Wood­land won­ders

Pere­grine and Deirdre Massey have spent 25 years trans­form­ing their ter­raced gar­den from a state of wilder­ness to a se­ries of gra­cious out­door rooms, un­earthing some ex­cit­ing dis­cov­er­ies as they went – in­clud­ing a walled gar­den and an an­cient blue­bell woo

Period Living - - Contents - Words and pho­to­graphs Leigh Clapp

An an­cient blue­bell wood is just one of the beau­ti­ful high­lights in this glo­ri­ous gar­den of rooms

Pere­grine and Deirdre Massey have been re­de­vel­op­ing their pic­turesque gar­dens at Bold­shaves, a small pri­vate es­tate near Wood­church on the east­ern fringe of the Ken­tish Weald, for al­most 25 years. Be­fore the at­trac­tive Arts and Crafts-style house was built in 1902 at the top of the in­cline, the south-fac­ing hill­side had been cleared of trees in the 17th cen­tury for graz­ing sheep, leav­ing the sur­round­ing an­cient cop­piced wood­land to the north, east and west, as well as ‘shaves’ – nar­row stands of trees as wind breaks – and when Ma­jor Bold owned the prop­erty in the 18th cen­tury, the area be­came known by his name: ‘Bold’s Shaves’. ‘When we ar­rived in 1994, there was no gar­den to speak of and we didn’t know there was a walled gar­den flank­ing the east­ern façade of the house un­til we dis­cov­ered it when clear­ing a thicket of un­der­growth in our first win­ter,’ says Pere­grine. ‘Peo­ple al­ways think tak­ing over a wilder­ness must have been a night­mare, but I can think of no bet­ter start­ing point for cre­at­ing a new gar­den; in­fin­itely prefer­able to tak­ing over some­one else’s idea of per­fec­tion and stu­diously set­ting about main­tain­ing it.’

With a spec­tac­u­lar 100-acre wild blue­bell wood and stun­ning views, the stepped gar­dens are a de­light to wan­der through. Ex­tend­ing out from the house, the partly ter­raced seven-acre gar­den stretches down a south-fac­ing slope, look­ing ➤

to­wards the Wealden land­scape across vast green pad­docks dot­ted with graz­ing sheep. ‘The bones of the gar­den you see to­day evolved over about a 15-year pe­riod, bal­anced be­tween the de­mands of a grow­ing fam­ily and an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer as a bar­ris­ter and me­di­a­tor,’ he ex­plains. ‘But I think I al­ways had an idea at the back of my mind of what I wanted the end re­sult to be: a suc­ces­sion of in­ter­link­ing com­part­ments run­ning down the hill to the south of the house, mak­ing good use of the views to­wards Shirley Moor in the dis­tance, and seam­lessly merg­ing with the an­cient wood­land.’

A tour of the gar­den will take you through a se­ries of loosely di­vided rooms as well as an at­mo­spheric wood­land walk. The for­mal ar­eas in con­trast with the nat­u­ral set­ting make for a glo­ri­ous land­scape to ex­plore, full of fresh greens, brightly coloured tulips, blos­som on the bough and a sea of vi­o­let-blue. Fra­grance fills the air and there’s a sense of re­newal through­out the gar­den.

Vis­i­tors can ex­plore the trans­formed walled gar­den where the shel­tered mi­cro­cli­mate sup­ports south­ern hemi­sphere and semi-hardy plants, such as Cean­othus (Cal­i­for­nian li­lac), along with a camel­lia dell, herba­ceous bor­ders, a flame bed, an Ital­ian gar­den, a gar­den to cel­e­brate the Queen’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee, a veg­etable gar­den, a wide va­ri­ety of old-fash­ioned English roses and an El­iz­a­bethan herb gar­den. ‘One of our lat­est projects is to turn the bor­ders ad­join­ing the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Gar­den into a se­ries of beds in the colours of the rain­bow, run­ning red, pur­ple, blue, green, yel­low and or­ange down the hill,’ Pere­grine adds.

