The white stuff

Win­ters in this part of the coun­try are usu­ally mild, so when this rec­tory gar­den is cov­ered in a snowy blan­ket its beauty can be ap­pre­ci­ated in a whole new sparkling light

Homes & Gardens - - PROMOTIONAL FEATURE - Words Bar­bara Se­gall Pho­to­graphs Zara Napier

When Julie and Mark Co­ley be­gan work on their gar­den at The Old Rec­tory on the Suf­folk/cam­bridge bor­der in 1972 there was noth­ing on the plot ex­cept a few in­her­ited yew trees. ‘You could see right across the fields and the val­ley to the south­east,’ says Julie. ‘We had two acres of our own and a much larger bor­rowed land­scape that in­cluded graz­ing sheep,’ she says.

The cou­ple cre­ated borders and marked out the ar­eas of the gar­den bit by bit. For Mark, dur­ing his City work­ing life, the gar­den was a week­end haven to which he could re­treat, but also in­volved work lay­ing paths, set­ting a York­stone ter­race and de­vel­op­ing the lay­out of the gar­den with Julie. ‘Now when I walk round the gar­den, not­ing changes and see­ing what is in bloom or thriv­ing,’ he says, ‘I re­flect that we have put in nearly ev­ery plant and de­signed and cre­ated all the struc­tures.’

From the ter­race there is a sight line that takes your eyes through the gap be­tween the curved arms of two deep semi-cir­cu­lar borders, planted with a com­bi­na­tion of shrubs, trees, peren­ni­als and an­nu­als that pro­vide colour and fra­grance through the year, to the orig­i­nal view across the fields. Field hedges and trees on neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties have grown up and the view has changed, but it is just as tran­quil.

Julie likes win­ter in the gar­den as it gives her the chance to think rather than al­ways be busy do­ing things. ‘Hav­ing a per­sis­tent blan­ket of snow over a long pe­riod of time is fairly rare here,’ she says. ‘I love the way the coun­try­side goes quiet and any sounds that birds, an­i­mals or peo­ple make have a dif­fer­ent ring to them. Also, you can see the tracks that wild crea­tures make, giv­ing clues as to what else you might be shar­ing your gar­den with.’

Bulbs fea­ture greatly with drifts of snow­drops and nar­cissi send­ing up their shoots through the snow, giv­ing a prom­ise of spring. In the wood­land gar­den that leads away from the house, helle­bores and epimedi­ums are among the ground-level plants that will bloom once the snow has melted, while shrubs such as flow­er­ing cur­rant and lilac pre­pare to burst into colour as the sea­sons change.

‘For me, gar­den­ing is a con­stant round of do­ing, stand­ing back, look­ing and mak­ing lists of things I’d like to change!’ says Julie. ‘I do man­age to make many of the changes, but if I could start again, know­ing what I do now, I would make the gar­den more struc­tured and for­mal.’

Plant­ing a se­ries of shaped box balls, pyra­mid yews and adding a cir­cu­lar bed are re­cent ex­am­ples of Julie’s ‘stand­ing back and look­ing’ pol­icy. Not only do they put on a good show in the snow, they have worked well to break up the sweep of the borders and soften the im­pact of the large lawn.

A friend, gar­den de­signer Denny Swete, sug­gested that Julie might plant a pair of spec­i­men birches at the end of the semi-cir­cu­lar borders. Now in win­ter, when their leaves have fallen and their white stems shine out, the trees hold your at­ten­tion as they frame the view across the val­ley.

For most of their time at The Old Rec­tory, Julie and Mark have tended their two acres at their own pace and in an en­er­getic, hands-on man­ner. For the past 15 years they have had one-day-a-week as­sis­tance from hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Karen de Rosa, and more re­cently ad­di­tional help has been brought in to mow and cut hedges.

Mark sug­gests that his gar­den con­tri­bu­tion is in the struc­tures, while Julie’s strength is her amaz­ing eye for plant­ing com­bi­na­tions. ‘We love the fact that we have such a long as­so­ci­a­tion with this gar­den – it holds so many plants that we have cho­sen or were given by friends and fam­ily. It is full of a life­time’s me­mories.’

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