Green heart

A vin­tage car­a­van, fruit and flow­ers in abun­dance, and a wildlife pond to die for. An­nie Green-Army­tage vis­its a gar­den which has bio­di­ver­sity and sus­tain­abil­ity at its heart

EDP Norfolk - - GARDENS - PHO­TOS: An­nie Green-Army­tage

Sur­rounded by a patch­work of fer­tile farm­land, Chapel Cot­tage is tucked dis­creetly be­hind a 19th cen­tury Methodist chapel in the tiny vil­lage of Rougham. Home to Sarah But­ler and hus­band Rodney, the cot­tage forms part of the Rougham es­tate, a tract of coun­try­side owned by the North fam­ily, notable in the hor­ti­cul­tural world for the Vic­to­rian am­a­teur botanist and painter, Mar­i­anne North.

In the mid-19th cen­tury the in­trepid Miss North trav­elled the world, firstly with her fa­ther and then solo, paint­ing the flora of Cal­i­for­nia, In­dia, Ja­pan and Bor­neo and sub­se­quently, at the sug­ges­tion of Charles Dar­win him­self, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. She has a gallery at Kew ded­i­cated to her work, and in Rougham it­self the vil­lage well was erected in her me­mory and still stands to­day.

Sarah But­ler de­scribes her­self as a bio­di­ver­sity land­scape de­signer, am­a­teur nat­u­ral­ist, en­to­mol­o­gist and botanist. She pur­sues th­ese in­ter­ests partly through pro­fes­sional work, but also in Mar­i­anne North’s Vic­to­rian tra­di­tion of an over­rid­ing pas­sion for her sub­ject, and a fas­ci­na­tion with learn­ing more.

Her life, and the life of the gar­den at Chapel Cot­tage, is built around her phi­los­o­phy that we should prize the ex­is­tence of all crea­tures and strive to per­pet­u­ate and nur­ture them. “To

me gar­den­ing means think­ing of your sur­round­ings and how to en­hance them for all of us,” she says, “whether you’re a hu­man, a lady­bird, or a hedge­hog.”

This in­volves con­sid­er­ing the land­scape as a whole as well as the set­ting of the gar­den and in­di­vid­ual plants within it. The fruit trees here, for ex­am­ple, pro­vide year-round height and struc­ture, as well as shel­ter for in­sects and birds, and, of course, fruit for hu­mans and other crea­tures.

When Sarah and Rodney moved to the cot­tage 30 years ago, the gar­den was far smaller and open to the scour­ing East Anglian winds. They started with a small plot at the back of the house, but as Sarah’s in­ter­est grew, so did the gar­den, and to­day a patch­work of di­verse ar­eas, sur­rounded by a shel­ter belt of hedges and trees, stands at 2/3 acre around the house.

The soil is fer­tile, which she puts down to past own­ers keep­ing pigs on the site, but this fer­til­ity is tem­pered by the ex­is­tence of var­i­ous build­ing foun­da­tions. “The sweet shop gar­den is called that sim­ply be­cause it’s on the site where the old sweet shop was,” she says.

This tiny space bor­der­ing the road­way is par­tic­u­larly shel­tered, en­closed by mixed na­tive hedg­ing and host­ing hol­ly­hocks, Rosa ru­gosa and asters. The com­bi­na­tion of mi­cro-cli­mate and sym­pa­thetic plant­ing makes it one of Sarah’s favourite spots for in­sect study: most of the flow­er­ing plants have sin­gle or open flow­ers which are more at­trac­tive to bees and other in­sects, as their nec­tar and pollen are more ac­ces­si­ble.

Next to this is a large vegetable gar­den where Sarah grows a mix of fruit, veg­eta­bles and flow­ers for cut­ting. This was one of the first ar­eas to be de­vel­oped, to pro­vide or­ganic food for the ta­ble. It has a more for­mal struc­ture than the rest of the gar­den, with rec­tan­gu­lar beds edged in tim­ber, and path­ways of saw­dust, sourced for free from the lo­cal saw-mill: “I shov­elled up al­most a 100 big bags,” she says with feel­ing. “£200 for gravel seemed cheap after that!”

It departs from con­ven­tion by hav­ing a wide bor­der of flow­ers, which Sarah uses for the lo­cal church flower ar­range­ments, and also for wed­dings and fu­ner­als. “I like of­fer­ing to do the flow­ers for im­por­tant peo­ple in my life,” she

“Al­though the gar­den may look nat­u­ral and spon­ta­neous, ev­ery­thing is de­lib­er­ately planned”

says. “They’re a joy to cut and to smell and, of course, pro­vide food for in­sects and birds.”

