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 look into a classically English Shropshire garden
In winter, Wollerton Garden is a subdued mix of greens, oranges and browns, holding its own with a collection of sleek, neatly clipped and well-tended yew topiary, russet hornbeam hedges and an alley of mature limes. Vertical new summer growth on the limes turns bright red in winter, shining in the seasonal sunshine. These expertly trimmed stalwart trees stand sentinel, guarding the beds of evergreen foliage, seed heads and grass stems, left in place until a new wave of early spring growth from snowdrops bursts forth.
The garden isn’t open in winter – just between April and September – but to see its wintry nooks and crannies is an insight into what can be done to keep your garden alive at this time of year. It was a chance occurrence in the early 1980s that led Lesley Jenkins to reignite her love for Wollerton, a 16th century house with adjoining sloping garden. That is, her parents lived there for a short while years before, her mother being a keen gardener. When Lesley was teaching nearby, a country lane diversion meant she had to make an unexpected trip past the house, where she noticed a ‘for sale’ sign. “It was pure serendipity,” says Lesley. “I’d always loved the place and felt drawn back. What greeted us when we moved in wasn’t the prettiest of pictures, though.”
The garden was a wild and overgrown spot, a large field that had gone to seed. It evenhad cows grazing at the end of it! A real task was ahead of Lesley and her husband John in transforming its fortunes, but one they took on with relish. “Both our mothers were wonderful gardeners, so we picked up some knowledge and enthusiasm from them. We’re not formally trained in gardening, though,” says Lesley.
It’s encouragement to us all that the Jenkins are amateurs, and yet the blank canvas they bought has been moulded by them over the years into a gleaming example of a beautiful, classic, yet forward thinking English garden. “We’re both rather passionate plants people really, and also have a bit of an eye for design, so that helps,” she says. After a short period of small island beds and lawn areas for their children’s cricket games, they set to work on how they really wanted their garden to be. Armed with baler twine, they measured out wall and bed space, and the formal garden nearest the house was born.
The wider garden is a contrasting feast of more informal planting and less strict structure, which is a treat to amble around. They were advised to open the garden for charity, then eventually as a business some years ago, which has thrived since. “The site is really lovely, and has a wonderful spirit to it, which I wanted to adhere to from the start by bringing back some of its magic,” says Lesley. Her background in theatre design led to a theatrical element being brought in – hot beds of summer perennials such as dahlias, heleniums and crocosmia with roses and fuchsias, set among banana trees. She is a fan of perennial plants, whereas John loves shrubs and trees, so he went to town with a mini arboretum of, among others, rowan, euonymus and a black walnut tree that looms large now.
“He was like a child in a sweet shop! That area needs a good sort out as it has too many overly large trees,” she says. In fact, Lesley prefers the ‘less is more’ ethos these days. Her tastes have changed and she has a clear idea of what she wants, all helped along by head gardener Phil Smith. “We’re not afraid of chopping and changing, taking walls out or adding new plants, which keeps everything fresh and evolving,” says Lesley.
There are some classic areas like the rose and sundial garden, the old garden and yew walk – not sparse but all bustling with colour and life. Novel twists among the precisely-clipped formal bushes are long areas of grass left for buzzing bees, a shady, fern-clad spot among the trees, a woodland croft walk and a riot of reds and oranges from achillea, dahlias and crocosmia, all among lime grasses in the Lanhydrock garden. Muted minimal areas soften the journey as you walk through greenery and grasses. While Lesley loves using colour as an art form in the garden, she is aware of the need for simplistic beauty. In fact, one of her favourite plants is Primula vulgaris, our native creamy-yellow common-or garden primrose, for its quiet spring charms. She has banks of them, which have self-seeded over 30 years to create a sea of scented blooms each year.
A misty winter morning, Bodnant Winter Garden looks dramatic against the backdrop of the mountains of North Wales. Three years ago, the ambitious project of creating a winter garden from an old Edwardian rockery was finally achieved. “This was an area which had been a bit neglectedbefore, but now it’s the reason that Bodnant Garden remains open in winter, too. It just gives visitors an extra reason to visit the garden, although there’s lots of winter interest in the rest of the garden as well,” head gardener John Rippin explains. At only half an acre, the winter garden is relatively small in comparison to the whole garden, which covers 80 acres, but as John says: “It’s quality, not quantity that counts.” At this time of year, the Winter Garden is a vibrant combination of the shining bark of betulas and acers, the brightly-coloured stems of dogwoods, brambles and phyllostachys and the smooth grasses. “On a frosty day when the sun is shining, the garden is transformed into a magical winter landscape,” John says. The gleaming colours of irises, cyclamen and galanthus are set off against the dark bark. “The bark mulch is our secret,” John adds.
