Influencer and urban gardener Alice Vincent on how owning her one-bed flat still feels like a luxury.

Alice Vincent, 31, believes everyone can take joy from nurturing plants, even with little or no outside space and no previous knowledge. 

Her enormously popular Instagram account Noughticulture blends pictures of her own London flat and balcony with inspirational images of green spaces she's spotted around London and on her travels. 

Alice has written two books: How to Grow Stuff: Easy, no-stress gardening for beginners and Rootbound: Rewilding A Life, a poignant memoir of healing her relationship heartache through her growing love affair with gardening. 

When and where did you buy your first home? 

Forest Hill, in September 2017. I wanted to be in South East London, where I had lived for several years and where I liked the amount of green space and the easy commute.

Forest Hill has a lovely atmosphere - green and leafy, but without the polish that nearby neighbourhoods of Dulwich and, increasingly, Peckham. I like that it has a bit of character to it.

Also, the transport links are sufficient for my needs and I am close to my friends and family.

Can you describe your home for us?

It's an ex-local authority one-bed on a quiet estate nestled into the woods. The flat is on the fourth floor and looks out on trees and woodland - I call it The Treehouse.

When I first viewed the flat it seemed Tardis-like; so very different outside from what lay within. It had been done up by the owner quite a while before, and definitely needed a bit of a refurb, but I could see great potential in it.

And it had a bike shed and a balcony; two things that were crucial to me but rare on my budget.

Outside space, along with an SE postcode, was a non-negotiable to me. I needed somewhere that I could escape the city and tend to plants; I'd feel too cooped up otherwise.  

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How many potential homes did you view before putting in an offer? 

So many; probably a couple of dozen. I offered on the first one I saw, which was a doer-upper two-bed in a more central location with two balconies, front and back, and views over the city.

But it was going to cash buyers only and was in a large tower block, so I'd never have got a mortgage on it.

Weirdly, I'd spotted this one online months before I was in a position to go and view. It seemed like an exciting prospect from location and floorplan, but it was out of budget.

By the time I went to see the flat, it had been reduced. 

Did you have to make any compromises from your on-paper wish list?

Not really, as I didn't have huge hopes to begin with; I was happy to do a bit of work to the place and wanted good bones over glamorous aesthetics.

I suppose the main compromises are a couple of small windows in the bedroom, and the commute takes a bit of getting used to. But I was looking at properties far further afield, so a longer commute is inevitable.

I think for me it worked out, mostly because it was a property that might not work for other people.

Did you buy on your own or with someone else?

By myself.

How did you save for your deposit to buy? 

I was very fortunate to have help from my parents and late grandparents; I know how ludicrously lucky I am! Still, I have also always been careful with cash and took on a lot of extra work beside my 9-5 to raise the several thousands needed to considerably refurbish the place.

Did the buying process go smoothly?

I ended up making several offers, all of which were rejected, before being told the vendor would only accept the asking price. I then went on a mad six weeks of filing tax returns, negotiating new mortgage deals and gathering cash where I could to meet that price.

During that time, the vendor accepted another offer, which then fell through. So it was all quite dramatic! From there, it was relatively plain sailing until exchange day, when it looked like the vendor might pull out. But we got there in the end.

Can you describe how you felt being a homeowner for the first time?

It still doesn't always feel real. But there's a considerable weight of responsibility, too. I'm very conscious that if anything goes wrong, like flooding, that it's me who's footing the bill.

What was the first item of furniture you bought? 

A green velvet sofa I'd been lusting after (see lead image). Everything else was hand-me-down or second-hand.

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How have you made your mark on your home?

I've kept the walls relatively light and bright and injected personality through lovingly-gathered vintage furniture and finds that are meaningful to me. It shouldn't go together, but people say it does.

My mum was a hero for scouting rural Facebook marketplace for bargain finds - my dining table is from the '30s and cost £7!

Mostly I've decorated slowly - I didn't bring the sofa in for about three months - and there have been bare walls for years until I've found the right piece.

I'm endlessly picking stuff out of skips and from the street, which in London is a great source of potential treasure.

A bedraggled Parker Knoll chair came out of a skip and was lovingly upholstered in designer velvet by a friend; my lampshade and mid-century green lacquer coffee table came from near the bins on an estate. Nothing a bit of cleaning spray can't handle and it makes me so happy that less is going to landfill.

Homes take time to nestle into, I feel.

Houseplants will keep you happy - as long as they're in places where they're happy, lots of sunlight mostly. I even had a window sill put into the kitchen as I didn't have any in the place and it's difficult to get plants enough light without window sills.

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Have you made any changes to your home since you first moved in?

So many - I moved walls, moved boilers, wholly redid the kitchen, re-plastered ceilings and walls, changed light fittings and swapped radiators for towel rails in the bathroom.

I did it bit-by-bit over the course of about a year, with the help of an amenable builder and a mum and sister who are fanatical about home improvement.

What I would say is, if you're a leaseholder, make sure you get things signed off properly by whoever owns the lease to the property as renovations can reveal years of badly done work; I ended up having to install a fire door in a corridor after one had been pulled out at some point in the 70s.

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What’s the home improvement that gives you the most pleasure?

I love the kitchen now (pink grout!) but it's probably the details that sound banal but make every day more pleasurable - the matching 1960s wooden door handles, sourced from eBay; the Pulley maid in the bathroom which is handsome and means my laundry doesn't clutter up the floor. And that kitchen window sill, which means I can look at my plants as I wash up.

What advice would you give to first time buyers?

Do your homework, make yourself known to the estate agents and find a brilliant broker if your financial situation is less than ideal. And budget for legal costs, lawyer fees, searches and, should it all go wrong, to pay for those on more than one property.

Have faith, it will be worth it.

And finally, what is your home worth to you? 

It's exactly as I would like. Living alone is a massive luxury, but all the dust and lentils have been worth it.

All about...Forest Hill in South East London

Forest Hill is in SE23, seven miles south of central London with Dulwich Village and East Dulwich to the north; Catford to the east; Sydenham to the south and West Dulwich to the west. Once covered in dense woodland, Forest Hill still has some of the steepest streets in London. 

The easy commute to the City and relatively affordable prices makes Forest Hill a popular area for young professionals and families who can't afford more central locations. 

Forest Hill's train station is in Zone 3 and on the Overground, dubbed the Ginger line, with trains to Canada Water, one stop away from Canary Wharf, and Shoreditch High Street for the City. There are also regular suburban trains to London Bridge. There are two useful bus routes: the 176 to Tottenham Court Road via Waterloo and the 185 to Victoria via Vauxhall.

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