How Grad­u­ate Gar­den­ers went to work on the blank can­vas of a coun­try house gar­den

An am­bi­tious project has turned an empty field into a beau­ti­ful Cotswold gar­den

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - WORDS AND PIC­TURE: Many Brad­shaw

It takes a cu­ri­ous mix of the vi­sion­ary and the purely prac­ti­cal to make a gar­den that will work long-term. Skimp on the de­tail and the re­sult may have in­stant im­pact but lit­tle more. Get the frame­work and the plan­ning right and the gar­den will grow into its space in a sat­is­fy­ing way.

A huge amount of vi­sion was needed when Bis­ley-based Grad­u­ate Gar­den­ers were called in to cre­ate the gar­den at a coun­try house near More­ton-in-marsh.

Un­like many of their projects where ex­ist­ing fea­tures have to be worked into a new de­sign, they were pre­sented with a com­pletely empty space where even the orig­i­nal house had been de­mol­ished to make way for a new build.

It was, de­signer Mark Draper re­calls, a case of where do you start?

“It’s try­ing to have that fore­sight be­cause you’re de­sign­ing with noth­ing here. Lit­er­ally it was a blank can­vas. Once ev­ery­thing was de­mol­ished there was just a field.”

The ad­van­tage was there were no re­straints be­yond the clients’ wishes and bud­get. The down­side was there was noth­ing ex­ist­ing to an­chor the gar­den.

“You’ve got to re­ally try to project the vi­sion and, from the clients’ point of view, trust that it will look like this in a few years to come,” he says, look­ing around the gar­den, which at six years old is now start­ing to bulk up.

Like any ex­pe­ri­enced de­signer, Mark be­gan with the prac­ti­cal­i­ties: the need for a drive­way, park­ing, a util­ity area, and a buf­fer to shield the gar­den from a nearby pub­lic foot­path, and fea­tures the own­ers wanted, such as a swim­ming pool and kitchen gar­den.

With a ‘tick list’ drawn up, he then set about de­sign­ing some­thing that tied in with the ru­ral set­ting, work­ing closely with the clients about the things they liked.

The aim was to cre­ate some­thing that sat nat­u­rally in the Cotswold coun­try­side and in par­tic­u­lar with the meadow that fills the outer reaches of the 8.5-acre site.

“I wanted to de­sign a gar­den that doesn’t look de­signed,” ex­plains Mark. “It’s try­ing to cre­ate a space that just flows and doesn’t look too forced.”

This has been achieved by keep­ing the plant­ing sim­ple with prairie-style rather than for­mal herba­ceous bor­ders and soft colours that mimic the land­scape be­yond.

Mean­while, the var­i­ous parts are locked to­gether with the rep­e­ti­tion of yew, box and trees such as Pyrus calleryana ‘Chan­ti­cleer’.

These key plant­ing el­e­ments form the back­bone of the first part of the gar­den at the front of the house. The style is un­der­stated with stepped yew

and box hedges form­ing an outer bound­ary around a sim­ple com­bi­na­tion of gravel drive, grass, pyrus and three spec­i­men Acer pal­ma­tum.

The green theme is con­tin­ued with the ad­di­tion of hints of yel­low from heme­ro­cal­lis and astilbe in bor­ders that soften the Cotswold stone of the house.

It’s a sim­ple de­sign that be­lies the work that went into achiev­ing it. Orig­i­nally the gar­den sloped from one end to the other and a mas­sive earth-mov­ing op­er­a­tion was mounted to cre­ate level ground around the house.

“It’s just sit­ting the house in the gar­den rather than just perch­ing on a slope,” says Mark.

The slope be­hind the house was then sculpted so that it grad­u­ally moves down into the meadow and around 4,000 tonnes of top­soil were brought in for the bor­ders.

“We started dig­ging and it was rub­bishy clay soil. You couldn’t do a thing with it.”

The change in lev­els – the ser­vice drive is much higher than the area at the front of the house – is clev­erly hid­den by the stepped hedges which cover up a re­tain­ing wall. Mean­while, giv­ing the ser­vice drive a metal edge means the gravel can go right up to the hedge fur­ther dis­guis­ing the me­chan­ics of the de­sign.

It’s such de­tails that lift a gar­den from the good to the out­stand­ing. Around the Kitchen Gar­den, the walls are Cotswold stone on the out­side to re­flect the house and other gar­den walls but they have been faced in­side with brick, which is bet­ter as a back­drop for the veg­eta­bles. An added de­tail is the round­ing of the cor­ners, giv­ing what Mark de­scribes as a “be­spoke” feel.

Fruit and veg­eta­bles are grown in wooden raised beds and a beau­ti­ful old-style green­house

with a cen­tral sun­dial adding in­ter­est to the lay­out and ‘ar­row slit’ win­dows in one wall giv­ing glimpses of the gar­den be­yond.

The cool mood of the front gar­den is con­tin­ued around the main seat­ing area at the back of the house. Here, Al­chemilla mol­lis, hostas and white as­tran­tia edge a large York stone ter­race.

