Icomb Open Gardens

Icomb Open Gardens offers the chance to get some gardening inspiration at a lovely Cotswold village with many sloping sites.

Slopes, screening and sitting out

Front gardens are often low on the list when it comes to time and attention. At best they are a neat face to the outside world; at worst little more than a parking space.

For Ros and Steve Watson, who are taking part in Icomb Open Gardens, ignoring their front patch was not an option. Most of the ground at their Icomb home is in front with a smaller area to one side of the cottage and little more than courtyard behind. It’s a layout that has determined their approach to the garden, both in terms of design and the choice of plants.

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Soft planting lines the path to the front door

Top of their considerations when they moved in nearly five years ago was improving the privacy; it may be a sleepy Cotswold village but the garden is alongside the main route in.

A large, mature hornbeam and several existing shrubs already gave a framework and Ros has supplemented this with more evergreen shrubs and trees, including Holm oak, golden choisya and several viburnums.

Adding a new border and extending an existing one has created an enclosed feel in the lower part of the garden and allowed Ros to frame a view of the house with a pair of Holm oak. Meanwhile, the borders have been filled with shade-tolerant planting, such as foxgloves and hellebores.

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Curved borders now frame a view of the house

Around the cottage there is a relaxed style with geraniums spilling over a low lavender hedge, white lupins, and Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ scrambling along the wall; Ros has planted a wisteria to balance it on the other side of the front door.

The biggest changes have been made in the side garden, which has been transformed from a sloping piece of grass into the main flower garden. Part of the ground has been levelled and the existing wall made slightly higher to increase the privacy.

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In true Cotswold style a rose adorns the front of the cottage

You access this area via a short flight of steps and Ros has increased the sense of change from one part of the garden to another by framing this entrance with pergolas that are gradually being covered by white clematis – ‘Beautiful Bride’ and ‘Arctic Queen’.

“I wanted to be able to walk in through a flower archway,” she says.

This area has been designed around an axis that runs from the back door, across a higher deck terrace and through to a second seating area. Either side of this line are flower borders filled with cottage favourites – astrantia, roses, nepeta, geraniums – in pale pink and white.

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Soft shades dominate flower borders in the side garden

“I had this idea that you would come down from the terrace, have a bed on either side and a focal point at the end,” explains Ros.

Alchemilla mollis softens the edges of the small patio and the white theme is picked up in garden furniture, pots and pergolas that Ros has painted.

Another border is filled with Nigella and Ammi majus grown from seed, climbing hydrangea is beginning to cloak the wall and a second Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’, that was ailing elsewhere is now covered in flower and starting to spread.

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White is repeated in planting, pots and sculpture

Again, she’s been careful to create a sense of enclosure, this time closing off part of the back of the garden with climbers on trellis. Beyond, fruit trees and honeysuckle-covered obelisks add height.

While the couple inherited the bulk of the terraces that deal with what was a very sloping plot, the planting has increased the sense of ‘garden rooms’, proving that you don’t need rolling acres to create changes of mood and distinct areas.

What is surprising is that until she retired, Ros had never gardened and started only because a friend asked her to share part of a vegetable plot.

“I had never been interested in gardening at all before,” she says. “This is all experimental. I have never done a new garden before.”

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Putting Erigeron karvinskianus in a pot keeps it under control

As yet she has no vegetables in this garden; the former veg plot is now home to sun-loving Mediterranean style plants, although there is still a rhubarb crown lurking at the back.

Salad leaves and herbs are on the list of future projects, along with creating a small herbaceous border and another seating area when an old Wendy House is removed. Planning the next thing is, she says, part of the fun.

“It’s what a garden is all about, planning that next step and moving things around.”

Icomb Open Gardens, near Stow-on-the-Wold will have 10 gardens open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday June 26 from 1.30-5pm. Combined entrance to the gardens is £5. There will be homemade teas and a flower festival to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. Entrance to the flower festival is free but donations are requested towards the church fabric fund.

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