Wide hori­zons

In­spired by vast, open ex­panses of salt marsh and shin­gle, Emily Er­lam has cre­ated a nat­u­ral­is­tic gar­den that is seam­less with its sur­round­ings

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Near the shore in Dun­geness, Emily Er­lam has designed a gar­den on shin­gle that blends seam­lessly with its sur­round­ing land­scape



Driv­ing to Dun­geness across the low ex­panse of Rom­ney Marsh, the land seems to flat­ten even fur­ther, as if pressed down by the enor­mous sky. Mod­est dwellings are scat­tered sparsely across the shin­gle, among them Prospect Cot­tage, where Derek Jar­man fa­mously made a gar­den that is now gen­tly sub­sid­ing into the beach. Fol­low this road to its con­clu­sion and you are con­fronted by three Dun­geness land­marks – the mono­lithic nu­clear power sta­tion, a black-and-white light­house, and the sta­tion ter­mi­nus for a now de­funct nar­row-gauge rail­way. Just be­fore you reach the sta­tion car park is a con­verted research sta­tion build­ing where, six years ago, Emily Er­lam was in­vited to cre­ate a gar­den. It could have been a daunt­ing prospect. “It’s a harsh en­vi­ron­ment, with low rain­fall, a pun­ish­ing east­erly wind, and not a jot of pro­tec­tion,” she says. “Plus, two thirds of the gar­den is a Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est [SSSI], so you can’t even walk on it, let alone re­plant it.” But the lim­i­ta­tions were help­ful, al­low­ing her to fo­cus on what the site would al­low. “I al­ways start with the clients’ wishes. I designed where they would sit, where they could walk, and what plants would em­bel­lish the space.”

The sin­gle-storey, L-shaped build­ing has stun­ning views on two sides. To the east, a huge pic­ture win­dow looks out over the SSSI and on to the sea. In the crook of the build­ing to the north, French doors lead on to a worn wooden deck that steps down into the or­na­men­tal part of the gar­den where mounds of rose­mary, San­tolina and Am­so­nia soften the change in level. Spread­ing car­pets of Per­si­caria and Crambe mar­itima re­cur ev­ery­where, de­lin­eat­ing the curves of a sin­u­ous path through the green­ery.

“Al­most ev­ery­thing I planted here is grow­ing wild in some form on the beach be­yond,” says Emily. “It was im­por­tant that the gar­den blended with its sur­round­ings, while keep­ing its own in­tegrity. That’s why I planted a loose wind­bar­rier of Elaeag­nus ‘Quick­sil­ver’ to screen the house from the neigh­bour­ing prop­erty, in­stead of a more solid hedge. It’s also why I climbed the light­house and used the most in­ter­est­ing shapes from the sur­round­ing land mass on which to base the form of the beds and paths.” Ob­serv­ing how ar­eas of bare shin­gle tended to sink lower than ar­eas pro­tected by mats of veg­e­ta­tion, Emily banked up her plant­ing ar­eas to em­u­late the ef­fect. “We also heaped im­ported top­soil on th­ese beds, sit­ting on a weed-sup­press­ing mem­brane, then topped off with more shin­gle.”

The plant­ing was par­tially in­spired by Piet Ou­dolf ’s tech­nique of rib­bon­ing and in­ter­weav­ing plants. “We also dis­cussed how far to echo Derek Jar­man’s gar­den, but it has be­come so iconic we didn’t want to end up copy­ing it,” says Emily. Even the plant­ing pal­ette is quite dif­fer­ent. “I love work­ing with colour, so we in­ter­twined two strands – one of pur­ple and pink, the other of bright green, yel­low and blue.”

Mounds of san­tolina cre­ate per­ma­nent struc­ture, but there are also sea­sonal peaks that an­i­mate the ef­fect. In May the gar­den has a del­i­cacy typ­i­fied by the pure-white flow­ers of the sea kale that Emily likens to a beau­ti­ful moon­scape. By July, the pal­ette in­ten­si­fies with bold splashes of colour from iris, Ses­le­ria au­tum­nalis, Achil­lea ‘Moon­shine’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’, thyme, Al­lium sphae­ro­cephalon and Agas­tache ‘Black­ad­der’. The Am­so­nia, blan­keted with clear-blue flow­ers in sum­mer, mod­u­lates into a rich au­tum­nal pal­ette of but­ter-yel­low fo­liage, com­ple­mented by tawny pink Se­dum and Per­si­caria.

The gar­den has now set­tled com­fort­ably into its sur­round­ings. Over time, the own­ers have in­tro­duced flot­sam and jet­sam, stone cir­cles and two tiny, cast iron lizards, as well as main­tain­ing a loose ex­pan­sive­ness in the plant­ing. “I love the way it has ma­tured,” says Emily. “I never think it is my job to dec­o­rate a gar­den. I just cre­ate a set­ting in which the own­ers can make themselves at home.”

USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION Find out more about Emily Er­lam’s work at er­lam­stu­dio.com

The brick-built Ex­per­i­men­tal Sta­tion, orig­i­nally a research fa­cil­ity for test­ing ma­rine and sig­nal ap­pa­ra­tus, ad­joins an ar­ray of tim­ber-clad eco res­i­dences ar­ranged around a com­mu­nal court­yard where hardy plants, such as San­tolina chamae­cy­paris­sus, Am­so­nia taber­nae­mon­tana var. sali­ci­fo­lia and Men­tha spi­cata soften the land­scape. 44

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