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EastEnders Wendy's West End Hideaway

An enchanting retreat from Albert Square, created with the help of the instant swag bag

A visit to the town garden of EastEnders' star Wendy Richard is full of the unexpected.

The first surprise is to find that the tour starts with a glass of champagne at her local pub, The Duke of Wellington in Marylebone, while we wait for her husband Paul Glorney.  She and her friends have their own corner table, complete with her name on a plaque, making it a home from home.

Which isn't at all surprising.  "My father was in the pub and hotel business," 44[sic]-year-old Wendy explains, "but that meant I never got to play much in a garden when I was little.  He just had the pub lawns, sometimes not even that; when we were in Shepherd Market (in London's Mayfair) there was no garden at all." 

The voice is Pauline Fowler's, straight from the TV screen, no actressy change of intonation here.  The big difference is that face to face Wendy radiates a sparkle of un-Pauline-like confidence.  Wendy does things with purpose.

That includes gardening -- Wendy likes themes.  "During the Queen Mum's 90th birthday I did all my tubs in red, white and blue petunias and lobelia.  And, Paul's Irish, so I'm planning a completely green, white and gold garden for him.  I saw a green rose at the Royal Show, which I'll want." 

Or Wendy might choose Greensleeves, a pretty floribunda from Harkness (tel:  0462 20402) or the very tiny flowered miniature rose Green Diamond from Fryers (tel: 0565 755455).

As soon as 39-year-old Paul arrives we head for their patio garden, tucked behind their basement flat.  Here comes surprise number two.  As you step through the patio doors leading from the bedroom you enter one of London's secret oases.  In a long narrow space, which is surprisingly sunny despite being surrounded by flats on all sides, are about five little gardens beautifully laid out.

Passion-flowers climb to first floor windows, Virginia Creeper and mile-a-minute ivy trails from overhead beams.  raised beds, window-boxes and hanging baskets crowd with color.  It's like those inner courtyards you spot through arches in Spain or Italy.

"It was a bit embarrassing when we came here," confesses Wendy in a low voice.  "Some of these gardens have been worked on for years, but our one was a complete mess.  I had to have all this building work done -- I had no kitchen, the bedroom was battleship grey and full of pipes and meters -- and by the time the builders left, nothing had survived.  I walked into the Camden Garden Centre and said 'help'.  The first thing I bought was a little pieris bush and it's really stood by me."  Six years on it's in a tub and it's a big bold chunk of greenery, flushed pink each spring and not at all unhappy in the semi-shade.

"I just want a beautiful place to sit out and enjoy, although I do like looking after the plants.  Last summer we used to spend about an hour a day watering, pruning and dead-heading the flowers.  it's so relaxing.  I got a load of geraniums with masses of mushroom compost from a chap in our local and they took off at a rate of knots.  And I do like my fuchsias, they're just like little ballet dancers.

"I go to garden shows to get ideas.  It was at the Hampton Court show that I spotted these really wonderful swags and garlands of flowers.  They're flowers which grow in bags you can hang on the wall."

Wendy now has these Westlanz Swags above her window, and hanging from the trellis on each side of the arch leading to her neighbours' gardens, as well as disguising an ugly bit of drainpipe.  They're like mobile cushions of densely packed brilliant flowers which can be hung just about anywhere.  You can buy them ready-planted from garden centres or buy the bag and make your own.

"My favourite colour is blue, like Paul's eyes,"  adds Wendy.  "I love campanulas and lobelia."  She's also got a plumbago covered with blue flowers all summer.  In another display, Wendy has a miniature standard rose, Darling Flame, surrounded by garlic to deter greenfly.  "I've been trying organic things," says Wendy, "even though they seem to take longer to work.  I had a wonderful herb garden in a butler sink given to me by Richard Gibson (Herr Flick from Allo, Allo), but after I sprayed for whitefly I didn't fancy them much, so I've ended up buying them."

So sheltered is the garden that, as well as the tender plumbago, Wendy can also grow the yellow-flowered and silvery-leaved Cytisus battendieri, known as pineapple broom because of its pineappley fragrance, as well as the sun-loving half-hardy helichrysum with its grey-green woolly foliage

"I'd like to encourage more sparrows and blackbirds, but then I'd get lots of pigeons,"  says Wendy.  "Still, Little Henry likes it out here."

Little Henry?

"He's my cockatiel, we bring him out in his cage.  The man who gave me the geraniums brings Henry sunflower seed heads.  He eats those while Paul and I sit out and have a snack.  It's a real treat."

Liz Vercoe

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