Leigh Clapp visits Marchants Garden Plants in Laughton to get tips on autumnal planting
Marchants Hardy Plants in Laughton is a mecca for plant lovers and now is a great time to visit with the ornamental grasses and perennials taking their final crescendo bow for the season. Plus there’s a sale on in October, so it’s definitely one for the diary. From a blank canvas of two acres around their Victorian cottage, plantsman Graham Gough and his partner, textile designer Lucy Goffin have developed a stunning display garden and nursery that specializes in ornamental grasses and herbaceous perennials. Taking inspiration from the stunning setting of grassy meadowland overlooking the South Downs, they have created waves of harmonious, textural plantings in the garden that shimmer and mesmerize through the season. “Sussex is the best county in England,” Graham beams.
Lawn and gravel paths interweave past gently curving, densely planted borders, that are a direct response to the surrounding landscape. “By combining the colour, form and texture of carefully chosen plants, in a sensitive and flowing design, we have aimed to create spaces that are both homogeneous in their effect and rewarding to the eye,” Graham explains. The palette of plants is selected for their beauty but also for their reliability to thrive and their tolerance of the heavy clay soil and exposed site with its accompanying fierce winds. Manure, compost and grit have been added to the soil to improve it and the planting is designed for a long season of interest. Early snowdrops, and hellebores are eclipsed by the richness of the tapestry of grasses and perennials that peak in late summer through autumn.
Graham describes the garden as English plants with a European style, and an homage to the landscape. The nursery and garden may never have happened though but for a visit to the iconic Sissinghurst Castle in Kent that reawakened his interest in gardening that he had had since childhood. It led to a career change from being a classical tenor to immersing himself in the horticultural world. “Sissinghurst, with its artistic and creative process of gardening at its highest level, was a complete revelation and there was no turning back,” he recalls. After honing his nurseryman’s skills by working at the renowned Washfield Nursery under Elizabeth Strangman for 16 years, and with encouragement from Lucy, Graham then established his own nursery in 1998, which has since achieved its own welldeserved renown.
A passion for the value of ornamental grasses and the work of famous plantsman Piet Oudolf, with the New Perennial Movement, evolved alongside the development of the nursery and garden. “Grasses are subtle creations and their appreciation demands of the grower a completely different visual approach, because their form and, to some extent, their colours set them apart from other plants,” says Graham. “Few plants can equal the response to wind with such musical rhythm as grasses. They give a real vertical lift and are beautiful, not only in autumn, but also in winter, with their billowing plumes tinted against the winter sky.” In addition to running the nursery Graham also finds enrichment through garden design, consultations, talks, writing and travel to observe plants in their native habitats to gain further insight.
All the plants are propagated and grown on site, with a vast range of both perennials and grasses on offer, breeding and selecting new varieties is clearly enjoyed, as is playing with combinations for a symphony of interwoven colours and textures. For Graham, music and gardens are synonymous, relating looking at a garden as if it were a score, getting a sense of rhythm and harmony where plants belong in a seamless flow; just like a piece of music. Lucy’s artistic works and the garden and plants also have a symbiotic relationship with each feeding the other. Wandering the paths you can truly feel immersed in this creative couple’s visual, tactile and auditory composition. Then there is the wonderful opportunity to buy some plants at the nursery, along with gaining some expert advice, to take home and create your own concerto.
LEFT: Immerse yourself in the symphony of colours and textures
RIGHT: Both Lucy and Graham have used their creative, aesthetic talents to great effect in the display garden
BELOW: Clear blue Salvia uliginosa
“Few plants can equal the response to wind with such musical rhythm as grasses”