A good quality composted pine bark stops the ground from drying out in summer and protects the roots during winter. As it’s slow to break down, it provides nutrients for the plants for years. The local acidic clay soil allows the garden to grow a wide range of ericaceous plants such as azaleas, camellias and the beautiful Bodnant. rhododendron hybrids, which you’ll find nowhere else, and the flowers of hydrangeas are turning blue due to the acidity in the soil. John and his team of 23 gardeners make the most out of the garden being situated on an old rockery. “The ups and downs of the rockery allows us to grow a variety of plants,” John says. Bulbs such as the Iris reticulata varieties and the galanthus especially benefit from being planted in sheltered pockets, plus the irises and cyclamen get a free draining soil.
After Christmas, Galanthus nivalis, Galanthus elwesii, Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ as well as some unusual varieties like ‘Grumpy’ look splendid, as well as the irises, cyclamen and daffodils. Sweetly-scented plants are dotted all around the garden – the fragrant witch hazels with their spidery flowers, the pinkish and white flowers of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ which open in January and February, and sarcococcas, which are not only in the Winter Garden but all over Bodnant Garden. There’s a sarcococca in the reception area that welcomes visitors into the garden with its beautiful scent. “The garden starts to look really good now that the structured planting is established,” John explains. However, he’s not the type to rest on his laurels: “We want to keep getting the garden better and better, and find new ways to improve it,” he says. It’s a never-ending journey, learning from problems and finding solutions.
In the beginning, the salix were eaten by rabbits, so they were replaced by dogwood, and the mice liked the crocus bulbs, so they’ve been replaced by other bulbs. There are exciting plans for the garden, too, with the extension of the snowdrop path leading into the old park and the opening of Furnace Meadow, with a variety of wild flowers to see. The Winter Garden has a contemporary style, which blends in harmoniously with the rest of Bodnant Garden, which dates back to the late 19th century and, since 1949, has been cared for by the National Trust.
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.
A North London plot with a thoroughly modern twist
Spencer Viner is a garden designer and landscape architect with a fascination for Japanese gardens. His small, square garden is his outside room and a place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of North London. However, when he arrived 10 years ago, he inherited rough grass and uninspiring grey concrete paving in equal measures. The plot also had modern garden fencing on three sides, leaving it feeling bare and exposed.
An interest in Japanese gardens, meditation and yoga led him to create an Oriental garden with a thoroughly modern twist. “I didn’t want a cliched Japanese garden, with red bridges and rocks and gravel,” he reveals.
“I wanted to create an urban space, but I also wanted to be experimental and playful because it’s my home.” The first job was to cover the mundane garden fences with marine plywood to create a smooth finish. “It’s painted black, so it’s quite dramatic,” he says. “It gives a feeling of more space, which is counterintuitive because the planting disappears into the shadows, blurring the boundaries.”
It’s also a perfect backdrop for rich-green foliage, and “has definitely deepened the mood of the garden”. Pleached limes were planted in front of the 1.5m (5ft)high fence, all along the perimeter. “The pleached effect looks great through every season and it echoes old horticultural practices,” Spencer says.
A pergola was also added for privacy along with simple seating and dining areas. Spencer’s passion for upcycling materials such as oil drums and water tanks, the rustier the better, helped him furnish the garden cheaply. One of his Japanese maples sits in a rusty oil drum and he also uses Corten steel, a mixture of alloys designed to develop a rusty surface, throughout the garden. The pillars on the pergola have had welding mesh, which has now rusted, wrapped round them which setoff climbing plants such as Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’. The mesh circle allows climbers to expand and grow, such as the double, plum-coloured Viticella clematis, ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’. The dusky flowers pick up the purple house wall, which has a white disc on it representing the full moon. The opposite wall has a corten steel disc symbolising the sun. Broken terracotta pots top the woody plants’ soil surface as a mulch. It is details like this that give the garden year-round interest. Grateful clients give him unwanted items, too, and the Balinese pillar and oak and flint dining table were both presents. The old, putty-coloured, oak table and upright flints, once used for stretching home-spun yarn, provides texture and form, while the bold metal base of the table, consisting of semi-circular rusty hoops, is architectural and modern. It’s topped by a leaden, gourd-shaped pot Spencer spotted at a local garden centre. The Japanese water feature, which looks so authentic with its lizard motif, is made from concrete pipes. These had to be rolled through the house andthen placed one on top of the other, an idea borrowed from garden designer Stephen Woodhams. There are four of these circular structures, all capped in slate tiles, and they help to soften the grid-like design of this small London garden.
This warm and sheltered ancient garden in surrey provides the perfect microclimate for a year round display.
