A virtual ruin when they bought it in 1984, the farmhouse that Caroline and Jonathan Peacock found themselves newly responsible for had no real garden. “It was just a mess of nettles and thistles,” remembers Caroline.
But the pair spotted the plot’s potential, nestled as it was among farmer’s fields with one solitary apple tree standing proud among the grass and weeds. Fast-forward more than 30 years and the space has been transformed into a garden fit for a truly special celebration. The couple’s eldest son Rupert and his new wife Susi chose it as the spot for their wedding reception when they married last month.
“I love colour,” says Caroline, as she describes the beds that surround her, studded with golden coreopsis, pale blue, showy agapanthus and vivid lupins.
“I hear it’s fashionable to have all-green gardens at the moment with a lot of structural elements, but because this is an old farmhouse, it seems to suit a more-or-less cottage garden. I’ve always been conscious of the farmland all around and so try to blend the edges of the garden with it.”
Ravensford Farm attracts some hefty winds, but Caroline wanted to steer clear of conifers as a solution. Instead, the couple invited the Woodland Trust to help them plant a small collection of native trees to the west of their plot. Oak, ash, rowan, holly and hawthorn saplings went in, and are now well developed. Caroline is introducing more and more under-planting. “There is now a carpet of primroses and wood anemones and all sorts of varieties of hellebore. We’ve created a whole area of shade- loving plants.” Canny detective work helped direct some of their planting, explains Caroline. “One area near an old barn, where cattle were kept, had very acidic soil. So that was an obvious place to grow rhododendrons and azaleas. That was a case of the soil leading us to what to plant.”
Otherwise, the Peacocks discovered the garden was blessed with a fertile, clay-based soil, which helped get the plot off to a flying start. The family dug in a pond and incorporated large pieces of local limestone that they found dotted around the garden into the design too. Some of the stone was used to create what the family affectionately refer to as ‘the Flintstone seat’ – still going strong after more than 20 years. And a local sculptor, Graeme Hopper, was also enlisted to create a dramatic piece in iron of bulrushes for the edge of the Peacocks’ pond, actually in the water.
While Caroline’s heleniums are over now, some roses and clematis are going strong, a result of her commitment to plant for year-round interest.
“Some of the rowan and crab apple trees are producing fruit now, which is lovely. Generally, it’s wonderful to have plants that colour up in autumn. I’m looking forward to my Michaelmas daisies and hamamelis, which like a flowering jasmine. I love the garrya bush too, which produces beautiful, great long tassels. They are quite striking earlier on in the year. Then, we have tonnes of snowdrops and primroses, which just seem to love this garden.”
In another spot, Lysimachia clethroides, also known as gooseneck loosestrife, produces white spikes of flowers that are bent like a goose’s neck. Caroline also counts among her favourites Hoheria sexstylosa ‘Stardust’, which unleashes masses of white, fragrant flowers from around July, and Salix boydii, a miniature Scot’s willow.
“We’ve been opening the garden for 19 years,” she says. “We have a wonderful gardener, Vanessa, who has been with us for 10 years and I think open day is her favourite day of the year. It’s just lovely to have the garden full of people who are genuinely interested and who appreciate what we’ve created. Vanessa works very hard all year and we’re a great team together. Fortunately for me, she’s very interested in raising plants, both from seeds and from cuttings. There are always magical things happening in the greenhouse. That’s her domain!”
Caroline recommends urging children to get involved in creating a garden to give them a sense of ownership as well as achievement. “One of our daughters made a fire pit for a barbecue one summer, with stones all around it, and we’ve used it ever since. Another of our daughters told me she was bored one day so I told her to go and mow some paths through the wood. Those have remained ever since, too!”
The Peacocks’ five children are now aged between 33 and 41, and three grandchildren have been added to the family, aged 10, eight and three months old. The marquee from Rupert’s wedding reception may have been taken down and the confetti dusted from the lawn, but the garden has already played host to a multitude of happy occasions over the years, and Caroline is keen that it will remain at the heart of family life.
“We’ve celebrated a lot here,” she says. “There are so many memories in this garden. It is a very special place for us.”