Bank House

In the windswept flat­lands of the fens, Bank House pro­vides an oa­sis of colour. An­nie Green-Army­tage meets the own­ers

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

In the south-west corner of Nor­folk, an other­wise bleak, bumpy lane is trans­formed by a vi­brant road­side dis­play of flow­ers. Scar­let roses, pink gera­ni­ums and bright dai­sy­like os­teosper­mums grow in ex­trav­a­gance in front of a wooden picket fence and if your car pauses at the un­likely traf­fic light reg­u­lat­ing the ad­ja­cent drain cross­ing, you can peer back into the gar­den over a tum­ble of clema­tis to a solid red-brick cot­tage bordered by im­mac­u­late lawn and a pro­fu­sion of trees, shrubs and flow­ers.

This is Bank House, owned by Teresa Lovick and An­drew Stephens, who bought the house in 2011 and started gar­den­ing im­me­di­ately. “The house needed a lot of work so we didn’t ac­tu­ally move in un­til 2012,” ex­plains Teresa. “But we were do­ing the gar­den ev­ery week­end that year. Gar­dens take longer to es­tab­lish so why would you wait?”

When they be­gan there were tra­di­tional rose beds and a good deal of lawn, backed by a ley­landii hedge which pro­vides shel­ter from cold east­erly winds. The hedge sur­vived for prac­ti­cal pur­poses; the rose beds did not. “I like roses in a bor­der with other plants scram­bling around them so one of the first things we did was to trans­plant the old roses,” says Teresa. She is the ‘vi­sion­ary’ in the part­ner­ship, ac­cord­ing to An­drew, see­ing the big pic­ture in terms of the gar­den’s de­sign, and mas­ter­mind­ing the plant­ing. Over the years she has cre­ated many dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent ar­eas in the acre of gar­den, in­clud­ing or­chard, cut­ting gar­den, bog gar­den, and flower-filled cot­tage-style bor­ders at the back of their old barn.

This area was once lawn, ban­ished when Teresa sat out there one day and re­alised she was long­ing to be sur­rounded by flow­ers. This is char­ac­ter­is­tic of her process: “I sit in it (an area of gar­den) and I wait till it tells me what it wants. I wait and sit, and then I’ll have an epiphany; then I do it.’”

The gar­den’s de­vel­op­ment has also been shaped by the pre­vail­ing con­di­tions. The plot sits 12ft be­low sea level, which is why in the 1850s, after a ma­jor flood, the Mid­dle Level main drain run­ning past the end of the gar­den, was dug. Part of the gar­den con­tains a ditch pre-dat­ing this which still acts as a sump for the rest of the plot, and at cer­tain times of the year this area is very wet. One day Teresa re­alised she could turn this to her ad­van­tage.

“I’d al­ways wanted a bog gar­den,” she ex­plains. “It sud­denly dawned on me that this was the ideal spot. It has worked re­ally well – if I dig into the gar­den there, even in sum­mer there’s wa­ter at less than a spade’s depth.” The con­stant sup­ply of mois­ture al­lows her to grow a range of damp-lov­ing plants, in­clud­ing can­de­labra prim­u­las, Iris sibir­ica, hostas and shut­tle­cock ferns. Her favourite plant of the mo­ment here is As­tran­tia: “They’re beau­ti­ful and it’s the first time I’ve been able to grow those suc­cess­fully be­cause they’ve got damp feet.”

“I quite like jobs which have a de­gree of au­ton­omy but don’t re­quire much thought”

An­drew is more than happy to take a back seat with the plant­ing. Re­tired from a high-pow­ered po­si­tion as board sec­re­tary for the British Li­brary, he has en­joyed de­vel­op­ing very dif­fer­ent skills in the gar­den, tak­ing care of the lawns, hedges and edges: “I quite like jobs which have a de­gree of au­ton­omy but don’t re­quire much thought,” he says with a smile.

