THE SECRET GARDENS
Award-winning outdoor space
Step into Julie Alviti’s flower-filled garden, and you’ll be taken by surprise. Nestled behind the back hedge is a series of smaller, secret green spaces – hidden from view and each with its own unexpected twist. It’s taken Julie 37 years to create her havens.
‘Although my garden is big, I love small ones, so I divided the plot into a series of little, secret rooms that can’t be seen from the house,’ says Julie, 62, of her three-quarter acre garden in the village of Ashford Carbonell, Shropshire.
‘The idea was to have a garden you can’t see all at once, and when you walk through it, you go round a corner and discover unexpected features, or an inviting seating area,’ she adds. ‘I love the idea of various zones with different planting schemes – I can grow such a wide range of plants.’
Her creativity really impressed the judges of House Beautiful’s recent Glorious Gardens competition, who voted her the winner of the Large Gardens category for plots of more than 350 square metres. Included in Julie’s stunning plot is a gravel courtyard with a gazebo, a potager and greenhouse, a stream and pond, a cutting garden and parterre, a potting shed and a cottage garden.
She and husband Frank, also 62, moved to their 500-year-old, five-bedroom farmhouse and farm in 1981, having decided it was the ideal location to launch their agricultural machinery business. At that time the plot was largely laid to lawn, with two small topiary yews, a silver birch and apple trees. Julie began by planting a black walnut and a cherry tree to cast shade for their three children. ‘The garden became their playground,’ she says.
During the early years, Julie widened the borders to make space for roses, hydrangeas, coneflowers, astrantias, cosmos, verbascums and clematis. A wooden pergola was built beside the house to support some of her 50-strong collection of clematis. ‘I love clematis,’ she says. ‘They form stunning displays when they climb all over a structure.’ She also grows climbing roses, and has chosen the orange rose ‘Warm Welcome’, which
flowers in June and September, for around her front door. ‘It’s the perfect welcome into the house.’
The garden evolved over time. ‘Each year, I created a new area, but there was never a masterplan.’ She maps any new layouts onto the ground using pegs and string for straight lines, or hosepipe for curves. Frank helped her landscape the terrace with pieces of paving, bricks and pebbles interspersed with decorative circles.
Julie’s son Kevin is a carpenter and he helped out by building raised vegetable beds in a potager tucked away behind a blackberry-covered brick wall, which today spill over with herbs, fruit and vegetables. The nearby greenhouse is full of annuals. ‘It’s busy in spring, when there are lots of seedlings to transplant out. I love it in there, tucked behind the wall where no one can see me,’ she says. Kevin also made her an outdoor potting bench as a Christmas present.
A pond overlooked by a metal arbour takes pride of place in Julie’s gravel courtyard. ‘When making a new garden area, I always like to add seating,’ she says.
‘In spring, the border is carpeted with hyacinths.’ Her most ambitious project was designing a man-made stream and lily pond in the garden’s furthest corner. On each bank are borders that start flowering in spring with candelabra primulas, just as the moisture-loving, large-leaved plants emerge. There’s even a wooden bridge built by younger son, David, a tree surgeon.
Recently, she created a cutting garden. ‘I laid a gravel path between the beds, and worked out which plants would go best,’ she says. ‘I’ve planted sweet peas, zinnias, dahlias, cosmos and clary sage. I love picking flowers and giving them away.’
Today, there are five separate green spaces here, each with its own distinctive feel. ‘This garden has been my life for 37 years,’ says Julie. ‘Whatever the season, and wherever I stand, it never fails to thrill.’ Julie wins £2,500 of vouchers to spend at Forest Garden, the UK’s leading producer of sheds, summerhouses, garden structures and fencing panels. Runner-up in this category was Heidi Ingram from Edinburgh, who won £700 of Forest Garden vouchers. See next month’s issue for the winners of the Small and Courtyard Garden categories.
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