This plant and scent-filled, colourful ornamental and kitchen garden in Bedfordshire is a shining example of trial and error
Susan and David Sutton’s garden has changed dramatically since they took it over in 2000. A once simple plot that previously belonged to David’s parents,has been transformed into an intricately sectioned out, bustling space, filled with scent, colour and beauty, as well as lots of tasty produce in the veg beds. As soon as they moved into their beautiful Victorian home, a palebricked, classic example of the era, they wanted to get working on the quarter-ofan- acre garden.
“There are lovely pictures of David as a youngster riding his bike on the lawn,” says Susan. “It was a spacious and simple garden, perfect for kids, just with a plain grassy area, fence and a few trees.”
It was, effectively, a blank canvas on which the Suttons could work. Not only has the garden changed a lot since those early days, but it’s also an ever evolving work in progress, with each year bringing new challenges and ideas to carry out. Susan and David threw themselves into designing and planting up the garden 17 years ago, but soon learned that it’s only ever temporary.
“Things change,” she says. “Trees grow and resulting shady spots emerge, plants crowd others, shrubs widen and lots of things need moving.”
For example, their pond became swamped by overhanging trees. “It got sludgy and was always in the shade, so last year we moved it to the other side of the garden in a sunnier spot,” says Susan.
“Often you might think some ideas work on paper, but many don’t in practice – you have to get to know your garden well over time.” They have the perfect mindset of good gardeners – that is, they’re always learning, and are happy to correct mistakes when they arise. To reduce the need for too much change, they undertake projects one at a time, thinking about how best to do things, what works and what doesn’t.
Two or three years ago the weight of the huge rose arches meant the frames collapsed. Undeterred by this, they methodically took down all the frames, laid them on their sides, trimmed away the overgrowth and put the whole structure back up again. But this time they had the inspired idea to interlace the rose varieties so they grew among each other handsomely. Last year saw some changes in the veg garden, too.
“I’ve lifted our herbs into raised beds,” says Susan. “It simply means we don’t have as far to pick them, and they now get a lot of moisture and good quality, crumbly soil. The best part is that our chickens run straight past them now and don’t stop to nibble!” There are lots of different ‘garden rooms’ with varied plant interest. Elsewhere, they’ve created a new, stylish set of triangular beds, each full of coloured and structural shrubs.
A plot designed to be a wildlife wonderland
Most of us are now aware of the plight of bees that are in decline due to a combination of human and environmental factors. But this is far from the case at Old Allangrange in the Scottish Highlands. Here, wildlife of all sorts, but particularly bees, are very much welcome and planting is aimed at encouraging and supporting them. “Our garden at Old Allangrange on the Black Isle has been providing a home for birds, small mammals, bees and other invertebrates for nearly 20 years,” says owner JJ Gladwin. And thanks to JJ’s company, Black Isle Garden Design, this assistance is spreading throughout the locality. “We work towards halting and reversing the decline in local bee populations by encouraging people to create bee-friendly garden habitats. We transform dull spaces and make them more attractive for people and wildlife,” explains JJ. “Bees deserve our support and we ensure every garden we plant is designed with nectar and and pollen-rich, bee-friendly plants, and are managed using healthy, organic principles to help give bees a brighter future.”
The 17th century, lime-washed house at Old Allangrange, the colour of ripening barley when the sun shines on it, is the backdrop to this “formal-ish” garden. Formal in its structure, based on topiary, parterres, a lime walk, formal garden, herb garden, mound and orchard. Informal, in that plants are allowed to “get on with it”, to self-seed and grow where they want to. Wildflowers and even wildlife-beneficial weeds are encouraged to flourish to provide food and shelter for the wildlife. When asked what has influenced her planting styles, JJ replies, the garden designers and plantspeople Piet Oudolf, Mien Ruys, Gertrude Jekyll as well as Peter Rabbit!
The garden uses sculpted hedges and topiary to play with perspectives and to either hide or expose the spectacular views. “When we moved here, there was no garden, just some fine trees. I wanted a garden in front of the house, not a car park. So we put in a formal design of box hedging using the Saltire (the Flag of Scotland) that appears on the doors in the house as a starting point, and then split them again to make eight parterres,” says JJ. This remains the heart of the garden and everything else, in some way, refers back to it to ensure cohesion, though there are many other elements to the rest of the garden, each with their own strong and individual atmosphere.
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'.
With clever use of decking and retaining walls, this lush garden in Bedfordshire shows how you can make a slope an attractive feature
A sloping Kate Gardner and her husband Andrew are not people who do things by halves. When they took over their plot from Andrew’s parents more than 20 years ago it was a steeply sloping old smallholding. “It was almost a junkyard,” says Kate. “Overgrown holly trees surrounded the plot and the soil was unpromising, just Walls and waterfalls add colour and life to steep drops in the garden Left, banks of beds make the most of the sloping gardens. Right, Kate loves the flexibility of pot plants like orange builders’ sand. In places it was only 10cm (4in) deep over large sandstone boulders, so it wasn’t a garden for the faint-hearted!”
Today the garden couldn’t be more different. The couple removed an incredible 40 lorry loads of soil to build their house and, while they were at it, reconfigured the slope. Their generously-sized deck is an object lesson in how to deal with a garden on sandy soil that slopes steeply up from the house. By excavating a large area close to the back of the property, they created a wonderful, useable space to sit and enjoy the garden. The other advantage of this excavation is that when it rains water drains towards this area, giving it a cooler, lusher feel than the rest of the plot. Kate can now grow moisture-loving plants such as astrantias.
The first thing that visitors often remark on is the waterfall, which gives an impressive ‘wow’ factor to the garden. It’s also a clever way of dealing with the really steep drop that was made when the level area by the house was created. A stainless steel cascade creates the illusion of water and gives beautiful reflections even when the water isn’t running. Kate says that if she’s learned one lesson in her two decades at Dragon’s Glen, it’s that you can’t skimp on soil preparation. “As many gardeners know, sandy soil is ‘hungry’ soil, so to help the plants along, we spread between four and eight cubic metres of compost or well-rotted horse manure every autumn.
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Informality and lush planting is evident everywhere in this garden and it looks fabulous. “There’s height and fullness, masses of summer colour, plus big ferns and bamboos to give it a ‘jungley’ look,” says owner Charlie Pridham. “Liz has the great ideas and I’m the muscle that puts them into action.”