Nev­er­the­less, he has also dis­cov­ered new skill in car­pen­try, ren­o­vat­ing benches, build­ing an au­ric­ula the­atre, and cre­at­ing wooden obelisks from lengths of tim­ber. “The obelisks are prob­a­bly what I’m proud­est of,” he says. “They cost around £12.50 each, and they’re topped with a ten­nis ball. We had to peel the fluff off the ten­nis balls, but we just gave them to the dogs and they did it for us!”

The dogs are wel­come in the gar­den, other than when they sense the pres­ence of moles, which they did one mem­o­rable time, re­mem­bered by Teresa as ‘like open cast min­ing’. They are named Harry and Beau, names which be­come more mean­ing­ful when called to­gether.

Hu­mour is some­thing which per­vades the cou­ple’s easy con­ver­sa­tion. An­drew sees their gar­den as hav­ing a painterly in­flu­ence, say­ing: “Where our friend’s gar­den would be like pho­to­re­al­ism, with no room for dogs, Teresa is more of an im­pres­sion­ist.” Teresa re­sponds: “Monet had cataracts, ap­par­ently. I do put a lot of this gar­den down to the fact that I’m re­ally short­sighted and I don’t wear glasses.”

Short-sighted she may be, but her skill in com­bin­ing colour and tex­ture is ev­i­dent. Bold fo­liage of ten­der Melianthus ma­jor forms a coun­ter­point to old-fash­ioned roses, clema­tis soften hard edges, scram­bling up trel­lis and over fences, pots of grace­ful Ja­panese maple (Acer pal­ma­tum cv.s) lighten shady cor­ners.

Pink and pur­ple is a favourite theme, with bright, spiky irises and grace­ful pale pe­onies backed by an ex­u­ber­ant mix of sweet wil­liams (Dianthus bar­ba­tus), pinks (Dianthus cvs) and aqui­le­gias (A. vul­garis). Many plants are grown from seed in her two small green­houses – the packet count was at its high­est last year at around 120.

How much time do they spend in their gar­den? They laugh. “How much time don’t we spend in the gar­den?” says Teresa. An­drew agrees. “We do have days out – we went to Lon­don re­cently to see an ex­hi­bi­tion, and it was all right… but we just wanted to get back.” A former teacher, Teresa val­ues the gar­den as a space away from peo­ple. “I sit out here and lis­ten to the birds and the in­sects and the cats and dogs do­ing their thing, or I poo­tle away, with my own thoughts. It’s just very calm­ing.”

Bank House is open for the Na­tional Gar­den Scheme on Sun­day 26 May and Sun­day 25 Au­gust 2019. Teresa and An­drew are also tak­ing pri­vate group book­ings May - July; con­tact tere­sao­[email protected] or andys­tephen­[email protected] for more in­for­ma­tion.

“I sit in an area of gar­den and I wait till it tells me what it wants. I wait and sit, and then I’ll have an epiphany; then I do it”

ABOVE:Paving and cob­bles through mixed bor­ders be­hind the stable build­ing. Plants in­clude Fuch­sia mag­el­lan­ica, sweet wil­liams, Stachys byzantina, bearded irises, Euphor­bia chara­cias subsp. wulfenii, hebes, scabi­ous and roses

LEFT: Or­na­men­tal bird-boxes in­clud­ing ‘Gothic’ and ‘swiss chalet’ on one of the weath­ered brick walls. Cam­pan­ula poscharsky­ana scram­bles along the top of the wall

An­drew Stephens and Teresa Lovick par­o­dy­ing ‘Amer­i­can Gothic’ by Grant Wood in front of the gable end of the ‘Bat Cave’ (swal­lows nest in here and bats of­ten roost here)

ABOVE: Road­side bor­der fea­tur­ing Rosa ‘Strom­boli’, Gera­nium maderense, Phlomis ital­ica and os­teosper­mum BE­LOW: One end of the court­yard fea­tur­ing Ja­panese maples (Acer pal­ma­tum sp.) in pots, in the shade of a weath­ered brick wall, and an old gar­den roller

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