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

Homes & Gardens - - CONTENTS - Words Jodie Jones Pho­tographs Zara napier

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.

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