Salvias are on Roger Head’s mind when we meet. Tall, inky blue salvias, the sort that turn heads and promote plant envy. They are sat, pride of place, among his other purchases from the Malvern Autumn Show and he’s interested to know if they will elicit the desired response from me.
“Do you like them?” he asks and, yes, I do. Who wouldn’t?
What interests me is that they will form part of yet another new feature, this time one of a pair of herbaceous borders, one pastels, the other hot colours.
It’s always the same when I visit Highnam Court – and I have been a regular for many years – each time there’s something different to see and plans afoot.
Tree stump sculptures are a feature of the garden
The new borders currently under construction have been influenced by another Gloucestershire garden: Bourton House at Bourton-on-the-Hill, which Roger recently visited for the first time.
“Very few gardens inspire me,” he admits, “because I look at lots of gardens but that’s given me some ideas. I just like the way they put colours together.”
He’s planning a fiery mix of oranges, yellow, purple and reds in one area, using crocosmia, lobelia and red salvias, and softer shades with penstemon, campanulas, delphiniums and those blue salvias in the other.
It will add another dimension to what is already a very varied 40-acre garden that encompasses a one-acre rose garden, listed Pulhamite water garden, lakes, shrubberies and magnificent trees.
The one-acre rose garden is one of the highlights
Those trees are beginning to come into their own this month as the autumn display gets underway. Magnolias are showing the first signs of buttery yellow, acer foliage has hints of red and orange, and a stately Quercus rubra, near the house is becoming a rich red.
This area of the garden is also being rethought with the removal of old laurel hedges and their replacement by simple grass. It’s a project that is still ongoing but already the effects are clear.
“It’s opened up the views through,” comments Roger, who has spent 22 years transforming the garden, once owned by Thomas Gambier Parry, from a neglected wilderness.
Adding to the seasonal display are great swathes of perennials, planted in Roger’s trademark block style. The flat heads of Sedum spectabile are a dusty pink, yellow rudbeckia catch the autumn sunlight, and asters are opening in shades of pink and mauve.
The Ladies’ Winter Walk is a mix of traditional and modern
Then there are the roses, still blooming profusely in the Indian Summer. Most are in the box-edged Rose Garden but ‘Icberg’ and ‘Generous Gardener’ also fill long beds in the Ladies’ Winter Walk where polycarbonate obelisks add a contemporary touch.
The pink ‘Generous Gardener’ is Roger’s favourite rose and he is planning to use it on the long rose walk to replace ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ – “no good because it isn’t a repeat flowerer and it had got untidy”. Already the metal supports have been stripped bare and the previous under-planting of perennials and bulbs removed in favour of grass.
And as if that isn’t enough for Roger and his team of two gardeners, he’s planning to use the winter to redesign the Wild Flower Meadow. Yet again, there will be something new to see on my next visit.
• Highnam Court, near Gloucester, is having two ‘Autumn Colour’ open days in aid of The Pied Piper Appeal. The gardens will be open on Sunday October 4 and Sunday November 1 from 11am to 4pm. For more information, visit www.piedpiperappeal.co.uk
A Monet-style bridge spans one of the lakes