A Dorset garden: Kitemoor Cottage, Manswood
Susy and Colin Varndell visit an all-year garden
Published in March ’17
A visit to Kitemoor Cottage would be a thrill at any time of year, but in the spring it is certainly a big draw with hellebores and tulips galore to please the senses. It is a feast for the eyes, whether you relish the idyllic location of the cottage or the wealth of colour and interest.
Diana and Alan Guy moved to Kitemoor Cottage from their former home, Welcome Thatch, about eight years ago. Here Diana has been busy creating another horticultural masterpiece. She is now inspired by Keith Wylie and his garden, ‘Wild Side’, in Devon and seeks to work in harmony with nature. She allows certain ‘weeds’ to stay in the garden if she feels that they have value and are good for wildlife, which in turn creates a healthier plant community. Diana is interested in creating an all-year garden with a series of successive planting schemes, which therefore creates a long season of interest. There are many advantages to this method: rather than seeking to create a stunning display which only lasts for one season, it means that the gardener must be active all the year round, being outside and keeping fit and healthy throughout. Also there is a continuum of delight and surprises throughout the year to keep visitors and owners alike inspired.
But starting out with a new creation when suffering from bad arthritis means that Diana has had to work fast and with assistance. Her husband is the keeper of all paths and is also responsible for creating superb compost. This is important as Diana believes that you can only call yourself a gardener if you have a decent compost system and a greenhouse. In addition Diana has had assistance from WRAGS (Work and Retrain As a Gardener Scheme) personnel who are seeking to gain experience within a garden. It is an opportunity for the gardener, Diana in this case, to pass on some of her extensive knowledge, expertise and skill to another individual who loves gardening and who would like to develop their own knowledge: a win-win situation.
The garden has various areas to explore: there is a mini-meadow at the front of the house, a pond area, some naturalistic planting, several cottage garden borders, fruit and vegetable gardens as well as a greenhouse full to bursting, chickens and compost heaps par excellence.
The cottage is right on the road and the first area one sees is a semi-wild area in front of the house next to the road where cowslips, daffodils, snake’s head fritillaries, Alexanders, yellow rattle, daisies and dandelions all jostle for your attention. These early flowers attract much insect activity, which of course is of great benefit to the rest of the garden. Alexanders is one of Diana’s favourites because it comes early. It is easy to establish as it responds well to collected seed being thrown down randomly and then waiting for the results, unlike yellow rattle, which needs to be started in pots. This area is also where the birds are fed. Many goldfinches were seen and woodpeckers were heard close by as well as ravens in the nearby woods.
Moving on through the gate to the front of the house, there is a big bank on your right, which Diana explains is where she wants to ensure that there is a succession of colour and interest beginning with Alexanders, hellebores and tulips. Even though it is a heavy clay soil, the tulips seem to thrive, possibly as it is on a slope and well drained. By multi-layering bulbs and plants to maximise space, as well as allowing things to self-seed, this bank provides interest right through to late summer.
Another characteristic of the garden is the number of pots and hanging baskets that are used. At least eighty pots are in use, which are regularly changed and re-planted, meaning that instant colour can be created in otherwise quiet areas of the garden if necessary. Tulips are turfed out into the dahlia bed to be recycled, some are put back into containers, and agapanthus and aeoniums then replace the empty pots to create a summer show. As it is not possible to have borders in front of the house, containers are used instead to soften the structure. Even roses are planted in containers and the challenging conditions don’t seem to create any problem. With masses of feeding and an efficient watering system it seems that anything is possible. Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ seems very happy and flowers at least twice a year in a container and Rosa ‘Arthur Bell’, a climbing variety, is being grown in a horse trough successfully ‘as it needs a lot of root run’. Another rose grown on the house is Rosa ‘Open Arms’, which has a long flowering season.
In addition, there is the very productive greenhouse to admire, where dahlias, cuttings, seeds, spare aeoniums, vegetables and lots of seedlings for containers jostle for space. The wildlife area is alive with wildlife, with seventy frogs being recorded in the pond during the mating season as well as newts. Honesty pops up everywhere and is welcomed, as Diana is a great believer in volunteer plants. If these self-seeders put themselves in a good spot they can stay, or they can always be moved. The garden is given the opportunity to sort itself out as well.
If you decide to visit this interesting garden, not only will you be able to admire some wonderful plants and planting schemes, but you will also be able to sit back and relax. Diana provides plenty of seating for visitors as well as a sandpit for children, and delicious refreshments. She is adamant that people should be able to enjoy themselves on a garden visit such as this. There is no point in keeping a lovely garden to oneself.