In 2003, Robert Marshall and his partner bought a house off-plan on a brand-new estate. Their dream was to create an amazing garden from scratch. They relished the challenge of designing a garden in a relatively small space with lots of unusual plants and interest throughout the seasons. They visited as many garden shows as possible and also took inspiration from several other gardens in the National Garden Scheme, with Barnsdale in nearby Rutland a particular favourite. The result is a garden that’s unexpected.
“You won’t find a traditional lawn, but this gives us more space for plants,” Robert says. Instead, there are herbaceous borders, an aquatic garden, a pergola and quite a bit of paving, although you won’t see a lot of it as it’s covered with container plants! There’s also a small greenhouse so a greater variety of plants can be grown. “I think every garden should have one,” says Robert.
“We grow a range of half-hardy exotics in the glasshouse, such as brugmansia, ginger and tibouchina, to extend the flowering period.” They’re at their best from August to October, when they’re moved out into the garden in containers. Using the same trick, Robert makes sure there’s a stunning displays of plants all year round. There’s plenty of winter and spring interest in the garden and at the moment Cyclamen coum, Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill’, Daphne pontica, hellebores, aconites, snowdrops, hamamelis, sarcococca and camellias, flowering right up to spring, look really good. Then there are Daphne laureola ‘Margaret Mathew’, pulmonarias and daffodils flowering in February and March, among various ferns, bamboos, Arum italicum Marmoratum’ and Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. In spring, there are lamiums, flowering currants, tulips and cardamine. As soon as the plants in the ‘winter garden’ in the herbaceous borders have died down, around March, Robert will move in his extensive hosta collection, containing 250 varieties. All hostas, from the miniature ‘Pandora’s Box’ to the giant ‘Empress Wu’, are grown in containers. Plants are placed on the borders, and around them, giving the impression they’re planted.
“When the hostas have died down, we put them at the side of the house or hide them elsewhere, and replace them with other plants that have seasonal interest,” Robert says. When Robert and his partner designed the garden, they started with structural plants.
Six betula ‘Grayswood Ghost’, two fastigate hornbeams, a Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ and a cercis planted in the ground as well as hedging, ensure the site is sheltered. “We made a list of our favourite plants and started plant hunting,” Robert explains. “It’s a pleasure to track down plants to create a garden rich in diversity. Hopefully, we can inspire other people with
Trees, hedges and tall plants give you height in your garden, which you need for structure. Don’t be afraid of trees if you have a small garden – try slow growing ones. I’m an advocate of hard surfaces in a small garden, because you can fill the space with container plants with seasonal interest. Create different habitats with a pond, trees and open areas. A small glasshouse will give you the opportunity to grow a wider variety of plants and extend the flowering period in the garden.
We have a clay soil, and even though we’ve enriched it over the years with mulch, it limits the range of plants you can grow. With container plants, however, you can cheat and create suitable conditions for different plants. With the different habitats you create, you’ll invite in variations of birdlife, such as woodpeckers, blue tits, great tits, sparrows and blackbirds.”