Let it rain

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS STEPHANIE DON­ALD­SON PHO­TO­GRAPHS RACHEL WARNE

In her Nor­folk gar­den de­signer Emily Er­lam has cre­ated a colour­ful and con­stantly evolv­ing gar­den she and her fam­ily can en­joy what­ever the weather

Con­sid­ered but prac­ti­cal plant­ing in Emily Er­lam’s pri­vate Nor­folk gar­den cre­ates a con­stantly evolv­ing space for the de­signer and her fam­ily to en­joy

Gar­den de­signer Emily Er­lam’s home is in deep­est north Nor­folk – the bit where the roads nar­row to sin­gle-track lanes en­closed by high banks and over­hang­ing trees – and where the traf­fic con­sists largely of fos­sick­ing pheas­ants and par­tridges. The pace of life here is very dif­fer­ent from that of her busy de­sign prac­tice in the King’s Cross area of Lon­don. The Tithe Barn is the place where she gar­dens for her­self – in peace and pri­vacy.

Eight years ago, Emily bought the 18th-cen­tury brick barn, its ad­join­ing old pig shed and flint-walled yards, and the sur­round­ing three acres of land. Once the ar­chi­tects had worked their magic on the build­ings, she be­gan to plan her gar­den. Two-and-a-half acres were re­tained as a tree-fringed meadow, bor­dered by large ex­panses of lawn where Emily’s two sons play cricket and foot­ball. Hav­ing dealt with the big­ger pic­ture, Emily could con­cen­trate on the ar­eas close to the house.

“As far as the de­sign process was con­cerned,” Emily says, “I treated my­self as the client.” The re­main­ing space was di­vided into three con­nected ar­eas – the Rain Gar­den, lead­ing to the out­door kitchen and the Or­chard beyond. “As you pass from one to an­other, each is re­laxed and joy­ous, con­tained and with its own iden­tity and sense of tran­quil­lity. I stopped my­self mak­ing it over­com­pli­cated. Al­though I loved the idea of the sump­tu­ous­ness of a kitchen gar­den, the de­sign process is about hav­ing big vi­sions and then hon­ing them down – know­ing the feel­ing I wanted to cre­ate and stop­ping at that point. So there is no veg­etable gar­den; in­stead, the par­tially walled Or­chard has the feel­ing of pro­duc­tiv­ity with­out the work.”

Al­though Emily was ini­tially slightly dis­ap­pointed with the south­east ori­en­ta­tion, it has proved to be ex­tremely shel­tered from the pre­vail­ing south­west­er­lies, with sev­eral lay­ers of de­fence, which means that the fam­ily is able to make max­i­mum use of the gar­den. The out­door kitchen is used

all year round, for ex­am­ple, with Emily do­ing a lot of slow cook­ing in the wood-fired oven.

The Rain Gar­den was the first of the three gar­dens to be laid out. It is clos­est to the house and is dom­i­nated by a large bed of ex­u­ber­ant plant­ing that ex­tends out into the lawn. Ver­ti­cal molinias and tall san­guisor­bas erupt from among mounds of peren­ni­als in­clud­ing rud­beck­ias, he­le­ni­ums and pur­ple sage. A trio of dwarf Euony­mus ala­tus ‘Com­pactus’ an­chor the peren­ni­als – and turn a vivid red in au­tumn. The cov­ered porch that runs along both sides of the house al­lows Emily and her fam­ily to spend time in this gar­den even when it rains – hence the name. To one side, a grav­elled area shaded by a multi-stemmed Ame­lanchier tree con­tains a ta­ble de­signed by Emily, with cedar chairs adapted from a 1950s de­sign. The Ame­lanchier was the first thing Emily planted when she re­claimed the gar­den from the builders.

Be­cause this area of the gar­den had been the hard stand­ing in front of the for­mer pig shed, many lay­ers of con­crete and hard­core had to be ex­ca­vated be­fore any gar­den­ing could be done. Work com­pleted, good-qual­ity top­soil was brought in and Emily placed the or­der for the plants, only to find that the en­tire area filled with wa­ter when it rained. A com­pacted layer of chalk was found to be the cul­prit, and clay lozenges in the soil ex­ac­er­bated the prob­lem. This meant rip­ping out the chalk and in­stalling French per­fo­rated drains be­fore any plant­ing could be­gin.

