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 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.
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.”
Garden: 51 The Chase, London
Size: One-fifth of an acre
Been in the garden: 34 years
Soil: Stony, moist but free
Aspect: West facing
Open: Sunday, April 24, 12-5pm;
Wednesday, April 27, 6-8pm
Welcome to the meticulously designed garden of Charles Rutherfoord! An architectural designer, he designs gardens, interiors and furniture, and in his own garden he’s combined his love of design with a passion for plants. Hidden behind a Victorian house in central London, almost every patch of ground is bursting with life.
“It’s a plantsman’s garden,” he explains. “I kept the hard landscaping to a minimum and only reluctantly even introduced paths. It’s as near to entirely planted as it can be.”
Right now hundreds of tulips crowd through the garden, planted in deep drifts of blending or contrasting colours. Charles plants hundreds of bulbs every year so each spring the colour theme is fresh and new. He selects and orders his new tulips every year at the Chelsea Flower Show, proving the event isn’t just about the polished show gardens, its about brilliant nurseries and their plants too.
“I spend nearly an hour going round and round choosing. It means I can order there and then and I don’t find they’ve suddenly run out of the ones I want later on,” he says.
As well as being practical, it means he can appreciate the real colour of the flowers rather than banking everything on an image in a catalogue. “It’s lovely to see the real flowers,” he adds. “I’m very much a colourist so I want to see them in the flesh. But I’ve been growing tulips for a long time so it’s getting difficult not to buy ones I’ve had before!”
The tulips are under-planted with forget-me-nots and wallflowers, and elsewhere peonies, Euphorbia mellifera and an arching laburnum provide more spring colour. With others adding architectural form to the borders, along with shrubs and trees, creating an oasis of green in one of the most built-up parts of Britain.
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