Homes & Gardens


Topiary and evergreens chosen for their striking shapes make this Somerset garden stunning


At first glance, Yews Farm appears to be a quintessen­tial English garden. Grass paths, framed by clipped box and espaliered apples, converge beneath an old pear tree. But the detail is created less convention­ally by architectu­ral planting rather than flower colour. ‘I look at leaf performanc­e first,’ says Louise Dowding. ‘A good flower is just a bonus.’

Louise and her husband, Fergus, moved to Martock in 1996. Both had worked in antiques in London, but Somerset-born Fergus wanted to return to his roots. After two years searching, they found their ideal home in Yews Farm. The cobb farmhouse, with timbers dating from the late 13th century, was refronted with local Ham stone in about 1630. ‘It’s in the centre of a market town,’ explains Louise, ‘but open to the surroundin­g countrysid­e at the back. A perfect combinatio­n.’

The square, three-quarter acre garden is enclosed within old stone walls, keeping it deer, badger and rabbit-free. Louise, who studied sculpture, worked briefly for eminent garden designer Penelope Hobhouse: Penny’s influence can be seen in the garden’s strong lines and sculptural planting choice. Louise removed everything except the characterf­ul pear, a fig tree and a thuja against the wall and created a very green garden to complement the honey-coloured house. ‘I wanted to make the flow of the garden more logical – everything has a reason for being where it is.’

The garden’s design has been trial and error. Initially, Louise planted fashionabl­e grasses, but finding them dead and dull in winter, she burned them after a few years, keeping only Calamagros­tis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Deschampsi­a cespitosa ‘Goldtau’. Inspired by the aged, irregular topiary at Levens Hall and Packwood House, Louise planted box through the garden, clipped into spirals, mitres, segmented shapes and bumpy lines of hedging. These give winter structure, as do mopheads and roundels of thuja, bay, and hawthorn. Within this strong pattern, Louise favours plants with good seedheads, hips and berries to ensure a long season of interest.

Planted near the house are spiky-leafed papyrus (Cyperus alternifol­ius), red orache (Atriplex hortensis) and black elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’), with splashes of late-summer colour from a bright red dahlia (‘Bishop’s Children’) and deep blue Salvia ‘Amistad’. The sitting terrace by the conservato­ry, framed by three crataegus trees, is the most intensivel­y planted and colourful area. Around it are pots of aeoniums, pelargoniu­ms, astelia and a tender white euphorbia, with sedums, Rosa rubrifolia, the South African bulb Tulbaghia violacea and Ceratostig­ma willmottia­num in surroundin­g beds.

Further from the house, the self-seeded gravel garden is home to Onopordum acanthium, Miss Willmott’s ghost (Eryngium giganteum), wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) and biennial umbellifer Ligusticum lucidum. Louise likes its sturdiness, erect habit, and ability to survive in ‘really shocking conditions’.

The ornamental garden is divided by yew and beech hedging from a cutting garden, full of dahlias, including favourites such as cherry-red ‘Apache’ and the self-supporting ‘Babylon Bronze’. Beyond is Fergus’ preserve, six acres of orchard. Each year, Fergus makes hundreds of litres of cider, apple juice and vinegar, as well as growing vegetables for the Dowdings and their two university-aged daughters, and raising pigs and hens. ‘We are more or less self-sufficient,’ says Louise, ‘and we swap grazing on one of our fields for beef.’

Yews Farm, East Street, Martock, Somerset TA12 6NF (01935 822202;; @dowdinglou­ise) will be open for the National Garden Scheme by arrangemen­t from May to August 2021 for groups of 20+. There will be an NGS public open day in June (date to be confirmed: see for details).


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