The Rain Gar­den is now in its fifth year. “I have been greatly in­spired by the tall plant­ing at Jardin Plume in Nor­mandy and have cho­sen plants for a sim­i­lar ef­fect in the au­tumn,” says Emily. “My plant­ing is con­stantly evolv­ing, us­ing pinks, yel­lows and reds to work with the brick. Any­thing new gets a bit of love un­til it has es­tab­lished it­self, but ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing has to sur­vive along­side the other plants. It’s quite a science. Al­though the gar­den was de­signed with au­tumn in mind – the time when the molinias and Euony­mus turn but­ter yel­low and red re­spec­tively – it has to per­form all year round. Sea­sonal drama is im­por­tant to me.”

Ex­plain­ing her approach to this very per­sonal project, Emily says, “I con­sider this to be a very nor­mal gar­den. The whole point was to fo­cus on the plants, but I didn’t want plant­ing that was so in­ten­sive that I couldn’t look af­ter the gar­den my­self.”

The view to­wards the house and barn across the Rain Gar­den, with the Out­door Kitchen on the right; a multi-stemmed Ame­lanchier (left) andKoel­reuteria pan­ic­u­lata (right) frame the bright hues of the Rain Gar­den and the softer tones of the plant­ing in front of the out­door kitchen. 34

NINE KEY PLANTS IN THE RAIN GAR­DEN 1 Salvia of­fic­i­nalis ‘Pur­puras­cens’ Semi-dwarf ev­er­green with pur­ple fo­liage when young, ma­tur­ing to grey-green with blue flow­ers. 60cm. AGM*. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b†. 2 Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Edith Dud­szus’ Dark-pur­ple spikelets on arch­ing stems above dense tus­socks. 90cm. RHS H7. 3 San­guisorba of­fic­i­nalis Dense red flow­ers atop wiry stems, above feath­ery fo­liage, from June to Septem­ber. 1.2m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b. 4 Achil­lea ‘Ter­ra­cotta’ Flat­tened flow­er­heads on up­right stems fade from rich ter­ra­cotta to bis­cu­ity tones as they ma­ture. 1m. RHS H7, USDA 3a-8b. 5 Euphor­bia x martini Dwarf ev­er­green sub-shrub with grey-green leaves and salmon-coloured flow­ers. 60cm. RHS H5, USDA 6a-8b. 6 Euony­mus ala­tus ‘Com­pactus’ Com­pact shrub with stun­ning red au­tumn fo­liage and corky winged bark in win­ter. 1.2m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b. 7 Rud­beckia fulgida var. sul­li­van­tii ‘Gold­sturm’ Large, golden-yel­low, daisy-like flow­ers from Au­gust to Oc­to­ber borne on up­right stems. 60cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-9b. 8 He­le­nium ‘Mo­er­heim Beauty’ Up­right peren­nial with dark-cen­tred, cop­per-red flow­ers from June to Au­gust. 1.25m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 3a-8b. 9 Koel­reuteria pan­ic­u­lata Slen­der de­cid­u­ous tree with di­vided leaves and pan­i­cles of yel­low flow­ers. 8m (more com­pact when multi-stemmed). RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.

Clock­wise from top left Ex­u­ber­ant plant­ing sep­a­rates the out­door liv­ing area from the Or­chard beyond. Pur­ple sage ( Salvia of­fic­i­nalis ‘Pur­puras­cens’) soft­ens the edges of the bor­der as it tum­bles over the gravel and lawn. Lay­ers of plant­ing in front of the brick and flint wall of the court­yard with the bright yel­low of rud­beck­ias and bronze Euony­mus ala­tus ‘Com­pactus’ in the fore­ground topped by a haze of molinias and san­guisor­bas. Sheep­skin cov­ers on the cedar chairs en­sure that Emily and her fam­ily stay cosy out­doors even in cold weather. Bright-red He­le­nium ‘Ruby Tues­day’ and pale-yel­low An­themis Su­sanna Mitchell (= ‘Blomit’) nudge up against the edge of the porch. Emily de­signed the sim­ple ta­ble and benches in the out­door kitchen and sur­rounded them with fra­grant laven­der and San­tolina chamae­cy­paris­sus. The multi-stemmed Koel­reuteria pan­ic­u­lata is a favourite tree of Emily’s.

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