Stokes House in Ham lies halfway between Richmond Park and the River Thames, an area that until 150 years ago was full of orchards. The walled garden still contains two ancient mulberry trees, Morus nigra, that drip with fruit every autumn. They may have been planted in the mid-18th century, when the original farmhouse was given a Georgian makeover and renamed Stokes House. Rachel and Peter Lipscomb moved here in 1997, with three or four hundred pots containing snippets of plants propagated from their old garden in East Mosely, Rachel, who is the real gardener of the pair, explains:
"The house has been rented out for seven or eight years, so the garden had fallen into disrepair. When we started digging we discovered the remains of the buildings and paths, so we dug up lots of brickwork and York stone, which we've reused in the garden. The Brick Garden, full of grasses, hemerocallis and nerines, has paths made from the reclaimed brick, and the York stone was added to the terrace."
Once the garden was cleared and the hard landscape laid, Rachel began to create the garden.
"Ham has a semi-rural environment so I wanted a country feel and having mature trees and high warm brick walls helped enormously," she says. "In summer we can't see another house."
It's a real family home and Rachel and Peter's grandchildren make full use of the garden, celebrating birthdays and helping out during open days by taking visitors down their favourite secret pathways.
"They can't come to any harm here. But they can still get lost in the garden," Rachel says.
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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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Moving just 15 miles transported this Somerset couple to a different country as far as their plants were concerned...
Would you move for a microclimate, or buy a house for a rose? Nicky and David Ramsey were living 1,000ft up on Exmoor making a garden from stones and ferns when they discovered a mere 20 minutes in the car transported them to a different country as far as plants were concerned.
The area between Porlock and Porlock Wier, on the north Somerset coast, has been luring plant lovers for over a century thanks to its free draining soil and mild maritime environment.
“The first thing I saw when I came to up the drive was a colossal Rosa odorata ‘Mutabillis’ and it’s the reason I bought the house!”
“After eight years of gardening in a harsh climate, it has been such a miraculous release. It’s a joy to grow anything you want here”
What they brought was an Arts and Crafts House overlooking the sea, with formal stone terraces and borders, a camellia walk copse and ponds. The garden has been loved with a fantastic range of unusual shrubs from drimys to myrtle and eucryphia, but had become overgrown and crowded.
“The downside of a garden like this,” says Nicky, “is that everything romps away quickly and unless you keep on top, you’re soon in a jungle.”
A field behind the house has become David’s domain. It’s planted with an orchid wildflower meadow and vegetable plot. With an interest in beekeeping, many of his plant choices are led by what benefits the insects. The other side of the garden is distinctly Nicky’s and she has concentrated on softening the very linear Edwardians Arts and Crafts terraces by adding more herbaceous elements and lots of roses. They’re grown without chemicals and Nicky takes care to remove black spots, feed them properly and plant resistant varieties. The protected climate means that by September there’s a raft of plants finding their stride with salvias, agapanthus, nerines and amaryllis all playing a part as well as autumn colour from shrubs such as acers.
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Award-winning garden in London’s Highgate has been influenced by the owner’s many years spent in the south of France and Italy
It’s no surprise that Mona’s dramatic and architectural north London garden scooped the award for The Best Back Garden by the London Gardens Society in 2015. You’d expect to find something like this in the South of France or Italy, not in a suburban street close to Highgate. “I moved here in 1999 after a long search for a garden with a house, not a house with a garden,” she says. The property was dilapidated and nothing had been done to it since the 1930s, but the wonderful thing was that the empty garden was 84m (275ft) long and it widened out at the bottom.” The gently sloping site overlooks open land, a real bonus in London, but the soil was sticky and slightly acidic, so 500 tons of gravel, coarse grit, top soil and building materials were barrowed in right at the beginning. Mona spent many years in Italy and the south of France so, not surprisingly, was heavily influenced by the Mediterranean landscape and flora. “I began by growing pittosporums, eucalyptus and grevillea,” she says, “but then I got interested in exotic Cornish gardens such as Tresco Abbey. Cornwall is still where I go for new plants and Trevenna Cross Nursery is top of my list.” (www. trevenacross.co.uk) The secret of Mona’s success is ‘drainage, drainage and even more drainage’, with sharp sand and coarse grit helping to dissipate any winter wet. She’s also made four raised beds, again to aid drainage, with soil around the crowns of plants so that the water can flow away. As a result she’s created an exotic, Tresco-like garden in North London. “Our weather is generally not as mild as it is down on that part of the coast so I can’t grow all the things they grow,” she says. But this year the temperature was -2C (28F) for only two mornings where she lives, so being in London is an advantage. The area closer to the house is up to 2C warmer than the lower part, so Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), which she grows in both areas, have lusher foliage closer to the house.
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