have a clematis, Westerplatte which is a lovely deep wine colour and a miniature climbing pale pink rose called Star Performer, ideal for patios as it doesn’t get too big and has a lovely delicate fragrance; it also doesn’t mind partial shade. Underneath I have pots and a butler sink which mostly contain hellebores and hostas, these are great for a shady spot and have beautiful lily flowers in summer. They die back in the winter so the pots also contain miniature daffodil bulbs – Thalia is my favourite as it’s a cream colour and smells lovely.

Bread bin hosta pot

Image Credit: Sally Crossley

Décor is also important

When the flowers have faded, the yard is brightened up by old blue and white transfer print china, chipped pieces that I pick up for pennies. I get a lot of ideas from magazines such as Country Living and Period Living . I can’t remember when I first put plates outside for ornament, I have been doing it for years. I do collect a lot of stuff and I suppose it has just overflowed.

There’s enough room for a small table and two chairs where I can read a book and later on a warm evening, have a glass of wine by candle light from the old wired Kilner jars hanging from lantern hooks stuck into the bigger pots. I also have a couple of old chimneys which contain pots, these give height and help to not have everything at ground level.

plates and daffs in window box

Image Credit: Sally Crossley

When you look around garden centres and big stores, you often see modern reproductions for sale; it’s sometimes styled as a bird feeder or ornamental ball, but why buy new when a broken piece too shabby for the dresser can be placed in the garden? That way the damage isn’t noticed. It’s fair to say that it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love it.

Why repurpose?

I repurpose because I love the fact that no one else will have exactly what I’ve got; items that have perhaps been made decades ago for people living a totally different life. I visit car boot sales every weekend in the summer months and charity shops in the winter. Online second hand marketplaces such as Preloved are also a great way to find original pieces to upcycle.

When I’m off on a treasure hunt, I usually have my mum with me. It’s probably her that I get my love of second hand from. Mum keeps everything – being born at the start of the war and having started work before rationing had stopped in 1954, even a piece of string can be found a new job!

chimney planter

Image Credit: Sally Crossley

While rummaging around I quite often find things that other people have overlooked. They don’t see, for example, that the old baby bath would make a great wildlife pond at the allotment. Or the useless old holey galvanised bucket that won’t hold water would look great planted up.

Family, neighbours and friends are a great resource

One of the first second hand items I placed in the yard was the old butler’s sink that my brother and sister-in-law were getting rid of. My favourite piece is an old chimney pot which is planted with a hellebore and spring bulbs. Now that I have an allotment, I also have space for my finds; my brother’s old windows are now a very useful cold frame. Always check skips: old doors and windows are the first things to be chucked out.

Window cold frame

Image Credit: Sally Crossley

I have found some old Victorian path tiles recently which I bartered for a couple of hours gardening. I envisage a beautiful path from my back door to my gate but I only have about a third of it. I will keep looking. They are out there waiting for me to find somewhere!

Sally Crossley

Sally Crossley

Community User

Sally is a freelance gardener. Her interests include searching out vintage finds, her allotment and upcycling. She is Grandma to Aela and Evie with a Grandson due this year. Any spare time is spent walking her two rescue dogs Wilmo and Coco.