A busi­ness strat­egy de­vel­oped into an in­spi­ra­tional gar­den at As­ton Pot­tery

What started as a busi­ness ploy by one Cotswold firm has de­vel­oped into an in­spi­ra­tional gar­den

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - WORDS AND PHOTOS: Mandy Brad­shaw

Stephen Baughan’s as­ser­tion that he’s not a gar­dener makes me smile. True, it’s not how he earns a liv­ing but any­one who raises more than 5,000 an­nu­als a year has fin­gers that are def­i­nitely a dark shade of green.

The space he cul­ti­vates is rather less easy to cat­e­gorise. It’s not a gar­den in the tra­di­tional sense but the lit­eral de­scrip­tion of plant­ing around a car park woe­fully un­der­plays what he has achieved.

Dahlias, con­tain­ers, peren­ni­als, grasses, trop­i­cal-style plant­ing and those an­nu­als, As­ton Pot­tery’s gar­den en­com­passes a range that would put many big­ger plots to shame, while Stephen’s abil­ity to blend tex­ture and colour is in­spi­ra­tional.

Of course, this skill is hardly sur­pris­ing given his back­ground: an art foun­da­tion course and 35 years run­ning a suc­cess­ful pot­tery that sup­plies house­hold names in­clud­ing Kew, Lib­erty’s and Wis­ley. Artists of­ten make good gar­dens; af­ter all, gar­den­ing can be de­scribed as paint­ing with plants.

Stephen is quite open about the gar­den’s orig­i­nal pur­pose to make the pot­tery, near Wit­ney, more of a day out des­ti­na­tion.

“The gar­dens were ini­tially a big old hook line to get peo­ple to come along,” he says.

And it’s a hook that has proved at­trac­tive with the gar­dens and

the pop­u­lar cafe now more of a draw than ei­ther the pot­tery or shop.

Even so, few would have quite so much ef­fort into the project but there’s the sense that Stephen does noth­ing half-heart­edly.

His method of soil prepa­ra­tion is just one ex­am­ple. Be­fore a bed is planted, two years are spent tack­ling peren­nial weeds us­ing weed­killer and aer­at­ing the soil with a mini-dig­ger. This is done up to three times a year un­til there’s no bindweed or couch grass. Mush­room com­post and lime-free grit are then added and mixed in, again us­ing a dig­ger.

“You end up with soil that’s a bit like spoon­ing su­gar,” ex­plains Stephen “but it’s got grit in it, which helps it drain and it’s also got a lot of mush­room com­post, which helps re­tain the mois­ture.”

Plants are then added and care­fully spaced so that they will even­tu­ally su­press weeds; Stephen aims to weed bor­ders just twice a year, once in March when peren­ni­als are cut down and again in mid-may.

The gar­den be­gan quite small scale with the long ‘front bor­der’. Cre­ated in 1996 to co­in­cide with the shop open­ing, it was planted with a mix of peren­ni­als, in­clud­ing rud­beck­ias and he­le­ni­ums.

How­ever, by 2010 Stephen had de­cided it was “very

‘Titho­nia is a plant that seems to wow ev­ery­body, but it grows like a weed and is fab­u­lous’

dis­or­gan­ised” with too many

Cephalaria gi­gan­tea and Ori­en­tal pop­pies. So, he dug it up.

“My cus­tomers were hor­ri­fied,” he re­calls. “I looked at it and saw a mess but they looked at it and thought it was some­thing. I sud­denly twigged that it was some­thing that peo­ple re­ally liked.”

It was a re­al­i­sa­tion that has led to the cre­ation of sev­eral more gar­dened ar­eas with every sea­son see­ing new de­vel­op­ments and more plants added to the hun­dreds al­ready grown.

The front bor­der is now 7m-deep and a densely-planted space that in late sum­mer is a haze of blue and pur­ple thanks to masses of hy­lotele­phium – what used to be known as se­dum – and asters, in­clud­ing ‘Monch’ and ‘King Ge­orge’ – “It’s my favourite. The pur­p­ley-blue of it is just ex­quis­ite.”

The main en­trance to the shop and café is also de­signed to make an im­pres­sion. Pots of grasses, aga­pan­thus, eu­comis and gera­nium line the path, giv­ing an ar­chi­tec­tural dis­play that lasts for months.

At the heart of the gar­den and bisecting the pot­tery’s car park, is the horn­beam walk. An av­enue of 60 trees leads to a large gazebo with beds of peren­ni­als ei­ther side of the path.

