Leigh Clapp vis­its Marchants Gar­den Plants in Laughton to get tips on au­tum­nal plant­ing

Sussex Life - - Inside - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Leigh Clapp

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”

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