A beau­ti­ful wa­ter­side gar­den in Here­ford­shire glows in au­tumn

Country Homes & Interiors - - THE HOME OF MODERN COUNTRY -

Jill’s ar­chi­tect son, David Hunter, de­signed The Old Corn Mill 20 years ago in­cor­po­rat­ing the re­main­ing walls of the orig­i­nal 18th-cen­tury mill. Mounds of grasses and plants in­clud­ing golden rod and daisy-like Inula mag­nifica frame the view across the lawn and the coun­try­side be­yond.

When Jill Hunter first heard about the old Corn Mill, a derelict 18th-cen­tury build­ing be­side the rud­hall Brook in ru­ral south Here­ford­shire, she knew it would be a great project for her ar­chi­tect son, david, but feared it would be too much of a chal­lenge for her­self. ‘When i came to see it, though, i loved its gen­tle, tran­quil feel and im­me­di­ately saw the po­ten­tial of the place with its run­ning wa­ter and nat­u­ral ponds,’ says Jill, as smit­ten now with her stream­side lo­ca­tion as when she first saw it in 1995.

Just three walls of the old mill re­mained by the time Jill bought it, and she and david felt that the new house should grow out of the shell of the old. ‘i wanted the house to sit comfortably in the val­ley and to flow into the gar­den,’ says Jill. Land around the house was shaped so that it curved around the build­ing, and slop­ing banks were made above and be­low the steep drive­way. Con­structed from stone found on site, the house took shape dur­ing 1996, while Jill vis­ited reg­u­larly and thought about how to tackle the gar­den.

Jill’s level three-quar­ter acre Bris­tol plot could hardly have pre­pared her for the chal­lenge of a four-acre ru­ral site that drops away nearly 14 me­tres from the road to the brook be­low, with lit­tle ex­ist­ing plant­ing be­side a few alders, wil­lows, hawthorns and an old yew tree. Jill cites don­ald ste­wart, her part­ner of five years un­til his death in 2001, as ‘a great help in es­tab­lish­ing the gar­den in those early years’.

even be­fore Jill moved into her new home in fe­bru­ary 1997 she had around 1,000 na­tive trees and shrubs planted, in­clud­ing cor­nus, vibur­nums, spin­dles, birches, hawthorn, rowans and hol­lies,

be­gin­ning the process of cre­at­ing a wildlife-friendly gar­den that would fit with its ru­ral set­ting. Mirabel Osler’s book A Gen­tle Plea

for Chaos, in which the author cham­pi­ons an un­ruly and sen­sual ap­proach to gar­den­ing over for­mal­ity and ex­ces­sive tidi­ness, has been a great in­flu­ence on Jill. ‘I read it long ago and al­ways thought that the way she de­scribes mak­ing her gar­den in Shrop­shire is how I would ap­proach a new gar­den if I had the chance.’

Mak­ing a gar­den with a stream, nat­u­ral springs, steep slopes and ad­join­ing pas­ture­land re­quires a re­laxed at­ti­tude to those plants that oth­ers might see as weeds. ‘I like the gar­den to flow into the fields and vice versa,’ says Jill. ‘I love it when wild­flow­ers come in, such as red cam­pion, blue­bells, prim­roses, marsh marigolds, and es­pe­cially cow pars­ley – it’s my favourite. I think celandines and but­ter­cups are beau­ti­ful, too, var­nished and lovely.’ Even com­mon spot­ted orchids seed lib­er­ally into bor­ders and Jill likes to pot them up to sell on open days.

From the start Jill knew it would be eas­ier to man­age such a large gar­den if she used lots of fo­liage plants, and in or­der to economise she prop­a­gated as much as she could from her pre­vi­ous gar­den. ‘Fo­liage is im­por­tant be­cause it lasts.’ The damp, fer­tile con­di­tions are per­fect for epimedi­ums, lami­ums, pul­monar­ias and peri­win­kles, which spread to cre­ate lush mats of leaves, as well as ferns, hostas and com­frey. In­for­mal­ity is key to the gar­den’s nat­u­ral feel; the only straight line in the plan is the leat path that leads away from the mill. Here, Jill has gen­tly clipped some box to re­sem­ble green boul­ders shaped by na­ture.

The leat path leads to a nat­u­ral pool fed by springs that

bub­ble up through its sandy bed. it has a small jetty on which stands a metal heron, one of sev­eral pieces of sculp­ture in the gar­den that add touches of hu­mour. fur­ther on is a stooped fig­ure with a dog and near the house a stick fig­ure scales a tree.

An en­thu­si­as­tic gar­den vis­i­tor, Jill has been in­flu­enced by nat­u­ral­is­tic gar­dens in­clud­ing in­verewe on the west coast of scot­land and How­ick in Northum­ber­land. in au­tumn the bank be­low the drive is a colour­ful feast for the eyes as the fo­liage of vibur­nums and ac­ers turns yel­low, or­ange and red, the airy, golden seed­heads of stipa gi­gan­tea dance on the end of long stems catch­ing ev­ery last bit of au­tumn sun, and the long-last­ing seed heads of inula mag­nifica make strik­ing shapes against their vi­brant neigh­bours. Ground cover is used here, too, with a vig­or­ous var­ie­gated ivy wash­ing in and out of the feet of shrubs and grasses. from in­side the house, the windows frame the bank into a se­ries of gor­geous ab­stract paint­ings all of which are burst­ing with colour and tex­ture.

Twenty years, on the trees that Jill and her friends and fam­ily planted are now be­ing thinned and edited and the old wil­lows, now giants, are hav­ing their lower branches re­moved to pre­serve views through the gar­den into sur­round­ing coun­try­side. New trees are be­ing planted, too, in­clud­ing ac­ers, wal­nut, oak, lime, golden alder and ame­lanchiers. Jill’s fa­ther was plant­ing fruit trees in his nineties; it looks as if she in­tends to fol­low his ex­am­ple.  THE OLD CORN MILL, AS­TON CREWS, ROSS-ON-WYE, HERE­FORD­SHIRE HR9 7LW. THE GAR­DEN OPENS FOR THE NA­TIONAL GAR­DENS SCHEME ON SUN­DAY 2 OC­TO­BER AND BY AP­POINT­MENT, SEE NGS.ORG.UK FOR DE­TAILS.

This slop­ing bank be­side a watery ditch is cov­ered with peri­win­kle, astilbe, can­de­labra prim­u­las and irises.

A seat­ing area on the paved ter­race gives Jill a per­fect view of her wood­land gar­den.

Lami­ums, pul­monar­ias and ferns rel­ish the damp con­di­tions on the banks of the stream that bor­ders the gar­den, blend­ing into the sur­round­ing fields.

A metal sculp­ture of a heron keeps watch over the spring-fed pond.

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