Turning an established garden created by her mother-in-law into one that reflects her own style and taste was a challenge that this novice gardener shouldered with a thoughtful sensitivity and style
Reworking an already-impressive garden was a brave decision for this owner given her lack of horticultural experience.
Alice Gray had been living in her house in rural Lincolnshire for ten years when she woke up one day and realised that the garden was all very green. ‘My husband grew up here, and his mother was a keen gardener who put in some excellent features, so it always looked fine,’ she says. ‘For many years, I was much too busy with work and family to do anything more than try to keep on top of it. Once the children got older, however, and I cut down my work hours, I started to think about what I really wanted from the garden.’
The first item on Alice’s wish list was colour, but with little gardening experience, it was hard to know where to start. ‘The very first things I planted were daffodils, which were a great success,’ she says. ‘Then I began leafing through catalogues and getting carried away with all the lovely pictures. It’s fair to say I made my share of mistakes; apart from anything else, I spent a lot on peonies that all died, but I’ve learnt as I have gone along. I’ll try something and if it doesn’t work I will move it.’
It helped that her mother-in-law had already laid down a strong design framework for the site. ‘That meant that I could concentrate on one section at a time, putting in the sort of prairie-style planting that I love,’ says Alice. With large borders to fill, she followed the advice of garden designer Nikki Applewhite and planted in generous groups of ten or 12. ‘It really helps to give the borders impact. I also like to repeat key plant groups, so they flow
from one bed into the next.’ Stipa gigantea is a signature plant that pops up around the garden. ‘I love the airy way it catches the light and gives the garden movement, especially alongside solid yew and box topiary forms.’
Alice favours a gentle palette of pinks, purples and blues, and is particularly fond of the soft violet-blue flowers of the Russian sage, perovskia, and the vivid red flower spikes of Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’. Her favourite rose is Rosa Royal Jubilee, which, on her generously manured soil, flowers prolifically right through to autumn. ‘I do know what I like, and what I don’t like, which can be equally helpful,’ she says.
At first, Alice concentrated on adding to what was already in the garden. She dug out new borders, planted a stilt hedge of pleached ‘Red Sentinel’ crab apples and created a cutting garden. Then, gradually, as her confidence and knowledge increased, she began to take out some of the inherited plants as well. ‘I found that it was a hard thing to do, initially,’ she says. ‘But some of the old shrubs were just far too big and there was an enormous hedge that spanned the entire width of the garden blocking any view out over the surrounding fields. I actually broke my foot digging that out, but it totally transformed the garden and gave me the confidence to keep on making improvements, one step at a time.’
TOP An airy mass of perovskia, Verbena bonariensis, asters and Stipa gigantea is visually anchored by a neatly clipped pyramid of yew. ABOVE Alice’s husband Nigel is responsible for cutting the box hedges of the parterre, which he does with commendable precision.
TOP Sedums are a feature of the late-summer garden, including the rich bronze and plum tones ofHylotelephium ‘Matrona’.ABOVE Golden plumes of Stipagigantea dance in the sunlight.