HIGH ON THE HILL

Deep in the Wye Valley, this nat­u­ral­is­tic coun­try gar­den beau­ti­fully blurs its bound­aries into the sur­round­ing land­scape

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by noel kings­bury pho­to­graphs by re­becca bern­stein

Deep in the Wye Valley, a nat­u­ral­is­tic coun­try gar­den beau­ti­fully blurs its bound­aries into the sur­round­ing land­scape

hen Jo Ward-el­li­son says she was look­ing for a big­ger gar­den, she means it. Her last one in Sur­rey was 80 by 40 feet and now that she and hus­band Roy are in Here­ford­shire – where they moved in 2008 – they have two fenced acres to play with, plus a fur­ther acre be­yond, which they have left open to the lo­cal deer. Set on a wooded hill­side in the Wye Valley, their gar­den at Poole Cot­tage sits in a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre, with ex­ten­sive views over lower land to the east. “I needed to plan the gar­den on a scale that would fit with such a wide out­look and blend and blur into the nat­u­ral land­scape,” Jo says. What they have achieved, since they started plant­ing in 2011, cer­tainly does that. Up the hill, just be­low the sur­round­ing woods, the eye is drawn to some big pam­pas grass and mis­cant­hus that tie in with other grasses around the house. The link is made im­me­di­ately and is a con­fi­dent way of say­ing, “This is our gar­den”.

The most densely planted area is around the house. In late sum­mer, grasses pre­dom­i­nate, with plenty of flow­er­ing peren­ni­als. Plant­ing here is in straight lines and clearly de­fined with a pink, red, white and green colour scheme. There are a lot of plant rep­e­ti­tions: pink Se­dum spectabile, yel­low-green fen­nel, red Per­si­caria am­plex­i­caulis. “Orig­i­nally we were go­ing to have some tra­di­tional clipped plant­ing here, in­te­grate that with shrubs and fill with peren­ni­als,” Jo ex­plains. “But we have used grasses in­stead of the ev­er­greens.” The re­sult­ing lines of Cala­m­a­grostis ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ and blocks of Mis­cant­hus grasses make a long-sea­son state­ment that pro­vides an in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tive to con­ven­tional ways of cre­at­ing frame­work and struc­ture.

Be­tween th­ese two ar­eas is a ris­ing slope dom­i­nated by grass, much of it strips of un­mown meadow grass in­ter­spersed with mown grass and clipped beech trees, groups of shrubs – mostly dog­woods and wil­lows – and a large pond. To one side is a veg­etable gar­den, to the other an or­chard. It has all been metic­u­lously planned; there is an av­enue of flow­er­ing trees (sor­bus and malus species), mak­ing a clear sight-line to the big nat­u­ral­is­tic bor­der at the far end.

“I be­lieve in hav­ing an over­all plan be­cause it gives you a frame­work and some­thing to work to­wards,” Jo says. “I was keen to put in a strong struc­ture on a blank can­vas – we didn’t have the means to start do­ing ma­jor things to the lev­els and, in fact, I didn’t re­ally want to. We de­cided to di­vide it up but not too much, so we put in hedg­ing that cre­ates big curves to re­flect what’s in the nat­u­ral land­scape. Then I im­posed some strong straight lines with the av­enue of trees and by ar­rang­ing the or­chard on a grid pat­tern with a criss­cross of mown paths through long meadow grass.

“We’ve tried to be as low main­te­nance as pos­si­ble,” Jo con­tin­ues. “As a gar­den de­signer, I spend more time work­ing on other peo­ple’s gar­dens, but Roy helps here, too, es­pe­cially with

heav­ier work.” They have de­vel­oped clever ways of mak­ing a bold im­pact with min­i­mal ex­pen­di­ture of time – the straight paths cut through long grass, for ex­am­ple, cre­ate a sim­ple and easy-care graphic ef­fect. In the nat­u­ral­is­tic bor­der at the far end are clumps of big ro­bust peren­ni­als – close up it looks un­re­fined but it is de­signed to be seen from afar. Fur­ther lines of grasses, par­tic­u­larly Cala­m­a­grostis ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’, make in­ter­est­ing ef­fects, and only need an an­nual cut-back, usu­ally in March.

“Rep­e­ti­tion is im­por­tant here,” Jo says. “I tend to use the same thing in dif­fer­ent ways, such as mis­cant­hus, ei­ther sin­gu­larly or in groups.” This is partly artis­tic rigour but also the fruit of ne­ces­sity. The gar­den has been made on a lim­ited bud­get and home prop­a­ga­tion has been vi­tal. “I started off with one plant of ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ from Knoll Gar­dens in Dorset (knoll­gar­dens.co.uk), and the oth­ers have come from that, with di­vi­sions made in spring.” Favourite shrubs are prop­a­gated, too, such as the colour­ful red-barked dog­woods, which are raised from hard­wood cut­tings. Clumps of Euphor­bia chara­cias and daf­fodils cre­ate a sense of rhythm in spring.

Leav­ing large ar­eas of long grass and let­ting seed heads stand for as long as pos­si­ble pro­vides plenty of food and habi­tats for wildlife. This am­bi­tious gar­den, dis­play­ing a clar­ity of vi­sion, is un­usual, and all the more im­pres­sive for be­ing ‘com­plete’. “We’ve done what we wanted to do,” Jo says, “so now we can look af­ter it and en­joy it.” Its bal­ance of con­tem­po­rary nat­u­ral­ism with a far stronger sense of or­der than is usu­ally seen in such gar­dens flags up all sorts of pos­si­bil­i­ties for a bold new model of coun­try gar­den de­sign.

THIS PAGE, FROM ABOVELEFT Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis,mis­cant­hus and bronze fen­nel frame the gate beau­ti­fully; straight lines of sor­bus and malus species, plus two clipped yew shapes, guide the eye to­wards plumes of pam­pas grass at the far end of the gar­den OP­PO­SITE The bur­geon­ing lower bor­der show­cases Se­dum ‘Au­tumn Joy’, cala­m­a­grostis, the var­ie­gated Cor­nus el­e­gan­tis­sima and a small weep­ing birch, Be­tula youngii.Along the front edge is the yel­low­ing fo­liage of San­guisorba ‘Tanna’

TOP Trees in the or­chard on the bank have been planted in a grid pat­tern, high­lighted with a criss-cross pat­tern mown into the grass ABOVE In the front gar­den, pink-flow­ered Gera­nium en­dres­sii pro­vides ex­cel­lent ground cover along­side the brown­ing stems of ear­lier-flow­er­ing San­guisorba tenuifo­lia var. alba

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