Susy and Colin Varndell visit a garden with sweeping lines in an idyllic setting
Published in September ’16
This beautiful garden, located in an idyllic position at Witchampton on the river Allen, has been created in the last few years by its present owners. There are two distinct parts to the garden: one well-drained and the other damp, divided by a clear chalk mill stream. The first, more formal area of the garden has a central lawn surrounded by sweeping curved brick-edged borders, which are stuffed with a mass of colour from a range of glorious plants. At the end of the first section of the plot is the mill stream, which is crossed by a rustic wooden bridge leading to the shady, damp garden.
Annette, who is a self-taught gardener, prefers her gardens to evolve; there was no master plan. However, she does like wide sweeping beds with curved lines, which is one of the definite design features she sought to replicate. Within these wide sweeping borders there are stepping stones, which, Annette believes, make it easier to weed, as well as allowing people to see all the plants more clearly.
Closer to the house is a well-drained area with colour-themed borders. There are plants that love the sun and free-draining soil, with roses interspersed throughout. There is a blue, yellow and white border and a hot border where pink, silvers and mauves mix happily together. Both borders are absolutely crammed with superb specimens, making a tremendous display.
The lovely daisy-shaped yellow flowers of Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’ prove a winner as it flowers all summer. It needs regular dead-heading though, and is not hardy, but makes up for this by being a workhorse in the garden. Its feathery grey-green foliage is a bonus. Thalictrum delavayi ‘Hewitt’s Double’, with its double lilac-purple flowers, obviously likes its location in this sheltered spot and thrives along with the resplendent Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, together making a bold statement. The delightful Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ adds to the bright and showy nature of this border. Unlike most sunflowers, it is a hardy perennial and bears masses of large, lemon-yellow flowers.
The hot border has a swathe of Stipa ‘Sirocco’ (also know as pheasant’s tail grass) which dances gracefully in the breeze and adds a gentle movement to the border as well as a coppery tinge. The unusual lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zorro’ is a particularly lovely hydrangea with its pretty star-shaped, pink flowers on dark stems. It is perfect for growing in a herbaceous border. Like most hydrangeas, if they are grown in alkaline soils they produce pink flowers, while those grown in acid soils bear blue flowers. Crocosmia ‘Golden Ballerina’ is less of a bully than its close relations. It has very large orange flowers and on sunny days its petals bend back, highlighting its long stamens, which resemble a ballerina’s tutu.
The wonderful illusion mirror gate is actually a long mirror attached to a wall in which an applied lead design is made to resemble a wrought iron gate. What you see in the mirror is a reflection of the garden in front of the mirror, not a gate which you are looking through to see the garden. This cleverly placed mirror makes it look as though the garden is bigger and wider than it actually is.
The damp, shady garden on the other side of the stream has much heavier soil, which even gets flooded occasionally. It was much shadier until a couple of years ago when a great wind took the top of a tree down, as well as smashing a bit of the bridge. It took three days to clear up, but this unfortunate event resulted in more light being let in, so more plants could be grown.
This moist area over the bridge is lush and green and bulging with an assortment of interesting plants. It is full of hostas and a gunnera perpensa. The fern Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumosum Densum’ is a handsome evergreen addition and the lovely geum rivale or water avens is prolific. Primula francisca, with its leaf-like flowers, is notable. The Euphorbia ceratocarpa, which flowers endlessly throughout the summer, is especially prized. The pink bottlebrush flower spikes of Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Js Caliente’ carpet the area luxuriantly, and the showy, funnel-shaped blooms of Montbretia ‘George Davison’ punctuate the scene conspicuously.
The garden also has a collection of intriguing objects to discover during your visit. There is a decking area with some pots and a wheelbarrow with annuals, a wire robin on a spade, a wire pheasant, a statue gardener (which was adorned with a robin on her head during our visit) a wire little owl on the fence in silhouette and a stand of ceramic poppies bought from the exhibition ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ at the Tower of London, which marked one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in World War
It is well worth making an expedition to discover this delightful garden tucked away on the River Allen. In addition to the horticultural delights you will encounter, you may even be lucky enough to see a water vole on the river Allen or mill stream as the clear water of this chalk stream is a mecca for water voles.