This is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the gar­den; most as­pects have more than one pur­pose and ev­ery­thing, al­though it may look nat­u­ral and spon­ta­neous, is de­lib­er­ately planned to cre­ate an ef­fect.

Each sep­a­rate area is gated, not only to keep chick­ens, guinea pigs and oc­ca­sional small chil­dren within bounds, but also to cre­ate a flow. “I like the idea of mov­ing through from one place to an­other,” ex­plains Sarah. “When you go through a gate it feels like a bit of a jour­ney.”

The pond gar­den is a quiet, rus­tic space, with nat­u­ral­is­tic

plant­ing in­clud­ing flag iris and wa­terlily. The crys­tal clar­ity of the wa­ter adds to the sense of med­i­ta­tive calm and the lit­tle sum­mer-house pro­vides the per­fect place to watch dragon­flies and wa­ter-bee­tles.

This is again in­ten­tional;

“I am also de­vel­op­ing it [the gar­den] to do classes and quiet days,” says Sarah. “There will be some gar­den­ing, but also some ex­plo­ration in how to develop your con­nec­tion be­tween well­be­ing and bio­di­ver­sity, how you see the world and how well you feel. I think they’re very much linked.”

The main part of the gar­den is more open, link­ing the other ar­eas and pro­vid­ing a foil to their en­closed feel. Chick­ens and guinea pigs roam freely here, and bird feed­ers are con­stantly vis­ited by robins, black­caps and finches, who also en­joy the teasel seeds planted close by.

An old-fash­ioned wash­ing-line cre­ates a by­gone-days at­mos­phere with its vis­ual aes­thetic, as well as be­ing pur­pose­ful in pro­vid­ing free, green, dry­ing power. Adding to the nos­tal­gia vibe is a Su­per Sprite car­a­van, in its fi­nal rest­ing place hav­ing pro­vided fam­ily hol­i­days when Sarah’s chil­dren were young.

To­day it serves oc­ca­sion­ally as a home of­fice dur­ing the sum­mer months, which she re­ally val­ues: “It’s great to work from be­cause you’re shel­tered but still in the gar­den, amongst the birds and in­sects. And it has in­ter­net ac­cess!” (The cot­tage has lit­tle or no re­cep­tion).”

At the other end of the gar­den a lit­tle picket gate al­lows ac­cess on to the neigh­bour­ing field. Here Sarah has planted out (with the farmer’s agree­ment) a mix of na­tive wild-flow­ers. Th­ese also evoke a nos­tal­gia for tra­di­tional agri­cul­ture be­fore in­ten­sive farm­ing.

In ad­di­tion, they con­nect into Sarah’s pas­sion for en­cour­ag­ing bio­di­ver­sity. “It re­ally gives me so much plea­sure, grow­ing the Bri­tish na­tive flow­ers that should be here and then see­ing what ar­rives to use them,” she says. “It’s a peace­ful thing, to re­store that balance in na­ture.”

ABOVE:Kitchen gar­den, with beds edged with tim­ber and path­ways lined with saw­dust from the lo­cal sawmill. Fore­ground plants in­clude au­tumn-fruit­ing rasp­ber­ries, Michael­mas daisies and evening prim­roseLEFT:Sarah But­ler feed­ing Henny Penny the hen. Com­post heaps and the path to the kitchen gar­den in the back­ground

ABOVE: View of the newly painted Su­per Sprite car­a­van which serves as a home of­fice for Sarah, away from the house. Young crab-ap­ples in ter­ra­cotta pots are Malus‘Red Jade’, and perennials in­clude Rud­beckia fulgidavar. sul­li­van­tii‘Gold­sturm’, rose­mary, a late-flow­er­ing laven­der (La­van­dulax in­ter­me­dia‘Grosso’) and Cary­opteris clan­do­nen­sis

RIGHT:Sun­rise at the wildlife pond, with sun­flow­ers flank­ing the sum­mer house. A pear, Pyrus‘Doyenne d’Ete’, ripens on the tree in the cor­ner of the pond gar­den. Wa­ter plants in­clude Scir­pus mar­itimus (syn. Bol­boschoenus mar­itimus)

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