This el­e­gant out­door space in Sus­sex uses colour­ful ev­er­greens, shapely seed­heads and strik­ing ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures to cre­ate a mag­i­cal scene in deep win­ter.

Frosted stems, icy seed­heads and colour­ful ev­er­greens cre­ate a mag­i­cal win­ter scene at gravetye Manor ho­tel and gar­dens in Sus­sex

Homes & Gardens - - CONTENTS - DE­SIGNER PRO­FILE After train­ing in hor­ti­cul­ture at RHS Gar­den Wis­ley and Per­shore Col­lege, Tom Cow­ard worked at gar­dens in sev­eral coun­tries. He worked with the late Christo­pher Lloyd at Great Dix­ter be­fore tak­ing on the role of head gar­dener at Gravetye.

The Lit­tle gar­den com­plete with its oak and sand­stone gar­den room is the per­fect spot, what­ever the sea­son.”

WHAT IS THE BACK­GROUND TO THE HIS­TORIC GAR­DENS AT GRAVETYE?

The gar­dens were orig­i­nally de­vel­oped in the 19th and early 20th cen­tury by Wil­liam Robin­son, who is widely re­garded as the fa­ther of the English cot­tage gar­den style. Born in Ire­land in 1838, he came to Bri­tain after the potato famine and made his for­tune from his books, the most in­flu­en­tial be­ing The Wild Gar­den and The English Flower

Gar­den, in which he pop­u­larised the idea of nat­u­ral­is­tic plant­ing. He bought Gravetye in 1885 and used it to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent plant­ing schemes. When I ar­rived in 2010, the gar­dens had been ne­glected for some years and the cur­rent own­ers, Jeremy and El­iz­a­beth Hosk­ing, asked me to re­store and ren­o­vate them, us­ing Robin­son’s archives, plans and pho­to­graphs as ref­er­ences.

TELL US ABOUT THE DE­SIGN OF THIS AREA OF THE GAR­DEN.

Gravetye cov­ers about 30 acres and this sunny, shel­tered area close to the house is known as the ‘Lit­tle Gar­den’. It is the small­est of the gar­dens and links the house with the rest of the grounds, which in­clude a meadow, kitchen gar­den, or­chard, lawns and a flower gar­den. As the build­ing is con­stantly in use, this gar­den has to look good all year, even in the depths of win­ter.

WHICH FEA­TURES AND PLANTS PRO­VIDE WIN­TER IN­TER­EST?

The paving and ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures, such as the old stone bench, wa­ter foun­tain and pots, com­bine to cre­ate beau­ti­ful shapes in win­ter. We also use ev­er­green plants, in­clud­ing Ja­panese pit­tospo­rum, sage and stink­ing iris (Iris foe­tidis­sima), to­gether with the dried stems and seed­heads of de­cid­u­ous flow­ers, which give the gar­den a mag­i­cal look when they’re dusted with frost. The Mex­i­can feather grass (Stipa tenuis­sima) and pheas­ant’s tail grass

(Ane­man­thele lesso­ni­ana) also add move­ment as their floaty stems wave in the wind, while the hips of Rosa glauca in­ject spots of colour.

HOW DO YOU MAIN­TAIN THE GAR­DEN AT THIS TIME OF YEAR?

In au­tumn, we cut back plants that flop and look un­tidy over win­ter, but leave those with tougher stems that will with­stand the cold weather, such as the car­doons and Ja­panese anemones, only cut­ting them down in spring when new shoots ap­pear. We also lift and di­vide con­gested peren­nial plants in au­tumn or early win­ter, when the ground is not too wet or icy, and pop bulbs or hardy bi­en­ni­als, such as for­get-me-nots and wallflow­ers, into the gaps we’ve cre­ated. These will then bloom in spring. Other jobs for this time of year in­clude plant­ing trees and prun­ing over­grown shrubs and trees.

HOW DO YOU KEEP PLANTS ALIVE DUR­ING LONG FREEZ­ING SPELLS?

The best idea is to choose com­pletely hardy plants that need no

pro­tec­tion at all, but if you like more ten­der plants, such as dahlias, dig them up in au­tumn and bring them into a cool, frost-free place, such as a garage. Al­ter­na­tively, you can leave dahlias in the ground over the win­ter and cover their roots with a thick layer of com­posted bark, home­made com­post or mush­room com­post, which should keep them snug. When it comes to larger ten­der plants, in­clud­ing tree ferns and ba­nanas, wrap them in a wig­wam of straw or loft in­su­la­tion to pro­tect them un­til the weather warms up in spring.

WHAT DOES THE GAR­DEN LOOK LIKE AT OTHER TIMES OF THE YEAR?

We plan for ev­ery sea­son, and the flow­ers and plants in this gar­den

have a pink, sil­ver and blue colour theme at other times of the year. Many of the plants here are also Wil­liam Robin­son’s favourites. Dur­ing the spring, the gar­den is dec­o­rated with pink ‘Men­ton’ tulips, for­get-me-nots, Clema­tis ar­mandii and mag­no­lia blos­som, plus the fo­liage from some of the peren­ni­als. These are fol­lowed in the sum­mer by the vi­o­let-blue hardy Gera­nium hi­malayense ‘Gravetye’, pinks (Dianthus), dahlias, Ja­panese anemones (Anemone x hy­brida), as well as Clema­tis ‘Gravetye Beauty’. I also like to add in a few an­nu­als, too, such as cos­mos, to­bacco plants (Ni­co­tiana mu­ta­bilis), along with blue browal­lia, which keep the colour go­ing through­out the sum­mer months.

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