Beauty cap­tured in frames of green

Amid the open fields of the Nor­folk coun­try­side, Sil­ver­stone Farm gar­den has an el­e­gant sim­plic­ity and sense of calm

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy: An­nie Green-Army­tage

In the cool blue light of a win­ter’s dawn, the sin­gle-track road to Sil­ver­stone Farm winds through a patch­work of pas­ture­land touched lightly by frost. This is the heart of the Nor­folk coun­try­side, home to fam­ily-run farms and vast arable es­tates. Gen­tly un­du­lat­ing ex­panses of wide-open field and farm­land al­ter­nate with stands of ma­ture wood­land. Tucked into the south-eastern cor­ner of one of th­ese is the home of gar­den de­signer and his­to­rian, Ge­orge Carter. Al­though it sits in an ex­pan­sive un­bri­dled land­scape, the gar­den it­self is struc­tured and for­mal, of­fer­ing in­ter­nal views. Laid out in a grid pat­tern, it is bound by straight lines and sym­me­try, its sim­plic­ity cre­at­ing a sense of peace. How­ever, there are some spots of con­trast, with in­for­mal plant­ing in the heavy clay soil to break up the more the­atri­cal de­sign. Ge­orge moved to the farm in North Elmham, near Dere­ham, in 1990. “The house looked like it had dropped from the sky onto an open space,” he says. He re­mem­bers the process for the two acre plot, in­clud­ing the build­ings, as rel­a­tively clear-cut. “I was see­ing it with fresh eyes,” he says, and the bones of the struc­ture were more or less com­plete be­fore he moved in. Al­though the farm, which was built in the 1830s, is soli­tary, the vis­tas are con­trolled to stay more or less within the bounds of the gar­den. “Dutch gar­dens have a sim­i­lar to­pog­ra­phy,” says Ge­orge. “They’re flat­tish, with not many views, and pretty in­ward-look­ing. I like that. And, sim­i­larly to this plot, they are mod­est-sized gar­dens for the Baroque style; not end­lessly rolled out.”

Gar­den of sur­prises

A se­ries of al­lées and path­ways ra­di­ate out in straight lines from the two main struc­tures: the house and a com­plex of three barns. Th­ese walk­ways are bounded by clipped hedges and fo­cal plants in a mix of species which re­main in har­mony with the 17th cen­tury aes­thetic. ‘‘I wanted to use the sort of plant palette that might have been around then, al­though I have broad­ened it a bit,” he ex­plains. “It’s very sim­ple plant­ing; noth­ing too ex­otic. There is na­tive yew, box, privet and holly, and horn­beam, oak and lime, plus some Mediter­ranean ever­greens.”

The ef­fect of the grid of en­closed path­ways is at once re­veal­ing and con­ceal­ing. Vis­tas open up in un­ex­pected places, while the hedg­ing cre­ates vary­ing de­grees of enigma de­pend­ing on the sea­son, al­low­ing the vis­i­tor to dis­cover dif­fer­ent gar­den spa­ces one by one. At the back of the house, where the main en­trance is, the sea of gravel which had ac­com­mo­dated farm ma­chin­ery has been trans­formed into a herb gar­den edged with box and punc­tu­ated by clipped ever­greens. Flank­ing the herbs are a pair of el­e­gant sheds re­sem­bling clas­si­cal pavil­ions. An­other sim­i­lar build­ing sits to one side, reached by a path­way run­ning on an axis across the gar­den. This is the out­side toi­let, grandly named the Temple of Con­ve­nience, en­closed in what at first glance looks like rus­ti­cated stonework. On closer in­spec­tion, it is re­vealed to be ma­rine ply­wood and is an il­lus­tra­tion not only of Ge­orge’s play­ful sense of hu­mour but also his skill as a mas­ter of il­lu­sion. Through­out the gar­den, he has in­ge­niously fash­ioned a va­ri­ety of struc­tures from sim­ple ma­te­ri­als. At the front of the house, a ter­race and sim­ple grass parterre, edged in gravel and an­chored by painted balls, are laid out in el­e­gant pro­por­tion to the build­ing. An ar­row-sharp vista shoots down from the house through a horn­beam hedge and broad ex­panse of lawn to a sim­ple but im­pos­ing flint obelisk at the end of the gar­den. “That’s an­other thing about 17th cen­tury gar­dens,” he says. “They’re very of­ten min­i­mal. They rely on scale for their ef­fect.” At the far end, bear­ing left, a wood­land gar­den pro­vides a foil to the for­mal­ity, with a nat­u­ral­is­tic plant­ing of shrubs and trees. Cross­ing this and re­turn­ing to­wards the house, the early sun­light shafts across the frosty or­chard, an in­trigu­ing mix of for­mal clipped yew and box, a flint grotto and rough grass­land blur­ring into wood­land. This jux­ta­po­si­tion of wild and for­mal is an im­por­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic of the gar­den at Sil­ver­stone Farm, sur­rounded as it is by the ru­ral land­scape. “You need some kind of coun­ter­point to for­mal­ity,” main­tains Ge­orge. “I think the best for­mal gar­dens all have that as­so­ci­a­tion with some kind of wilder­ness at some point.”

