This is my 100th blog post! To celebrate this milestone this post is all about a very special private garden in the South Downs. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit by appointment as part of the National Open Gardens Scheme (www.ngs.org.uk) and had set the appointment date several weeks in advance – little did I realise that the day of my visit would be the hottest day in the UK since 2006, with temperatures reaching 34 degrees! Still faint heart and all that, and when I arrived at the garden I was met by the owner, Jean, with a welcome and refreshing cup of tea. Sitting in a shady spot chatting about the garden (among other things) was a real treat as Jean is a very nice and interesting lady.
When Jean and her husband Steve moved to the house in 1994 it bore no resemblance to the magical place it is today and her own narrative cards explain that on arrival one fo the first tasks was to dig up all the lawns! To most people this seems an odd thing to do, but Jean was a woman with a plan – to create a garden for nature in all it’s forms. She took inspiration from great gardeners such as Vita Sackville-West and Margery Fish as well as Joyce Robinson and Henk Gerritsen, while some of the quirkier aspects pay tribute to Ivon Hicks’ Garden in Mind.
The open door leads enticingly to the delights beyond
The garden itself wraps around the house which was once lived in by the actress and screenwriter Mabel Constanduros and a ceramic plaque announcing this is fixed to the wall beside the front door. As the garden wraps around the house the visitor is offered the most fantastic views across the South Downs which seem to be a part of the garden such is the cleverness of the garden design.
self seeded borders flank the winding path to the front door
The importance of nature in this garden is visible everywhere. The planting is of mainly wild plants native to the area with the addition of a spectacular bamboo, camellias and some beautiful broad-leafed Hostas. It is the wild plants however which make this garden a truly magical place. Impressive architectural seed heads of Teasel vie for their place alongside Eupatoria lingustrinum (much beloved by butterflies), Euonymus sachalinensis with its delicate red berries attracts Willow Tits, while the nettle-like Melissa officianalis attracts the colourful Bullfinch.
Jean in her wild flower meadow
The areas closest to the house are divided (albeit seamlessly) into areas of interest, including a small pond which sits in front of a wooden building open on one side which forms a sitting and viewing area, while other parts of the garden focus on attracting as many different birds, insects and butterflies as possible. Strings of colourful bunting add a ‘vintage’ feel while dotted around the garden are quirky and interesting objects and sculptures, all of which add to the sense of tranquility which is apparent in the whole garden. Through a gate made by Jean’s husband Steve from old tools is a delightful wild flower meadow through which are cut winding grass paths.
the gate that Steve made
To the casual visitor it may well appear that the garden is just left to its own devices; but while there is an element of truth in that, the garden requires as much care and attention as any formal garden. It is a credit to Jean’s vision and ability that her garden looks so effortless and this, in my opinion is partly due to Jean’s skill as a plantswoman and her philosophy of working with nature as opposed to against it, introducing plants to the garden, allowing nature to decide where they should finally end up but all the time retaining a veto on what ultimately stays.
the pond and vintage tricycle with old clock parts sculpture
sumptuous wild flower planting wraps around the house
a sense of humour is evident with this fake basking snake!
I spent about 2 hours wandering around this magical garden and talking to it’s owner. I feel that I have learned much about a naturalistic planting philosophy which clearly works. During my visit I saw baby House Martins peeping out of their nest, a host of butterflies dancing around long grasses and bees buzzing from flower head to flower head and got to spend quality time in a place of peace and tranquility.
This garden is open by appointment only and it’s owner can be contacted through Twitter @selfseeding (https://twitter.com/selfseeding) or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floralfringefair. I think that if I was asked what the perfect English Country Cottage Garden should look like, this would be it!