Lend­ing struc­tural for­mal­ity are a per­gola walk, lines of hedges, ar­chi­tec­tural fo­liage from phormi­ums, re­peated clipped shrubs such as Pho­tinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’, and de­fined paths.

In April, high­light plants in­clude del­i­cate snowy white blos­som on Ame­lanchier lamar­ckii,

clouds of pink prunus, and the un­usual or­na­men­tal shrub, Sta­phylea colchica, with its fra­grant creamy flow­ers, and its even rarer rel­a­tive S. holo­carpa

‘Rosea’. Other un­usual spring-flow­er­ing shrubs in­clude Drimys aro­mat­ica (Tas­ma­nian moun­tain pep­per) and Cer­cis chi­nen­sis. ‘We also love the sight of the tree pe­onies com­ing into flower: they only last for a cou­ple of weeks a year, and so are a huge in­dul­gence un­less you have the space, but what an ex­cit­ing plant to grow,’ Pere­grine en­thuses. ‘Paeo­nia rockii (Rock’s tree pe­ony) should be seen by ev­ery gar­dener, if only once in their life­time!’

Bor­der­ing the gar­den is the ex­ten­sive an­cient wood­land with me­an­der­ing paths that wind through the car­pets of wood­land anemones fol­lowed by the mag­i­cal blue­bells. ‘As much as it has been fun de­vel­op­ing the gar­den, we have de­rived at least as much en­joy­ment from man­ag­ing and re­claim­ing the an­cient wood­land, which had been al­lowed to grow out un­healthily in the 20 years or so be­fore we ar­rived here,’ Pere­grine ex­plains. ‘The wood­land is prin­ci­pally down to oak stan­dards with horn­beam, hazel, sweet chest­nut and avian cherry un­der­wood; and we have in­tro­duced a cop­pic­ing regime that en­ables us to put in place a cy­cle of re­newal that should be fully sus­tain­able into the fu­ture.’

All your senses will be stim­u­lated; the unique fra­grance of these irides­cent nod­ding beau­ties fills the air, while the colour is in­com­pa­ra­ble to any other flower. ‘Lis­ten to the nightin­gales, as they will now sing in the wood­lands for the next month or so,’ he says. ‘They and the woodcock, which are with us in the win­ter months, are ground-nest­ing birds, so we leave patches of bram­ble and other low-grow­ing veg­e­ta­tion for them. An over-tidy wood would risk them mov­ing else­where. The range of song that the nightin­gale can man­age is truly re­mark­able, most au­di­ble af­ter dusk when they have no com­pe­ti­tion from other birds, but cer­tainly to be heard dur­ing the day as well, once you get your ear at­tuned to their var­i­ous calls,’ says Pere­grine as he strolls, soak­ing up the at­mos­phere. It is a gar­den to be savoured, and opens through the year so you can catch the blue­bells or call in at other times to see the pro­gres­sion of the sea­sons.

Pere­grine’s Tips

● The an­swer lies in the soil – quite lit­er­ally, so look af­ter yours. On clay keep it well cov­ered with mulch so that it does not get wa­ter­logged in win­ter or bake solid in sum­mer.

● Prune roses in a mild spell in late Jan­uary – and get it done be­fore the spring rush is upon you. A lot of other flow­er­ing shrubs can also be at­tended to then.

● Don’t be tempted to sow seed too early in the sea­son.

● Don’t for­get the at­trac­tion of smell in the gar­den – all your senses need to be en­gaged.

● Don’t be too tidy in man­aged wood­land: think of the needs of your wildlife. ➤

The for­mal ar­eas con­trast with the nat­u­ral set­ting and make a glo­ri­ous land­scape to ex­plore, full of fresh greens, bright tulips, blos­som and a sea of vi­o­let-blue

Above: Vi­brant tulips are dot­ted among clumps of eu­phor­bias and phormi­ums in the hot­toned bor­der

Above right: A glossy-leafed

Pho­tinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ makes a shady canopy for a bench placed to take in the vista

Right: Sub­tle colours of fresh greens and golds in the curv­ing bor­der by the barn

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