Sense of theatre

Mov­ing up the gar­den, he has cre­ated a green ‘theatre’, with a grassy au­di­to­rium and a ‘stage’ com­pris­ing five arches. Th­ese con­tain sim­ple urns on stone plinths, com­plete with box ball foot­lights in front. The il­lu­sion is sub­tle, evok­ing a sense of

both grandeur and play­ful­ness, the ex­panse of frost-rimed grass spread­ing out be­fore the pre­cise nar­row niches con­tain­ing the urns and the cush­ions of box. Turn­ing back to­wards the build­ings, the in­for­mal pond to the right, orig­i­nally made to swell wooden cart­wheels, and its splen­did stone duck-house temple in the wa­ter, is left be­hind. An­other walk­way opens up to the right, draw­ing the eye to the far end with an­other care­fully placed stone obelisk. Along this broad path are ranged a se­ries of old barns, each with their own gar­den, which are shel­tered and more or less south-fac­ing. Each has its own sim­ple charm: rec­tan­gles of grass and gravel are adorned with painted pots con­tain­ing clipped ever­greens, in­ter­spersed with the oc­ca­sional urn. Sun-lov­ing plants thrive here, with the in­ter­mit­tent ad­di­tion of sil­ver fo­liage in the form of he­lichry­sum and ger­man­der, Teu­crium fru­ti­cans, lift­ing the pre­dom­i­nantly green rose­mary, bay and Phillyrea lat­i­fo­lia. There are even ma­ture orange trees, al­though th­ese are planted in pots. Un­like the sum­mer, there is no scent at this time of year. Th­ese have been with Ge­orge since 1972 and are over­win­tered in one of the barns. Mag­nif­i­cent pea­cock Birdie also en­joys the sunny as­pect next to the barns, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the win­ter months. The most re­cent gar­den ad­di­tion is the starkly beau­ti­ful pool, which he refers to as the canal, and is ap­prox­i­mately 39ft (12m) long and 13ft (4m) wide. This ad­joins the last barn, which was cre­ated just four years ago and is an­other nod to the Dutch in­flu­ence on Baroque style. “You might think that Baroque was highly un­suit­able for a Nor­folk farm­house, but I think it works as long as the de­tail­ing is rel­a­tively sim­ple,” says Ge­orge.

Win­ter colour

At the far end of this part of the gar­den, an al­lée of young limes forms an al­ter­na­tive vista onto yet an­other stone obelisk. Ge­orge has sub­sti­tuted the red-twigged lime, Tilia platy­phyl­los ‘Rubra’, for the more authen­tic Dutch lime, Tilia eu­ropaea, as it does not sucker so much at the base.

“Our Eng­land is a gar­den that is full of stately views, Of borders, beds and shrub­beries and lawns and av­enues, With stat­ues on the ter­races and pea­cocks strut­ting by; But the Glory of the Gar­den lies in more than meets the eye”

Rud­yard Ki­pling, The Glory of the Gar­den

It also adds colour in win­ter, with its young trac­ery of growth glow­ing red in the Jan­uary sun­shine. The ef­fect of the light plays an im­por­tant part in his en­joy­ment of the space. “With a gar­den like this, the way light falls on it does give plea­sure. It changes through­out the day, es­pe­cially in the sun­light. The deep shad­ows re­veal form which makes it more sculp­tural.” As well as keep­ing busy de­sign­ing gar­dens, Ge­orge is also a writer, lec­turer and his­to­rian, so has en­listed some part-time help to keep the gar­den in or­der. Nev­er­the­less, he tries to get out in it at least one day each week­end: to work rather than re­lax. “There are lots of seats, but I never sit un­less I have vis­i­tors,” he ad­mits. “I tend to tidy com­pul­sively be­cause the ef­fect re­quires tidi­ness. And it’s never tidy enough.” Even so, he would not have it any other way, valu­ing the sim­plic­ity of the geo­met­ric forms. “The whole idea of for­mal gar­dens is that they’re calm­ing,” he says. “I find be­ing in the gar­den very sooth­ing.”

CON­TACT george­carter­gar­dens.co.uk

Sil­ver­stone Farm is open for the Na­tional Gar­den Scheme at North Elmham, Dere­ham, NR20 5EX (2019 dates to be de­cided).

A view from the house over the neat frosty lawns to the flint obelisk at the end of the gar­den as the sun rises. Painted balls mark out the path along­side clipped horn­beam and box hedges.

Wa­ter­proof ply­wood is used for de­tail around the Temple of Con­ve­nience, far left, and for an or­nate bench against a shed amid ev­er­green box and holly, left.

A parterre of clipped Phillyrea lat­i­fo­lia and var­ie­gated box in the herb gar­den re­veals a dec­o­ra­tive wa­ter fea­ture.

The duck shel­ter re­sem­bles a tiny temple float­ing on the wa­ter. It cre­ates a strik­ing fea­ture when bathed in shafts of win­ter sun­light on the mir­rored wood­land pond.

Birdie the pea­cock, with his iri­des­cent blue and green plumage, takes in the sun out­side the or­angery.

A clus­ter of red-twigged lime, Tilia ‘Rubra’, catches the Jan­uary sun­light. A dec­o­ra­tive wooden gate, blend­ing with the gar­den colours, mir­rors the geo­met­ric style of the lay­out. Be­yond is a wooden gazebo with a vista through to an­other obelisk. The bare hedges are of horn­beam, Carpi­nus be­tu­lus.

platy­phyl­los

A stately bench sits against the shel­ter of a wall cur­tained with Rham­nus alater­nus in the barn gar­den.

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