A com­bi­na­tion of metic­u­lous plan­ning and in­ge­nious ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is be­hind the cre­ation from scratch of a glo­ri­ous English coun­try gar­den

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by paula mcwa­ters pho­to­graphs by abi­gail rex

Metic­u­lous plan­ning and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion are be­hind the cre­ation of an English coun­try gar­den

prag­matic, me­thod­i­cal econ­o­mist by pro­fes­sion, Carol Bruce also has a head full of dreams. Her beau­ti­ful gar­den near Can­ter­bury in Kent is the re­sult of in­put from both sides of her char­ac­ter over the past 14 years, with ideas from her fer­tile imag­i­na­tion be­ing re­alised first on pa­per and then on the ground. Be­gin­ning in 2003 with a ro­man­tic English rose gar­den, she has steadily worked her way across the three-acre site to cre­ate four more gar­dens – yel­low, pas­tel, kitchen and blue and white. The lat­ter is on an im­pres­sive scale – 91 me­tres long with dou­ble mir­rored bor­ders five me­tres deep – and the ef­fect is rich and blowsy, full of stage-man­aged de­tail yet cap­tur­ing the “wild grace of na­ture” that so in­spires her.

Be­fore start­ing the gar­den, Carol spent hours walk­ing her dogs in the sur­round­ing coun­try­side, soak­ing up the at­mos­phere of the wooded hills, ob­serv­ing the na­tive flora and not­ing how paths tend to wan­der en­tic­ingly in and out of sight. She has tried to re-cre­ate this at Blad­bean Old Stud, par­tic­u­larly in the labyrinthine rose gar­den, where path­ways criss-cross each other and the plant­ing is on a scale that is com­pletely en­velop­ing: “It’s that lost-in-the-woods feel­ing – plants have the up­per hand here, not peo­ple.”

Carol has hand­picked the roses for stur­di­ness and re­sis­tance to dis­ease. Three-quar­ters of the 80-plus va­ri­eties she has cho­sen

are old ones – ro­man­tic, flow­er­ing once and of­ten highly scented gal­li­cas, cen­tifo­lias, damasks and so on, backed up by re­peat­flow­er­ing ru­gosas and David Austin hy­brids. She rel­ishes their prun­ing and train­ing in late win­ter, which pays div­i­dends when they bloom in pro­fu­sion, with some trained to­gether in threes over two-me­tre-high metal arches to form one huge flow­er­ing mound.

At their feet is a car­pet of in­ter­wo­ven cot­tage-gar­den peren­ni­als – cat­mint, al­li­ums, eryn­giums, se­dums, del­phini­ums and echinops – in­ter­spersed with lo­cal na­tive species such as field scabi­ous (Knau­tia ar­ven­sis), meadow gera­nium (G. pratense) and red va­le­rian (Cen­tran­thus ru­ber). Most have been grown from seed in the green­house, then al­lowed to self-sow in the beds in a glo­ri­ous jumble. Har­mony is main­tained by ban­ning yel­low, red and orange from the colour scheme. “Other than that, I try not to im­pose my­self too much on na­ture,” Carol ex­plains.

She believes that “a gar­den is some­thing you do, not some­thing you have” and, as she works the en­tire three-acre site her­self – a full-time oc­cu­pa­tion – she has de­vised strate­gies she can man­age sin­gle-hand­edly. Hoe­ing is done at speed with a ser­rated tool she swears by – a long-han­dled Wolf-garten push-pull weeder – and hedge cut­ting with a light­weight bat­tery-op­er­ated trim­mer.

“I treat the gar­den as a work zone for one half of the year and a liv­ing work of art for the other, which helps me re­main dis­pas­sion­ate about chop­ping it all back at the end of the sea­son,” she says. For speed and ef­fi­ciency (with her econ­o­mist’s head on), Carol does this by run­ning over all the peren­nial beds in late au­tumn with a petrol-driven wheeled strim­mer. It takes her four two-hour ses­sions to com­plete each area and, though it seems dras­tic, is highly ef­fec­tive. She leaves the de­bris on the ground to rot

down over win­ter, re­turn­ing or­ganic mat­ter to the soil, then rakes up and re­moves the larger bits by the end of March. “It’s low main­te­nance in the long run. I don’t add any mulch or fer­tilis­ers.”

For Carol, mak­ing a gar­den is a learn­ing process: “Once I’ve fin­ished an area, I rip it apart men­tally to find out what worked and what could be im­proved.” When she ar­rived, she was faced with unloved sycamore scrub­land, net­tles and piles of old con­crete. “It felt lib­er­at­ing – there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing that looked pre­cious to any­one, so it gave me carte blanche to do as I pleased.”

Carol’s plans for any new area are al­ways metic­u­lously de­tailed. She starts with the me­chan­ics – stomp­ing around on site and de­lin­eat­ing the space with canes and string, then de­vises a tight de­sign brief for her­self, de­lib­er­ately im­pos­ing cer­tain re­straints to con­tain her wilder ideas, yet “leav­ing wig­gle room for a light­ness of touch”. It takes many hours but is a vi­tal part of the process.

She plays with plants to cre­ate un­usual ef­fects, of­ten jux­ta­pos­ing two with a sim­i­lar flower shape and colour but of a dif­fer­ent scale, such as Al­lium ‘Pur­ple Sen­sa­tion’ weav­ing through a bor­der with the smaller pom­poms of peren­nial cross­wort Phuop­sis sty­losa. Seeds are gath­ered in the nearby woods, too, to in­tro­duce lo­cally thriv­ing na­tives such as devil’s bit scabi­ous. Carol believes in let­ting plants have their head and not med­dling too much. “I’ve learned not to fight Mother Na­ture. You can never win,” she says.

Ul­ti­mately, she has come to see gar­den de­sign as be­ing rather sim­i­lar to the process of putting on a play: “I write the script, I work out the gen­eral sen­ti­ment and then I pick my cast – the plants!” Get those el­e­ments right and, with an artis­tic di­rec­tor like Carol Bruce, a great per­for­mance is guar­an­teed.

Old Blad­bean Stud, Can­ter­bury, Kent, is open for the NGS on 28 May, 11 and 25 June, 9 and 23 July, 6 and 20 Au­gust, 2-6pm: adults £6, un­der-16s free (old­blad­beanstud.co.uk).

En­joy gar­den fea­tures, top tips and more in CL’S free weekly news­let­ter. To sign up, text CL to 84499 fol­lowed by your email ad­dress.*

THIS PAGE, BE­LOW Vi­brant green box balls pro­vide neat punc­tu­a­tion amid flow­ing plant­ings of scabi­ous, nepeta and al­li­ums in soft shades of mauve and pur­ple


FROM TOP LEFT Strik­ing Iris ‘Braith­waite’ echoes the pur­ple of Salvia ‘Mainacht’; the el­e­gant glasshouse; Rosa ‘Con­stance Spry’; Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’

OP­PO­SITE, TOP Rosa ‘Mrs An­thony Waterer’ is off­set by al­chemilla and com­mon va­le­rian in the rose gar­den BE­LOW Phuop­sis sty­losa and al­li­ums play with scale

Phlomis rus­seliana

Eryn­gium gi­gan­teum and Al­lium cristophii

Phuop­sis sty­losa

Gera­nium pratense f. alb­i­flo­rum

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