116 Blur­ring the bound­aries

At Rhodds Farm in Here­ford­shire, Tim Longville is be­witched by the gar­den’s trans­for­ma­tion into some­thing time­less and ro­man­tic

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Val Cor­bett

Rhodds Farm, tucked away down a tiny road­way—the splen­didly named Jack’s ditch Lane—deep in the north here­ford­shire coun­try­side, is a sur­prise and one that teaches a num­ber of valu­able lessons. richard and Cary Goode came here in 2004, when there was no gar­den and the house was still very much an un­pre­ten­tious Vic­to­rian farm­house. Both mr and mrs Goode work from home, mr Goode deal­ing in rus­sian aer­o­batic air­craft, his wife de­sign­ing gar­dens, and as if that wasn’t enough, they also own and run a small ho­tel (and gar­den) in sri Lanka. so the first les­son taught by the fine gar­den here now is how to cre­ate and main­tain one that’s com­plex, var­ied and in­ter­est­ing, de­spite such busy lives. an ex­ten­sion of that les­son is how to make such a gar­den also one that suits—and copes with the dif­fi­cul­ties of—the site on which it is made.

Be­cause dif­fi­cul­ties there cer­tainly were. Where there was soil, it was sticky, stony boul­der clay and, around the house, there was no top­soil at all (mrs Goode won­ders whether a pre­vi­ous owner could have sold it). To the north of the house, there was an ugly tar­mac car park; the whole site is long and thin. a long privet hedge sep­a­rated pas­ture to the south from the gar­den to be; north­wards lay a wooded (and orig­i­nally bram­ble-filled) hill­side.

Es­sen­tially, what mrs Goode aimed to do was, first, re­move any solid bound­aries be­tween gar­den and land­scape (hence to the south, for ex­am­ple, privet hedge out, park rail­ings in) and then to cre­ate a gar­den ‘of two halves’: rel­a­tively for­mal im­me­di­ately around the house, but in­creas­ingly in­for­mal as it spreads out and away from it.

Even in the for­mal ar­eas, she in­sists that, as the pri­or­ity was to pre­serve the views, this could not be a gar­den of ‘rooms’, so hedges are kept to an ab­so­lute min­i­mum. In­stead, the rel­a­tively for­mal gar­den is one of ‘ar­eas’, in which one sec­tion merges gen­tly into— and is vis­i­ble from—the next. re­mem­ber­ing both the pres­sures of their busy lives and the vast ex­panses of the sur­round­ing rolling here­ford­shire land­scape, the sorts of plants mrs Goode uses as her ‘core pal­ette’ are ‘thugs that are happy on this site’, such as

Euphor­bia grif­fithii Fire­glow, Phlomis rus­seliana, Sym­phy­tum cau­ca­sicum or its

even more vig­or­ous sec­ond cousin Trachys­te­mon

ori­en­talis, ‘all of which came from a tiny scrap I begged from mal­let Court Nurs­ery,’ she ex­plains with a wry smile. What’s more, she uses them in ‘sheets’, be­cause ‘that sort of big plant­ing echoes this big land­scape’.

Even in the most for­mal ar­eas, plant­ing in sheets is still fre­quently the rule. To the east of the house, for ex­am­ple, there is now a splen­did brick-built, tower-like or­na­men­tal dove­cote, its bulk de­signed to bal­ance that of the barn, the di­a­mond-shaped holes in its walls echo­ing those in the struc­ture. The same di­a­mond pat­tern is used in the pool at the dove­cote’s foot and in the cen­tral box-edged bed in the main for­mal rec­tan­gu­lar lawn be­side it.

The cen­tral for­mal beds on the dove­cote’s other side are edged with a block plant­ing of Al­chemilla mol­lis from which rise the

The raised di­a­mond-shaped pool, which echoes the holes in the wall of the dove­cote. The trees flank­ing it are Pyrus calleryana Chan­ti­cleer and in the dis­tance are beds of al­chemil­lla and the iris Sil­ver Edge dra­matic flow­ers of masses of Iris sibir­ica Sil­ver Edge. This makes both prac­ti­cal and aes­thetic sense: on the one hand, it saves labour; on the other, the restricted pal­ette of plants, used in large groups, makes a greater vis­ual im­pact than a wider pal­ette used in smaller groups or as in­di­vid­ual spec­i­mens.

