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