Garden of the Week
Creating this peaceful Sussex patch was a solace and distraction for a former air hostess whose husband died shortly after they moved in
When Alice Kenyon and her husband Graham arrived at their garden on the Sussex coast 15 years ago, the planting was tired and overgrown. Yet, although it was smaller than their previous plot, it was packed with potential and the duo immediately started making plans for the future.
“We were bitten by the gardening bug very early on,” says Alice, a former air hostess. “My grandfather was a very good gardener so I grew up around lovely gardens, and for Graham and me it was a kindred spirit thing.”
They designed the garden together, scribbling notes on scraps of paper and constructing a wish-list of plants but, sadly, Graham was not to see the results. Soon after they moved he died and Alice was left to carry the torch alone.
“It had once been a very lovely garden, but a lot of the plants were worse-for-wear or had grown into each other,” she says. “We managed to finish the hard landscaping before he died, and soon afterwards I was asked if I would open to raise funds for the hospice, so I had to concentrate on getting it all underway.”
The garden was a solace and a distraction, and gradually it took on a new lease of life, with fresh plants and ideas. “The plants that came with us did well, considering that we were by the sea. It’s amazing how far the salt spray goes inland!
“It did feel destructive taking things out, but some things just had to go, such as two huge conifers in the middle of the site, which sucked up
all the goodness and blocked out most of the light.”
The sloping garden is blessed with a congenial microclimate and her feeding regime is simple. “I get a load of manure in every year, and that’s about it. I make sure I use a good quality potting compost and feed everything
that needs it with Tomorite.”
A lawn is set between generous borders and there are steps down into the new gravel garden. As the garden has matured, shrubby nooks and pleasing tableaux have emerged. The borders are jam-packed with plants, partly to keep the weeds under control and partly because she can never resist a lovely new specimen.
“Friends tell me that I cram too much in, but I’m tempted far too easily! I love all plants, but I’m trying to do more repetition.
“I’m aware of my limitations, so I plan for low maintenance and have more shrubs and trees now. There’s a mixed herbaceous and shrub border next to a lovely old wall, and I have lots and lots of bulbs, hellebores and hostas.
“Structure is very important,” she continues. “I like to have contrasting shapes and textures, especially in winter. Rounded topiary counterpointing spikey leaves, lots of subtle colours and different shades of green.”
The result is a rich and detailed tapestry, towering palm trees, a magnificent Acer griseum and her favourite,
Sorbus thibetica ‘John Mitchell’, liberally underplanted with early bulbs such as snowdrops, Iris reticulata, aconites and erythroniums.
And, as a space, it’s habitable and well used. Her grandchildren scramble around ‘the forest’, as they call it, and Alice also loves to entertain. “There are lots of sunny seating areas, for every time of day, and I can’t think of anything nicer than people sitting and enjoying the garden,” she says.
Gardener: Alice Kenyon Location: Winchelsea, East Sussex Size: Third of an acre Soil: Slight clay and slightly alkaline Opening for: www.ngs.org.uk; www.stmichaelshospice.com. Open: April 20, 2019.
The palm trees in the gravel garden are a dramatic feature. One started life as a pot plant, but grew and grew until it needed planting out!
This beautiful fern and rose-filled border complements a statuesque Acer griseum, which has been in the garden as long as anyone can remember
Clematis, cotinus and climbing roses bring up the rear in the left border, while dahlias, cosmos, senecio ‘Angel Wings’, feathery ferns and spiraea show off in front
Main picture: A sumptuous lawn is surrounded with stately trees and choice planting. Below: sorbus ‘John Mitchell’ is one of Alice’s favourite trees
Under the rustic pergola is one of Alice’s many comfortable seating areas