A dazzling debut
Living in a county with so many good gardens, I rarely have to travel far to find somewhere interesting. What will tempt me further afield is a new garden, or one that promises something other than the usual Cotswold herbaceous border.
Recently, I travelled to the outer reaches of the county’s National Gardens Scheme to visit two Gloucestershire gardens that tick both boxes: one is making its debut in the NGS; the other is an old favourite with a plant list that starts with the owner’s love of grasses.
Admittedly as I headed towards the border with Wales, I did wonder if the trip would be worth the journey, while trying to navigate the extremely narrow lanes with their sparse signposting reminded me of getting lost on childhood house-hunting trips in Norfolk with my father convinced the locals had ‘switched’ the road signs.
It is a long drive from my side of the Cotswolds but the chance to see two varied and interesting gardens makes it more than worthwhile.
My first stop was at Greenfields, which has been created from an almost blank canvas over the past five years by Jackie Healy. As such, it is still a young garden but a strong underlying structure and some impressive growth mean it more than earns its NGS slot.
The one-and-a-half acres has some noteworthy features: beautiful mature trees, stunning views towards Wales and not one but two streams, one a winterbourne that dries during summer, the other a constant flow through the garden.
The soil is more of a mixed blessing: acid enough to be able to grow rhododendrons and azaleas (unusual among Gloucestershire gardens) and reasonably fertile but difficult to work thanks to the combination of stone and solid clay.
“If you want to put something in, you have to get a pickaxe out first,” observes Jackie.
That job usually falls to her husband, Fintan, while the plants are her domain; in the past she has worked at a nursery and has a particular interest in propagation.
She describes the garden as influenced by Great Dixter and what she calls a “wonderful mix of formality and total chaos”. As such, there is little colour theming – beyond borders alongside the house where lavender mingles with agapanthus, delicate pink thalictrum and purple clematis. Elsewhere, there is a riotous mix of colours.
The garden is divided into distinct – and even labelled – areas that offer Jackie the chance to indulge her eclectic plant tastes.
Behind the house, a semi-woodland area has lent itself naturally to a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, dazzling in spring, and a cool retreat in the summer, particularly on the warm day that I visited.
The mound that is part of Offa’s Dike runs through it and prevents some parts being cultivated but Jackie is still managing to create a garden in the space. Part of the stream-side has been planted with plans for a possible stumpery further along.
“When you’ve got natural water it’s a fine line between controlling it [the planting] and just accepting that nature will do what nature will do. It’s always a balancing act.”
So far, it’s a battle she’s winning but constant vigilance is needed to keep on top of weeds and plants that become thuggish in the damp growing conditions.
Further down, terraces are full of summer colour, first in golds, oranges and yellows, moving on to pinks, purples and blue.
A striking crocosmia – ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’ – catches my eye, as does ‘Kwanso’, a lovely double hemerocallis in burnt orange tones.
On the next level there’s a perfume whose source I struggle at first to locate. Jackie laughs and points out a rather unprepossessing shrub, rather straggly in habit and with small white flowers. It’s actually Philadelphus maculatus ‘Mexican Jewel’ and it’s definitely punching above its weight.
“There is nothing much to say for it from a shrub point of view,” agrees Jackie, “but at night this whole area is just filled with its scent.”
It’s not the only plant of note and elsewhere in the garden there’s a Japanese pepper tree, Zanthoxylum piperitum, Impatiens tinctoria, with its orchid-like blooms, the fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus and a schefflera that is surviving thanks to the microclimate.
The ‘Formal Garden’ is full of what she describes as “everything and anything that I love”, particularly dahlias, grown in pots that are sunk into the borders. It makes them easier to lift and helps to protect them from slugs.
Below, a raised terrace is divided into sheltered quarters that provide different growing conditions: two shaded, two more sunny. Again it’s a relaxed mix, including hemerocallis, Crambe cordifolia and penstemon.
A new grass area has a more regimented style: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and golden lonicera around a seat that allows views across the garden through a pleached hornbeam hedge.
Elsewhere, stipa is part of a newly planted grass walk and Molinia caerulea arundinacea ‘Transparent’ is being used to edge ‘The Jungle’. Here, damp-lovers, including gunnera and hydrangeas, revel in moisture from the stream that pops up after a long section underground. Old bricks have been used to give the impression of water running through ruins and there are plans to build a swing seat nearby.
Surprisingly, given that she has long gardened, this is the first season that Jackie has grown vegetables. The veg are obviously unaware of her inexperience and the neatly fenced Kitchen Garden is brimming with cavolo nero, French and broad beans and carrots, all set against masses of nasturtiums, grown as a sacrificial crop to keep blackfly off the beans but thriving and adding a wonderful touch of colour.
With many features, including yew hedges, still to mature, it will be interesting to see how this newcomer to the Gloucestershire gardens scene develops.
• Part two: Barn House next week.
• Greenfields, Brockweir Common, near Chepstow, is open by appointment for the National Gardens Scheme until September 10. Phone 07747 186302 or email firstname.lastname@example.org A combined visit to nearby Barn House may be possible.
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