Rarely do gardeners call in a top designer to help with growing veg. While most gardens I visit have a vegetable patch, they are usually tucked away in a corner, tidy but essentially workmanlike rather than things of beauty. Yet at Littlefield, not only are the beans, carrots and beetroot part of the ornamental garden, they’ve been given the designer treatment.
The last time I saw the garden at Hawling, near Cheltenham, what is now home to a mix of fruit and veg was a struggling wild flower meadow. In addition, what had started out as six laburnums planted as ornamentals in the meadow had been reduced to four as the trees failed to thrive.
“They never really put down good roots and were very susceptible to the wind,” explains Federica Wilk, who has created the garden over the past 16 years with her husband, George.
The annual wildflower meadow also proved time-consuming and expensive so the decision was taken to start again this time with growing veg; the village has an annual produce show that Federica has her eye on entering.
Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall redesigned the former farmhouse garden when the couple first moved in and it was to her that they turned for help.
The new vegetable garden – it’s not fussy enough to call it a potager but definitely more than a veg patch – has been inspired by the village’s history. Just beyond Littlefield in what is now a field there was once a medieval village that was abandoned due to plague.
Using medieval pictures and illuminated manuscripts as her starting point, Jane has created a space that hints at that medieval past with colours that echo the jewel-like tones of the manuscripts.
Blue campanulas and violas, the pink of Rosa mundi, carnations and Rosa ‘De Rescht’ are set against cool, white lilies in borders that run along two sides of the new garden.
The borders are backed by trellis, pictured below, which will be used for climbers such as honeysuckle. The trellis has been carefully set a few feet away from existing yew hedges to allow access for clipping and again echoes the medieval theme with arched entrances and small arched ‘windows’; Federica is hoping eventually to use these windows to frame an urn.
The third side of the garden has trained apple trees underplanted with geraniums, polemonium, and feverfew, while the fourth has been kept more open to preserve views across countryside.
The vegetables are grown in willow-edged beds and are a mix of flowers and crops, an idea that Federica picked up on a visit to RHS Harlow Carr.
“They grow vegetables and flowers together and it decided me,” she says. “Sometimes vegetables don’t look that pretty.”
So, runner beans are rising out of a froth of cosmos, rue is growing alongside peas and alliums are mingling with parsley. Other crops include chard, broad beans, sorrel, beetroot, carrots, gooseberries, grown as standards, and cavolo nero – a nod to Federica’s Italian homeland.
Another touch of the Mediterranean is a large pot planted up with a Brown Turkey fig and trailing rosemary.
The rest of the garden is little changed from my last visit and is a delightful mix of formal design and soft planting – a far cry from the grass and a few trees that the couple took on.
The rose garden is dominated by a circular pool made from Italian travertine – a deliberate counterpoint to the Cotswold stone of the house. With a wide, flat top for sitting on, it is a cool space in a mass of roses, alliums and thalictrum all edged with teucrium.
Move further on again, and a wisteria-covered pergola offers a secluded place to sit, tucked away out of sight.
In the summer, one of the garden’s highlights is the Yew Walk, so named because of the hedges that enclose it. Designed by Sherborne Gardens, it is a mix of pastel colours underpinned by dark purple heuchera. Lavender, violas and geraniums spill over the path, while lilies, philadelphus and roses give scent.
This planting pattern is repeated until you reach a central point that allows access into other parts of the garden. Beyond this divide, the Yew Walk planting is simplified with arches of malus, iris, violas and agapanthus.
Lavender, a neat box knot garden, and shrubs now make up the garden on the north side of the house, while the west side – once occupied by a cow shed – has been kept open with grass, a formal pool and ornamental crab apples, a simple design allowing long views out into the countryside.
A mixed border forms a boundary between this part of the garden and a wilder area where the grass is allowed to grow long under willow, prunus and silver birch. It’s a far more successful natural area than the wildflower meadow with ox-eye daises, red clover and the recent discovery of wild orchids.
In fact, although the vegetable garden is still new and has a lot of maturing to do, it fits far more comfortably with the rest of the garden than the wildflower meadow did, giving the overall garden a sense of completeness. Who said growing veg can’t be beautiful?
• Littlefield Garden, Hawling, is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday July 17 2016 from 11-5pm. Admission is £4, children’s entry free. There will be homemade teas available.
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