GOING WITH THE FLOW
A beautiful waterside garden in Herefordshire glows in autumn
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.