Dorset Gardens: Pyes Plot, Netherbury
Chris Shaw and Colin Varndell visit a garden that is small, but perfectly formed
Published in March ’13
Sarah and Martyn moved into 2 Pyes Plot in 2007, a new development of golden stone under thatch. The front garden, considerably higher than road level, had a neat lawn bisected by the path to the front door. At the back, a small but interestingly-shaped courtyard enclosed by a sheltering high wall contained an oil tank, a wheelie-bin and a recycling bin. Not, one might think, a layout that suggested a grand design; but in 2008 the couple embarked on just that. In an ongoing ‘work in progress’ their front and back gardens are now beautiful illustrations of what can be done with imagination and flair.
Sarah has a background in textile design and her unerring eye has undoubtedly contributed greatly to the transformation. Black timber is used throughout for planters, bed edgings, trellis, arches; also for constructing fencing and boxes to hide and screen the more unsightly aspects of the courtyard. Far from being sombre, the trellis and planters contrast smartly with the cream walls while the oil tank and bins have disappeared into the background.
Both front and back gardens make use of cream gravel; not a blade of grass in sight. While this removes the necessity for a mower, Martyn agreed that ‘easy maintenance’ was not necessarily the correct description to apply. Blown debris, leaves and clippings all have to be meticulously collected and disposed of, to maintain the smart appearance.
The front garden is now full of colour. A timber gate beneath welcoming arch leads the visitor between lavender hedges on a scented walk to the front door. Against the house, smart planters with clipped box are a more formal contrast. Pretty manger window boxes spill with colour and a small hanging basket is perfect with trailing ivy, fuchsia and
There is room for two rectangular beds of perennials, their timber edgings keeping plants off the gravel. One contains ferns, day lily, verbascum, tradescantia and a deep, dark heuchera. Black grass looks good against the cream background. A standard willow, dainty foliage in cream, green and pink, lifts colour higher, as do the lead planters of lavender.
The second bed has a cascade of vivid purple geranium, white campanula, globes of allium contrasting well with sword-shaped foliage and tall foxgloves. Tucked into one angle of the railings, a couple of prostrate conifers spread beneath spires of yellow phlomis and pink lupin. In just one spot, plants have been placed directly in the gravel; one spiky phormium and a small clump of ground covering creeper. It’s the attention to such detail that really makes this garden stand out, plus the contrasts in shape and colour such as burgundy acers paired with coral poppies beside the gate.
The entrance to the rear courtyard is inviting, with its window box and bright violas growing below. There is also a framed information board, as beautifully presented as the garden. The floral background is divided into six panels of photographs with notes on how the garden has progressed. It was good to see that the couple have used local nurseries for their plants and that their efforts were awarded a prize in the Small Gardens class at the 2011 Melplash Show.
First impressions of the courtyard are that it could not be more welcoming. A stone patio just large enough to hold a black wicker table and chairs beneath a wide white umbrella is tucked close to the house. The table setting of white china, wine glasses and bottle of sparkling wine is enhanced by a vase of cream and peach flowers; yes, it is window dressing, but what a lovely idea.
As the surrounding walls are such a large part of the area, Sarah said that the obvious way to go with planting was up. New houses, however, are not usually blessed with deep top soil and this was no exception. Bring on the planters, which now contain two grape vines – one each of a red and white variety – hostas and ivy. Two decorative obelisks add to the height, with a white rose, clematis, and ivy below. Sarah explained that the planters had plenty of manure added with the initial compost and that she feeds them regularly. Small terracotta containers are tucked in, bursting with yet more violas, and a tiny wall planter contains lavender. This garden must smell delightful when the sun is shining and lavender is flowering.
The courtyard has been divided across its width by a slim line of black timber and an archway, with planters of box. A narrow trough of soil along the divide is a rill of pretty alpines. In the rear garden, the cream gravel is much deeper and contains a small box-edged bed with a standard willow above blue scabious, alliums and deep pink candelabra primulas.
Clematis on the walls include the montana ‘Marjorie’. This is a semi-double flowering variety which is more compact and therefore more suitable for a small space such as this. An adjacent wisteria has yet to flower and Sarah talked darkly of giving it just a little longer before deciding whether or not to keep it. Best advice is to buy a wisteria when it is in flower, so that you can be certain it is going to perform, but this does mean you are buying a more mature specimen which will be reflected in the price.
The sound of trickling water fills the courtyard, from a waist-high channel which follows the curve of the wall. Water spouts from a mask and also cascades. Several clumps of variegated ivy are busy climbing in the shade, rising above a bold clump of yellow iris, liatris with its fuzzy pink spikes, and a clump of white astilbe. Ferns, spiky grass and phormium add to this most attractive feature.
The oil tank, cleverly disguised in black timber, is further smothered by clematis. The roof of the small log store has been planted up with a collection of sempervivums. Even the wheelie-bin store has small flower-pots on top and the concealed recycling box has a shallow gravel bed of herbs. They catch the sun and are at just the right height to harvest as well as enjoy the scents. This garden is not just planted, it is decorated; small containers fill corners, decorative lanterns stand on the patio while two ‘rusty’ chicken stand plumply by near a pretty metal seat.
Sarah and Martyn describe their garden as ‘small, but perfectly formed’. Finding an alternative description is problematic: bijou is too ‘twee’, boutique is too pretentious. This is a Chelsea garden; it just happens to be in West Dorset.
This garden was open under the National Gardens Scheme and listed in the Yellow Book. Not all gardens open every year, so it is worth checking before you set out for Netherbury. Look out, too, for Netherbury Open Gardens when you can enjoy a long afternoon of visits as well as tea and cakes.
A tiny garden needn’t frustrate the imaginative gardener, nor indeed the diligent cook. One may not have room to grow rampant courgettes or clambering beans, but the determined use of every imaginable space at Pyes Plot points a way forward. Here, herbs growing near the kitchen door are quickly accessible for favourite recipes and a hand brushed over them in the sun releases the unmistakeable perfume of the Mediterranean.
No soil is no problem if one uses a container, but careful choice of herbs is essential. Basil, parsley, mint and coriander are favourites, but they do need care and attention to prevent them drying out or running to seed. Thyme is a good choice, a herb with more than two hundred varieties available in the UK. Thymus x citriodorus ‘Golden King’ has, as its name suggests, gold and green leaves that give a distinctive lemony flavour to recipes, whereas the narrow grey leaves of Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’ provide a spicy
Sage is another herb that looks as good as it tastes. Planted in the open garden it can soon spread into a large mat, but in a container it can be cut back with use and kept in its place. Whether a soft, grey foliage, variegated gold or even tri-colour sage is chosen, it earns its place in the herb garden. It is easy to grow from cuttings, too, so take out insurance just in case a Mediterranean summer gives way to a hard Dorset winter.
A container for a herb garden can be absolutely anything, from classic (ideally frost-proof) terracotta, to an old galvanised bucket. Compost should contain plenty of grit for drainage and, once the herbs have been planted, surround them with a good layer of gravel to prevent the compost from drying out too quickly, and it has the side benefit of looking attractive. Group a few containers together and imaginative cooking is at your fingertips.