The sea­son starts in June with around 600 al­li­ums lead­ing the colour show. They hand on to salvias, del­phini­ums and gera­ni­ums, cre­at­ing a wash of blue. Later, he­le­nium, echi­nacea, hy­lotele­phium and he­lianthus take over.

Al­though plants are ‘mir­rored’ on ei­ther side of the path, they are not an ex­act match but planted in­stead in tri­an­gles that put the re­peats at an an­gle. It’s a clever trick that cre­ates a rhythm down the path and a sense of

pro­gres­sion.

This idea of plant­ing in blocks is re­peated in the two dahlia beds where ‘rooms’ just slightly wider than a square are cre­ated with lines of grasses, in­clud­ing Cala­m­a­grostis x acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ and C. brachytricha and Pan­icum vir­ga­tum ‘Squaw’. Each space is filled with 12 dahlias – three each of four va­ri­eties – and each block is fronted by aga­pan­thus and blue­flow­ered asters, de­signed to be a con­tin­u­ous foil to the red, yel­low and pink of the dahlias.

“There’s a lot go­ing on in that bor­der,” ad­mits Stephen.

Not only do the grasses pro­vide year-round struc­ture, they are the per­fect foil for the more static dahlias.

The dahlias are lifted in au­tumn and wall­flow­ers take their place – around 2,000 all grown from seed in nurs­ery beds. More home-grown plants are used in the an­nual bor­der, which has around 180 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties – “The rea­son we’ve done the an­nual bor­der is be­cause there are just so many an­nu­als I want to grow.”

And he’s got plenty of space. The bor­der is 80m long and 7m deep, filled with cleome, lots of ama­ran­thus, cos­mos, titho­nia – “It’s the plant that seems to wow ev­ery­body but it grows like a weed and is fab­u­lous.” – sev­eral dif­fer­ent marigolds, di­as­cia and he­liotropium with a rib­bon of dif­fer­ent sun­flow­ers at the back.

Stephen’s love of rais­ing things from seeds stems from child­hood when for sev­eral years, he was re­spon­si­ble for grow­ing veg­eta­bles in the fam­ily gar­den.

“We had about half-an-acre that my dad ro­ta­vated and it was my job to plant it and do it. I just re­mem­ber un­pack­ing the box of seeds and it was magic, as good as Christ­mas Day.”

Mak­ing a blazing bound­ary at the far end of the site is the hot bank, a vast slop­ing bor­der cre­ated from the spoil when the café was built. At the top is a pur­ple beech hedge and a strip of He­lianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ that will even­tu­ally frame the daz­zling plant­ing in shades of red, pink, yel­low and or­ange that in­cludes dahlias, can­nas, pen­ste­mon, salvias and al­stroe­me­ria.

Orig­i­nally, the bor­der ended in line with the car park but a sec­ond sec­tion was added two years ago. In this area, plants were set in ones or twos in­stead of the block plant­ing of the orig­i­nal. It’s given a more ran­dom ef­fect that Stephen prefers and the first bed is likely to be re­vamped in the same style.

As with every­thing else at As­ton Pot­tery, it’s gar­den­ing on a vast scale; Stephen also takes hun­dreds of cut­tings every sea­son, giv­ing away some and plant­ing many more.

In­spi­ra­tion for the gar­den comes from vis­it­ing other plots not so much for de­sign – “I could live my life 50 times over and still not be short of ideas” – but for plants. Stephen keeps a notebook by his side at all times.

“They’re full of plants, build­ings, mu­sic,” he says. “When you go through them you find that over the course of three or four years, plants that you re­ally liked you’ve noted again and again.”

A visit to an­other gar­den will yield more plants that he comes home to re­search and bring into the nurs­ery bed to prop­a­gate be­fore adding them to the bor­ders.

Sur­pris­ingly, given that Stephen and his wife, Jane, also run a busi­ness em­ploy­ing around 80 peo­ple, he man­ages the gar­den with just one part­time helper – “Jane calls her­self a gar­den­ing widow”, he says with a smile.

He’s plan­ning to scale down his in­volve­ment in the gar­den but it’s un­likely he will ever fully re­lin­quish it.

“I’m do­ing the three things I wanted to do when I was young,” he says. “I grew things, did lots of draw­ing and lots of bak­ing and that’s what I do now.”

ABOVE: The horn­beam walk is at the heart of the gar­den LEFT: Hy­lotele­phium tele­phium ‘Pur­ple Em­peror’ FAR LEFT: Dahlia ‘Apri­cot De­sire’

ABOVE: The blue-mauve tones of asters are used as a foil to other plants

BE­LOW: The hot bank is a slop­ing bor­der of blazing colour

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