This seaside site was once a derelict mussel purification station but now it's been transformed into glorious coastal paradise
It's an idyllic scenario that many of us dream of. A garden next to the sea, with gorgeous outlooks and bracing walks nearby. Somewhere to sit, relax and look out across the ocean. The reality of such a garden, however, is a little different. Coastal gardens look beautiful on still days, but are often a scene of destruction when strong winds blow in from the sea. The salty, sand-laden air mean that plants have to be chosen carefully and need to be as tough as old boots to survive the conditions.
These were some of the trails and tribulations of Jackie Michelmore and her husband, Will, when they first moved to The Lookout, a former industrial site which perches on the east bank of the Exe estuary. It hunkers down behind a belt of thorn and tamarisk that protect it from the worst of the prevailing south westerly winds. Jackie and Will work with the undulating typography of the garden and it's indigenous coastal trees and shrubs.
Jackie says, "The Garden is somewhere that looks like Mother Nature definitely has the upper hand, and the wide range of soil types was an added challenge to planting the garden."
The design of the garden embraces the elements that challenge this exposed location. It's very much a wildlife-friendly garden, with native plants, lots of ornamental grasses and meadow style perennials. The hundreds of plants in situ have been selected and 'sea trialed' for their ability to withstand wind, salt and drought. And, to make life as easy as possible for Jackie, are low maintenance.
The circular walk around the garden takes you from an area of 'jungle planting', through banks of grasses, a wildflower meadow and wildlife pond, into a ferny copse and back through wilder shoreline planting to a Mediterranean courtyard garden. There are lots of vantage points where you can enjoy the views, both inside and outside the garden. GN's own Carol Klein, called it 'truly inspirational'.
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.”
This peaceful, shady, Lincolnshire garden has an ever-increasing range of unusual plantings and a surprise around every corner
One question gardeners often get asked is: "What can I plant in a shady garden?" The usual answer is a list of plants, but perhaps it should be "Go and visit Woodlands!"
This tranquil shady garden is full interest, lots of unusual plants and has a surprise around every corner. "We're constantly told by visitors that the garden is peaceful," Bob says. "Situated at the far end of a lane with little traffic and a backdrop of trees, the overriding noise is that of birdsong."
When this plantaholic couple ,over to the house in 2000, there was no original plan on how to develop the garden there still isn't!
"It evolves every year, as we try to grow an ever-increasing range of plants," says Bob. "Our philosophy is, if we come across something we don't know and it looks interesting, then we try to grow it."
When they arrived the garden compromised of large trees and elderly shrubs, a lot of grass with tiny island beds that would have taken hours to edge around, concrete and a veg garden. How things have changed.
"To some extent we were helped by nature. When several trees blew down in a gale, we realized we could create a woodland garden and started planting many unusual shade loving plants. That was our light bulb moment!" explained Bob.
They also joined up all the island beds and added lots of perennials and shrubs, as well as planting several more interesting trees.
The concrete was broken up enough to make a pond and the couple found large pieces of flint which they used to create a flint scree garden by the house. This is now full of diorama (angels's fishing rod.) Originally, that bed house alpines plants. The veg garden was converted into a plant nursery, as well as housing their Plant Heritage National Collection of codonopis.
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