Sometimes nature proves to be the better gardener. So often in my own plot self-sown plants have colonised corners I’d overlooked or created partnerships far better than anything I’d considered. The knack is knowing when to let nature have her head and when to take control.
Home Farm is one of those Gloucestershire gardens where the attraction is not a carefully planned herbaceous border, neatly clipped topiary or clever design. Rather it is the chance to savour a slice of unspoilt English countryside with spring flowers and envy-inducing views.
The garden is one that Torill Freeman has known since childhood – she moved to Home Farm from the nearby Manor House 26 years ago – and she remembers playing in the woods as a child.
It’s these woods, a mixture of larch, sweet chestnut, lime and cherry, that form the backdrop to a spring display that starts with snowdrops and finishes with bluebells.
And most of it has been crafted by nature, with ‘gardening’ kept to the lightest of touches.
“The only management I do in the garden is to have the undergrowth cleared once a year between October and Christmas,” says Torill. “Then the spring flowers will all come up.”
The garden has a walk through woods and fields of about half-a mile, which takes around 20 minutes – if you are not distracted by the flowers.
You start at what Torill refers to as ‘Larch Corner’ and, at this time of year, a show of yellow. There’s a large clump of open-faced narcissi – name unknown – and the start of the dainty, Dymock daffodil. This is called after the nearby village of Dymock and grows wild throughout the area.
Torill has added some acid-lovers, including a single, pink camellia that is covered in blooms.
“I was determined to have a single pink, not a double and not a dark pink.”
Cross a field and the next big display is in ‘Snowdrop Wood’, although it is now sporting shades of pale yellow and mauve rather than white. The snowdrops – the common Galanthus nivalus, both single and double, and another unknown variety – are still in evidence but the display is now being handed on to more Dymock daffodils.
These rise out of a carpet of purple-blue vinca blooms, which, like the daffodils, is a result of nature’s hand rather than Torill’s. It is a beautiful combination.
“Most of my garden is God-given,” observes Torill.
The next stage is her own work. ‘Spring Spinney’ is a slightly elevated section of path that has been planted up with more open-faced narcissi. When I visited, there were only one or two in bloom but the bulging buds signalled the full display is not far away.
Because the flowers turn to face the sun, visitors walking the suggested route look up into them as they climb the path.
“I had no idea of that when I first planted them,” admits Torill. “It’s just a very happy accident.”
The walk ends with‘Bluebell Wood’ where April will see masses of English bluebells and wood anemones. This early in the season, interest comes from a few snowdrops – around 1,000 have been moved up there.
Home Farm also has an area of orchids with the common spotted, early purple and, some years, bee orchids. Again, I was too early to see those.
There’s also a fun element: Torill has planted an ‘Alphabet Wood’ with trees ranging from A to Z, using either their common or Latin names. Among its members are Acer davidii and Zelkova serrata.
Near the house, there’s a small vegetable garden, a wide range of shrubs and an enclosed space full of pink and white winter heathers. Even here, care has been taken not to block the view, which stretches out to the Cotswold escarpment.
It’s a view that Torill never tires of watching and one of the reasons why she opens Home Farm for the National Garden Scheme.
“It changes every hour. It’s quite fantastic. I do so enjoy it but I think it’s very important to share it.”
• Home Farm, Huntley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday March 12, and also on April 9 and 30, from 11-4pm. Admission is £3, children enter free. Visits are also welcome by arrangement. For more information, visit the NGS website.
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