From Queen Of Punk To Devoted Gardener

She's tamed her wild Eighties hair and make-up, but her current role touring in a stage production as Calamity Jane still uses up plenty of energy. Toyah Willcox reveals her favourite way to relax

"When I'm out there tending my garden I feel utterly wrapped up in it - I think gardening can be quite obsessional. I may not know all the Latin names and I don't find designing easy, but none of that matters. As long as you get on and have a go, you soon learn through your mistakes - that's the fun of it.

I always tackle a problem straight on, and if I really don't know how to do something, I look it up in a book. I'm very practical and I've developed a strong idea of what I like and don't like, which is the most important place to start. I'm a great one for tying in and cutting back. I don't know whether it's because I'm small (I'm 5ft) but I never want to feel overwhelmed by plants, especially the common garden shrubs. I like to see everything in its place, so I make sure the plants know who's in control!

The garden at our house on the River Avon in Worcestershire is blissful. It was landscaped and planted before we bought the house, so it's well established and I hardly want to change a thing. I first spotted the For Sale sign last year when I was out boating with my dad. I phoned my husband (guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson) in great excitement and told him we had to go and have a look. When we walked in, I burst into tears and Robert went really quiet because we both knew it was perfect.

The garden has five 'rooms' and the first is just behind the house - a stone terrace enclosed by yew hedging. Living alfresco is important to me and this is the perfect place to do it. We have a big table where we lunch with friends or sit around reading the papers. We both travel a lot and work hard - Robert's been working on a new album in America and I'm either presenting, singing, writing, or acting. I've been touring in Calamity Jane this year, so we both value the time we have together to relax and reflect, or to paint or read.

Next comes a circular pool garden bordered by roses and tulips (luckily mostly yellow, my favourite flower colour) and edged by curved box hedging. On a summer's day, this part of the garden is os hot and voluptuous it feels like a Sicilian courtyard. There are one or two stone benches, so it's a good place to sit quietly when you have niggles or worries. It's important to get outside and see how nature deals with things. It helps to put everything into context.

This and all the neighbouring gardens were originally orchards that ran down to the River Avon and we still have a small section of orchard with two rows of cherry trees. They're so perfectly spaced I find it quite surreal. Here, as elsewhere in the garden, we've put in sculptures by Althea Wynne, who's become a friend. I'm very good at finding artists and I love the idea of commissioning someone to make a piece for a specific space.

Beyond the orchard are two large lawned areas, bordered with shrubs and perennials and divided by a classical ironwork pergola. Our gardener John comes twice a week and keeps everything immaculate, which makes a big difference to me as I'm in London a lot when I'm working so wouldn't have the time to look after this garden on my own - but in my tiny London garden I do everything myself.

I can see us living here for years, having summer parties where friends can lose themselves in the garden, play boules or croquet or take a boat trip down the river. Each part of the garden has its own mood and sounds - it's wonderful to escape into.

For me, a garden is spiritual: there's nothing more moving than seeing a favourite plant flowering - it's like a new beginning. Consciously tending a plant and wanting its life cycle to be as healthy as possible is a very respectful thing to do. A garden can be a huge emotional and spiritual investment but if you get it right it gives you a lifelong return.

Toyah's Favourite Plants:

Passionflowers
Foxgloves
Love-in-a-mist
Forget -me-nots
Fremontodendron
Camelias
Cacti

Toyah's Mantras For The Garden:

Visit as many gardens as possible to glean ideas you can adapt for your own garden. Use the National Gardens Scheme Yellow Book (£5) to see what's open in your area.

Keep a sense of scale and don't allow large plants to take over and swamp the space.

Make sure the edges of your lawn are well kept. They'll make everything else look neat even if it isn't.

Introduce some moving water with a fountain - the sound is very relaxing.

Design your garden according to the amount of time you want to spend tending it. That way it will always be a joy and never a chore.

FAR LEFT: As you look back to the house, built around 1750, you can see how the long garden is divided up into rooms, each with its own character.

TOP LEFT: A backdrop of wisteria and yellow roses clothe the 15ft walls that surround and shelter the garden.

BOTTOM LEFT: It's good to escape to a quiet seat when you have worries - this iron pergola is an elegant haven.
 
 

FAR RIGHT: Bold yellow-green Euphoria characias zings out of the border - yellow is a favourite flower colour.

TOP RIGHT: Specially commissioned sculptures by artist and friend Althea Wynne are dotted around, bringing with them a distinctive sense of personality.

BOTTOM RIGHT: The beautiful symmetry of the cherry trees echoes the garden's history as an orchard and frames the view.

Good Housekeeping
October 2002