A place in time

JUSTIN AND FRANCES SPINK’S STUN­NING NEW CON­TEM­PO­RARY GAR­DEN BLENDS INTO THE BEAU­TI­FUL BERK­SHIRE DOWNS, HOME TO THE PRE­HIS­TORIC CHALK FIG­URE THE UFFINGTON WHITE HORSE »

Country Homes & Interiors - - OXFORDSHIRE GARDEN -

It ’s

the view that makes this place spe­cial. Any new gar­den should be in­flu­enced by the set­ting and sit com­fort­ably within the land­scape,’ says Justin, a gar­den de­signer, re­fer­ring to the gar­den at his home, Wool­stone Mill House, Far­ing­don, where he lives with his wife, Frances, and their young fam­ily.

It’s hard to imag­ine a more idyl­lic place for chil­dren, with lawns sur­rounded by lav­ish plant­ing. There are trees to climb, se­cret cor­ners for hide­aways, a shaded sum­mer­house, and an an­kle-deep chalk stream fre­quented by king­fish­ers. ‘Chil­dren in­vent end­less games around mov­ing wa­ter,’ says Justin.

And he should know. He was born and brought up here, roam­ing nearby Dragon Hill and the Ridge­way, hailed as

Bri­tain’s old­est road. The gar­den that he and Frances took over in 2014 was charm­ing, with beau­ti­ful bor­ders cre­ated by his parents, so mak­ing ma­jor changes to a place with such emo­tional res­o­nance could have been daunt­ing. ‘Not at all,’ he says. ‘My parents’ gar­den was never the same for any con­sec­u­tive years – no gar­den re­mains static, and no two days are ever the same.’

Frances grew up at Tresco Abbey in the Isles of Scilly, famed for its trop­i­cal gar­dens. ‘I fo­cus on the kitchen gar­den’ she says, ‘grow­ing veg­eta­bles that the chil­dren are in­ter­ested in eat­ing – they love cu­cum­bers, and dig­ging up new pota­toes.’

How­ever, ar­riv­ing at a de­fin­i­tive de­sign for the gar­den did not hap­pen overnight. ‘I pro­cras­ti­nated for months,’ says Justin,

‘but once I finally sat down at the draw­ing board, I came up with a scheme within 20 min­utes that felt just right.’ He felt the orig­i­nal herba­ceous bor­ders had be­come dated, favour­ing a more

con­tem­po­rary style of plant­ing – a me­an­der­ing peren­nial meadow that re­places the tra­di­tional, straight-edged bor­ders. ‘The in­for­mal ge­om­e­try and loose hor­i­zon­tals re­flect the Downs’ un­du­la­tions, and are soft­ened by abun­dant plant­ing,’ he says.

This style of bor­der plant­ing re­veals in­flu­ences from other con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers – Arne May­nard’s ro­man­ti­cism, and the nat­u­ral­ism of Piet Ou­dolf’s prairie plant­ing. Clumps of peren­ni­als merge in an ebb and flow of colour and tex­ture: soft blue agas­tache spikes by rounded cone­flow­ers, golden rud­beck­ias be­side dry whorled phlomis seed­heads, or fleshy ice plants lean­ing into prickly sea hol­lies. ‘I like gar­dens to ap­pear seam­less,’ says Justin. Clumps of or­na­men­tal grass Deschamp­sia ce­spi­tosa

‘Gold­tau’ run through­out, fill­ing gaps and cre­at­ing a con­tin­u­ous flow, while the tallest peren­ni­als – eu­pa­to­ri­ums, he­lianthus and

Selinum wal­lichi­anum – are kept to the pe­riph­ery.

A grassy path wends its way through a broad ex­panse of lower plant­ing, open­ing up dif­fer­ent vis­tas. ‘Gar­den­ers should be bold, and give over more of their gar­dens to plants,’ says Justin. The path leads through a gate to the meadow be­yond. Here there is a ha-ha with two sheep, clipped from box. ‘They were planted by my parents to re­flect the Ja­cob sheep that once grazed the field,’ he says. A wooden swing-seat is clois­tered within clipped yew hedg­ing, which has long pro­vided the ‘bones’ of the gar­den. Hedges have been low­ered to al­low views to­wards the hills.

‘We are also en­cour­ag­ing the yew to form bil­low­ing shapes, with ‘rolled’ edges in place of square-clipped ones,’ says Justin.

The gar­den is blessed with much fer­tile green­sand, en­riched » over the last 40 years with lib­eral or­ganic mulches. Its as­pects

range from full sun in the rear, damp places be­side the stream, to par­tial shade to the west around a for­mer barn (now Justin’s de­sign stu­dio), en­abling a wide va­ri­ety of plants to be grown.

The back ter­race faces south, where a geo­met­ric box parterre strug­gled for years be­fore suc­cumb­ing to blight. Justin re­moved all but eight waist-high box domes, now in­ter­spersed with Ver­bena

bonar­ien­sis that seeds at will be­tween the flag­stones. In place of the parterre, there is a mixed thyme and camomile lawn.

Over­look­ing the ter­race is a sum­mer­house built by Justin’s parents. ‘We’ve slightly en­larged it so we can fit in fam­ily and friends.’ Per­fectly placed to catch the last of the evening sun, it is one of Justin and Frances’ favourite spots to sit.

Each sea­son has its high­lights. Au­tumn brings colour to a swamp cy­press and med­lar, at its foot a sculp­ture, Gran­ite Leaf by Will Spankie, on an oak plinth in a bed of per­ovskia and flea­bane. Spring brings cherry blos­som, tulips and ca­mas­sias, while in June white hand­ker­chief-like flow­ers open on Da­vidia in­volu­crata, fol­lowed by the pink-flushed pan­i­cles of an In­dian horse chest­nut.

Grow­ing up in such lovely sur­round­ings has un­doubt­edly honed Justin’s eye, but a love of de­sign runs in the blood.

‘My great-grand­fa­ther was Thomas Maw­son, a noted Ed­war­dian land­scape ar­chi­tect who founded the Land­scape In­sti­tute, so it was a natural choice for me to work in ar­chi­tec­ture and gar­den de­sign,’ he says. To share his child­hood home with Frances and the chil­dren is a won­der­ful thing, keep­ing alive the ‘spirit of place’ that per­me­ates this an­cient site. ‘It comes from the land­scape, es­pe­cially from the White Horse, who for­ever gal­lops across the hill!’ says Justin. »

Topi­ary sheep graze be­yond the yew hedg­ing and mixed peren­nial beds.

A swing seat is flanked by clipped yew hedg­ing.

Or­na­men­tal grasses ap­pear through­out the gar­den, giv­ing a sense of flow.

A favourite spot for the fam­ily to sit, the sum­mer­house catches the last of the evening sun.

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