Be­tween that area and the main lawn is the gar­den’s only real herba­ceous bor­der. It is the only one for the ob­vi­ous rea­son that that form of gar­den­ing is any­thing but labour-sav­ing. Here, how­ever, Mrs Goode has in­dulged her­self in a rich spec­trum of pur­ples, blues, reds and or­anges. The plants used in­clude al­li­ums, pop­pies, he­le­ni­ums, asters, aconi­tums and a rud­beckia she par­tic­u­larly rec­om­mends, R. subto­men­tosa Henry Eil­ers, be­cause, un­usu­ally, it is ‘small and del­i­cate’ yet ‘stays up­right. It doesn’t need stak­ing’. She adds: ‘I hate stak­ing be­cause, how­ever well it’s done, the re­sult never looks nat­u­ral and re­laxed.’

Time-sav­ing and cop­ing with the de­mands of the site have com­bined to de­ter­mine what hap­pens be­tween the for­mal lawn and the south­ern bound­ary, where only a se­ri­ously nar­row strip of land was left with which to work. Mrs Goode’s so­lu­tion has been a quar­tet of mixed is­land beds, with bal­anc­ing box

‘As the pri­or­ity is to pre­serve the views, this could not be a gar­den of “rooms”

‘mounds’ be­tween them to an­chor the area and pro­vide some in­ter­est dur­ing win­ter.

Be­tween here and the barn is the first of the gar­den’s two main stretches of wa­ter, a pond es­sen­tially for wildlife, al­though with some dis­creet or­na­men­tal plant­ing around its edges. Be­yond, a path lined with the rose San­der’s White and a va­ri­ety of clema­tis leads to the veg­etable gar­den, al­though Mrs Goode cheer­fully con­fesses that, in fact, ‘I’m keener on fruit than on veg­eta­bles’.

Be­yond that again, it be­comes dif­fi­cult to be sure whether you’re in gar­den or wood, un­til, even­tu­ally, you emerge on the edge of a size­able lake (which the Goodes in­sist on call­ing a duck pond). There is or­na­men­tal plant­ing here, but no beds as such. In­stead, Mrs Goode sim­ply ‘plants into the wild’.

In this area, be­yond a new plant­ing’s first year, she does very lit­tle weed­ing, so plants ei­ther sur­vive the com­pe­ti­tion or they don’t. Once more, she gar­dens in such a min­i­mal way for two rea­sons, one aes­thetic, one em­i­nently prac­ti­cal: ‘I don’t want it to look cul­ti­vated and, any­way, I don’t have time.’

The same is true in spades in the 13 acres of the wood­land gar­den proper, where paths wind up the hill­side to reach view­points from which you look out to the Welsh hills on one side and Shrop­shire on the other. Once Mr Goode had cleared this whole area of bram­bles, a net­work of paths was cre­ated, al­though most are con­cen­trated on the ar­eas nearer the house, which is also where the ma­jor­ity of the or­na­men­tal plant­ing is to be found, mostly in the form of shrubs such as cor­nus, mag­no­lias and species roses. Mrs Goode is cur­rently very ex­cited by—and is keep­ing a keen eye on—a range of spon­ta­neously oc­cur­ring seedlings from the climb­ing rose Cedric Mor­ris.

Th­ese lower lev­els ap­pro­pri­ately in­clude one path known as the Stair­way to Heaven, which is lined with scented shrubs and ac­quired its name be­cause it leads to the Goodes’ pet ceme­tery ‘and so, hope­fully, to Par­adise’. Rhodds Farm may not be par­adise, but it’s a very good 21st-cen­tury ap­prox­i­ma­tion.

The gar­den at Rhodds Farm, Lyon­shall, Here­ford­shire, opens for the NGS (www. ngs.org.uk) and as part of the Gar­dens in the Wild fes­ti­val in June (www.gar­dens inthewild.org). It’s also open for groups by ap­point­ment (01554 340120; cary. goode@rus­sianaeros.com). Visit www. rhodds­farm.co.uk for in­for­ma­tion about the self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion in the con­verted barn Above: The dra­matic block-plant­ing of Al­chemilla mol­lis and Iris sibir­ica Sil­ver Edge. To the sides, rows of Pyrus calleryana Chan­ti­cleer with Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis Morn­ing Light. Fac­ing page: Scar­let Cen­tran­thus ru­ber and the eye-catch­ing ‘Mo­hi­can hair­cut’ of the grass Hordeum ju­ba­tum by the wildlife pond

‘Rhodds Farm may not be par­adise, but it’s a very good ap­prox­i­ma­tion’

Pre­ced­ing pages: Noth­ing here ex­cept the build­ings is more than 12 years old. Above: Pop­pies and al­lium seed­heads line the herba­ceous bor­ders. Right: The read­ing wil­low fig­ure watches over Gun­nera man­i­cata

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