DESIGNER SUE MOFFITT HAS CLEVERLY CONFIGURED HER HILLSIDE PLOT WITH MOUNDS, RILLS, POOLS AND PLANTING TO BLEND WITH THE SEASONS’ RHYTHMS
A hillside garden in Rutland with a design that rises and falls in harmony with the surrounding landscape
was while cycling through the lanes of rural Rutland that Sue Moffitt would often pause by one site outside the village of Barrowden. ‘The position high on a hillside is wonderful, with great views over the Welland Valley,’ she says. ‘I thought, “What a marvellous spot to build a house and create a garden”.’
Then in 2004 the property came up for sale, so Sue and her husband, Richard, bought it. ‘It was a fabulous site with so much potential, despite being covered by leylandii,’ she says. Their sons built dens in the woodland, while Sue and Richard cut down the leylandii. ‘The boys accused us of ruining their play area!’
The house was inspired by a nearby property in a simple
Arts and Crafts style by the English architect Charles Voysey. ‘I wanted a house built of lovely, local materials that blend with the rolling hills around us.’ They sourced Northamptonshire ironstone and Stamford stone for the house, terraces and steps.
While planning the house, garden designer Sue was also visualising the outside space. The hillside slopes by eight metres, so earth was moved to create level areas for the house, and the formal terraces. ‘We ended up with lots of spare soil, some of which was used to build the viewing mound,’ she says. A new driveway snakes through woodland on the eastern side.
The prairie-style planting is inspired by Piet Oudolf, with grasses – Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, ‘Malepartus’ and ‘Morning Light’, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
– and herbaceous perennials. There are clumps of Perovskia
atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’, waving Verbena bonariensis, Helenium
‘Moerheim Beauty’, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’, and »
Echinacea purpurea with brown cones that last well into winter. Below the house, in the most sheltered area, is a swimming pond. ‘When I suggested a natural pool, Richard said he didn’t want to swim with frogs,’ says Sue. However, having seen pools by specialists Gartenart, he became a convert, and a 22-metre-long hole was excavated. The shallowest part is planted with water lilies, and the margins with water mint, lythrum and cyperus.
At one end, a Japanese garden is evolving, and there’s a deck at the other. ‘It’s a lovely spot to watch dragonflies, and swallows swooping down to drink, or even the occasional kingfisher.’ Sue was fortunate to have help from David Moffitt, her brother-in-law and landscape designer, who masterminded the bog garden, fernery and a stumpery.
A tall wall with a moon gate separates the pool from a fruit and vegetable parterre, which has a problem. ‘We imported horsetail with new top soil and we’ve not managed to eradicate it,’ says Sue. She has created new beds, turfing over the original ones to form paths, and now the horsetail grows up through grass. Sue hopes that continual mowing will eventually kill it off.
A few steps up from the parterre is an avenue of Tilia cordata
‘Winter Orange’, a small-leaved lime tree which, as its name implies, produces orange new growth. ‘Spacing them evenly, in a straight line, was a nightmare,’ she says, ‘and three have since died because of waterlogging at one end.’ The limes are underplanted with blue camassias, a lovely sight in autumn, when the leaves turn burnished gold and copper.
Copper-coloured plants are among Sue’s favourites, and include the beech hedges that define different spaces, golden hazel,
Verbascum ‘Petra’ and Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, which crops up throughout the borders. In the dry shade of the woodland border, epimediums and creeping dogwood, Cornus canadensis, create dense, attractive ground cover. Other personal favourites include Gunnera manicata – its huge leaves dominate the bog garden – and salvias such as Salvia nemorosa or late-flowering
Salvia uliginosa in the borders linking the lawn with the terrace. Sue designed this alongside the architect’s plan for the house. ‘I wanted it to be symmetrical, in line with the building,’ she says. The rill links the upper and lower terraces by pouring water from one to the other, splashing into a trough before being pumped up again. Beyond this are long grass terraces inspired by landscape designers Kim Wilkie and Charles Jencks who created the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. At the far side the ground rises steeply and, silhouetted against the skyline, runs a colossal undulating beech hedge, its broad curves echoing the rise and fall of the landscape. ‘This hedge was here when we came, but we introduced the curves,’ says Sue. ‘It was tricky, and involved spraying with paint, cutting, and then studying from a distance.’ They added the copper beech hedge in front, which in time Sue plans to curve in the opposite direction.
The garden is still young, but it is already a much-loved family area. ‘The pool is a joy all year round – we live around it when the weather is warm enough, but it attracts wildlife in all seasons. Even in winter, it’s a joy to look out on,’ says Sue.
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Backing the water feature are grass terraces inspired by the designs of Charles Jencks.
An avenue of
Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’, a deciduous small-leaved lime tree, turns golden in autumn, before glowing orange in winter.
Autumn foliage and a slate cone by sculptor James Parker are beautifully reflected in the swimming pond.