Nine para­sol horn­beam have been planted to cre­ate a liv­ing per­gola over the ta­ble, an idea that is par­tic­u­larly use­ful on what can be a windy site where um­brel­las could be more trou­ble­some.

It was to cre­ate some shel­ter that this area was en­closed by yew hedges. Now that the rest of the plant­ing is ma­tur­ing, these have been re­duced in height to al­low bet­ter views out.

A neat touch is what at first looks like just an­other sec­tion of yew hedge. In fact, it’s a way of screen­ing the bar­be­cue from sight, a trick that is re­peated in the swim­ming pool gar­den.

Orig­i­nally, a wa­ter fea­ture was planned to run along­side the main ter­race but it of­fers views over the main bor­ders that could not be wasted and so is now a small seat­ing area with ame­lanchier adding struc­ture and height.

It’s in these bor­ders that the gar­den’s main colour is found with heme­ro­cal­lis, he­le­nium, echinops and Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis weav­ing shades of blue, lemon, mauve and cop­pery red through peren­nial grasses. These, along with box balls and hedg­ing, give the scheme struc­ture when the perennials die down.

Be­yond is a cherry walk with long grass, an outer ring of wild flow­ers and then the nat­u­ral grasses of the meadow, which has mown paths to draw the eye out.

It’s a grad­ual pro­gres­sion from the gar­dened to the nat­u­ral that hap­pens slowly with enough points of ref­er­ence – the use of grasses, the peren­nial colours pick­ing up those of the wild flow­ers – to make it feel nat­u­ral rather than con­trived.

“It’s try­ing to cre­ate a gar­den with no bound­aries re­ally, that just bleeds out,” ex­plains Mark.

An­other seat­ing area, in­spired by York­shire sheep folds, is set into the meadow. Shel­tered by a Cotswold stone wall, this cir­cu­lar sunken area has a can­tilevered seat around the cen­tral fire pit, while light­ing and speak­ers make it per­fect for evening gath­er­ings.

“The idea was to cre­ate some­thing to draw you out from the house. When you’re down in there, you re­ally do feel that you’re sat in the land­scape.”

A group of sil­ver birch may ad­dress an im­me­di­ate need –

‘It was a blank can­vas. Once ev­ery­thing was de­mol­ished there was just a field’

screen­ing an ugly py­lon – but plant­ing a num­ber of oaks and a cut-leaf beech in the meadow is very much part of the fu­ture vi­sion.

De­signed to coun­ter­bal­ance the few orig­i­nal ma­ture trees on the op­pos­ing bound­ary, they will be­come an im­pos­ing pres­ence.

“These will be park­land type trees even­tu­ally, cre­at­ing that scale and struc­ture that we’re look­ing for 50 years down the line.”

Aside from those few trees, the only other orig­i­nal fea­ture was a large, nat­u­ral clay-lined pond. This has been kept but with the ad­di­tion of some steps down to it and a small deck.

It plays an im­por­tant part in an as­pect of the gar­den that is not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous: a com­plex drainage sys­tem that was vi­tal on a wet, clay site, and the in­stal­la­tion of an un­der­ground 20,000L rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing tank. This is used in a net­work of ir­ri­ga­tion pipes for all the beds with any ex­cess drain­ing into the pond. Else­where, a square of paving in the gravel park­ing area is an­gled to­wards a cen­tral drain en­sur­ing that wa­ter used for wash­ing cars can also be re­cy­cled.

Other prac­ti­cal­i­ties that are eas­ily missed are cre­at­ing a large turn­ing cir­cle be­fore the main gates so that let­ters and parcels can be dropped off with­out need­ing to ne­go­ti­ate the elec­tric gates. Even a com­post­ing area was built into the orig­i­nal de­sign and the ser­vice drive al­lows ac­cess to that and the meadow for its an­nual late Au­gust cut.

It’s in­fra­struc­ture like this that en­sures the gar­den will con­tinue to work long-term. Sen­si­bly, the own­ers brought the award­win­ning Grad­u­ate Gar­den­ers in from the very start of the project and the firm was able to work with the ar­chi­tect and builders so that the house and gar­den were de­signed to­gether.

The gar­den was five months in the plan­ning and took an­other year to cre­ate with the land­scape team still re­turn­ing pe­ri­od­i­cally to tweak some­thing. It was, says Mark, a rare op­por­tu­nity.

“For a de­signer, they don’t come along like this very of­ten. To have the scale of it and a client that was re­ally en­gaged, it was just fan­tas­tic. As a project, it was one of my favourites.”

ABOVE: Para­sol horn­beam cre­ate green shade for the ta­ble

LEFT: Views over the meadow are an es­sen­tial part of the de­sign

ABOVE: A seat­ing area looks over the peren­nial bor­ders ABOVE RIGHT: The outer wall of the Kitchen Gar­den is soft­ened by plant­ingRIGHT: He­le­nium is one of the fea­tures of late sum­mer in the peren­nial bor­ders

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