An orig­i­nal Ox­ford­shire gar­den with deep vi­brant bor­ders cre­ates a sense of in­trigue wher­ever you turn

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by stephanie ma­hon pho­to­graphs by clive ni­chols

there are peo­ple so en­thu­si­as­tic about what they do, you feel they must bound out of bed each morn­ing, and the pot­ter and gar­dener Stephen Baughan is one of them. He fizzes with en­ergy – it’s no won­der he re­stricts him­self to just two cof­fees a day. This verve stood him in good stead as he started a busi­ness mak­ing ce­ram­ics – a sub­ject he knew ab­so­lutely noth­ing about – and cre­ated a gar­den around it from scratch, armed with lit­tle but ea­ger­ness.

“Early on, I de­cided I wanted a ca­reer mak­ing some­thing use­ful that peo­ple could in­ter­act with and that had longevity,” he ex­plains, “so I started mak­ing mugs and jugs.” As­ton Pot­tery in Ox­ford­shire has been go­ing for 35 years now, grow­ing from just a stu­dio to in­clude a visi­tor shop and café. The pieces Stephen and his team make are un­usual in that they are made in small batches by ma­chine and then dec­o­rated by sten­cilling, us­ing unique pro­cesses cre­ated through trial and er­ror.

This un­ortho­dox approach ex­tends be­yond the pot­tery to a rather sur­pris­ing gar­den, set out in a se­ries of dis­creet bor­ders around the build­ings and car park. “We de­velop our ideas in iso­la­tion here,” Stephen says. “There is an aw­ful lot of mak­ing it up as we go, with many mis­takes on the way.” The first area he planted was a strip along the front wall. “It was a busi­ness propo­si­tion at the start, to draw in cus­tom by en­tic­ing peo­ple to visit us on warm sunny days,” he says. With no real hor­ti­cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence, bar grow­ing some veg­eta­bles as a child, he threw him­self into the project with gusto, dec­o­rat­ing the out­side ar­eas of the pot­tery as colour­fully as he would one of his plates.

“I choose plants that I like, not plants that nec­es­sar­ily go to­gether,” he laughs. “For 20 years I’ve car­ried note­books with me wher­ever I go, in which I write down plants I’ve seen, and, when I note the same one three times over a few years, I know I re­ally like it.” The front bor­der stands seven me­tres deep, and is packed with peren­ni­als such as per­si­caria, se­dums and phlox in quite a traditional style, backed by Cotswold stone walls, and framed by crafted split-oak fenc­ing. The ad­join­ing path is lined with pots burst­ing with aga­pan­thus and pineap­ple lilies.

This path leads out to the large car park, where Stephen has made his sec­ond area. “Hav­ing got the bug, I wanted to make a dou­ble bor­der, so I cre­ated a walk­way right down the cen­tre, with a bound­ary of horn­beam trees. Of course, we can’t have lawn, so I have en­closed the path, mak­ing a tun­nel of fo­liage.”

A pav­il­ion with seat­ing at the end cre­ates a fo­cal point be­yond the beds of late-summer flowers, in­clud­ing echi­nacea, salvias, cro­cos­mia and

rud­beck­ias. At the back stand tow­er­ing Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, reach­ing up more than two me­tres to touch the bot­tom leaves of the horn­beams, which Stephen will start pleach­ing next year (“No idea how to do it yet,” he ad­mits, “but we will give it a try”).

To the side of the park­ing area is his dahlia gar­den, another dou­ble bor­der. This is split into com­part­ments of 12 dahlias each, framed with tall or­na­men­tal grasses such as molinia and cala­m­a­grostis, and edged with aga­pan­thus and asters. Here, he can in­dulge his ob­ses­sion with all sorts of dahlias, from col­larettes and balls to wa­terlily and cac­tus types. “My ab­so­lute favourite is the dec­o­ra­tive ‘Bal­lego’s Glory’,” he says. “I love yel­low and red and bi­colour dahlias, and this one is all three.”

Along the back lies Stephen’s an­nual bor­der, in­spired by the “com­pletely stunning” one at Ny­mans gar­den in Sus­sex. He and his helpers plant it up in late May with cos­mos, nico­tiana, sun­flow­ers and flame­coloured Lo­belia tupa grown in his poly­tun­nel from seeds and cut­tings, and by July it is a riot of colour and tex­ture that goes on un­til the first frosts. At the other end, Stephen is craft­ing his mas­ter­work: the ‘hot’ bank. When build­ing the café foun­da­tions, they had to dig a large hole and dump the soil at the end of the site, cre­at­ing a ridge 20m deep by 3m high. Stephen put a cop­per beech hedge at the top, and then fo­cused on plant­ing the slope with yel­low, red and orange flowers. There are dahlias and pen­ste­mons, but also more ex­otic canna lilies, rici­nus, ere­mu­rus and ba­nanas, all of which he can leave in over win­ter, as the bank drains so well. Every­thing flowers right into au­tumn. “We want plants that give us three or four months of in­ter­est,” he says, “so we have lots of salvias, al­stroe­me­ria and kniphofia.”

Stephen says this bank is the hard­est task he has ever had in his life. “But I like ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and the sur­prise of how projects turn out. Some ideas work, some don’t, but you get an evo­lu­tion. If it’s wrong, you can do it dif­fer­ently next year. That’s the great thing about mak­ing a gar­den – you can do what you like and keep mak­ing it up as you go along.”

THIS PAGE, FROM TOP LEFT Zin­nia ‘Be­nary’s Gi­ant Pink’ and Agas­tache ru­gosa make a win­ning com­bi­na­tion; Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ grows up to two me­tres tall; plants for Stephen’s ri­otous an­nual bor­der are raised from seed in his poly­tun­nel and...

OPPOSITE, ABOVE Great mounds of vivid yel­low Rud­beckia fulgida var. deamii stand out among asters and salvias in the dou­ble bor­ders lead­ing to the car park BE­LOW Spires of flame­coloured Lo­belia tupa rise up through ‘David Howard’ and ‘Moon­fire’ dahlias

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