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A Dorset garden: Lower Abbotts Wootton Farm

Susy and Colin Varndell visit Whitchurch Canonicorum

What a view

What a view

 

The Marshwood Vale is renowned for being full of surprises, and this garden is one of those delights. The rustic country drive which leads to the blue-painted farmhouse snuggling comfortably on the hillside does not prepare one for the glorious spectacle one is about to see. The setting is open and the views are wide and transporting, which contrast with the enclosed nature of some areas of the garden.
Clare does not profess to be a gardener, but she does profess to enjoy gardening, and this enjoyment is certainly a distraction from her sculpting profession. However, it could be said that her skills are just being transferred from one medium to another: her garden has been carefully sculpted out of the hillside.
The two-acre garden is set in the most beautiful undulating countryside, surrounded by fields, farm buildings and barns. Clare declares that the garden is more about design than about plants; the garden is an extension of her sculptures. The garden is meant to be a bit of fun on the side, which could be true as long as she enjoys hard work!

An old wooden door leading through to the rest of the garden from the gravel garden

An old wooden door leading through to the rest of the garden from the gravel garden

The stunning gravel garden was, until recently, a car park. Underneath, it was solid clay and rock-hard in summer. The intrepid gardeners had to remove mounds of rubble and concrete and then dig out from the field, eventually levelling the area. Lots of compost had to be imported and incorporated into the planting area. The resulting garden is spectacular, and the array of plants look totally in keeping in a relaxed and informal way. The dry, drought-tolerant plants lend themselves to a Mediterranean feel. Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ is peppered around the plot, a lovely shrub with silvery shoots which has small but highly fragrant creamy-yellow flowers in spring and summer, but with a tendency to sucker which sometimes needs restraining. The Verbena bonariensis flowers liberally in this spot and is at liberty to self-seed, which enhances the informal feel.

Eryngium self seeds readily in the gravel garden

Eryngium self seeds readily in the gravel garden

The Eryngium also readily self-seeds along with the pink Gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink’. Sedum, Pratia, rosemary and Sempervivums complete the Mediterranean feel.

Looking back towards the gravel garden with Rosa 'New Dawn' cascading over the archway

Looking back towards the gravel garden with Rosa ‘New Dawn’ cascading over the archway

Moving on, one wanders under an arch covered in the climber Rosa ‘New Dawn’ with its gentle fragrance drifting on the air. A Rosa ‘Ballerina’ adds to the heady mix with its large clusters of healthy blooms. Sisyrinchium, with its spiky leaves and yellow flowers, joins the palette of colours and textures. You will next pass the quiet square – which is just that: a green grass square surrounded by a wall covered with jasmine and myrtle and a yew hedge. This area is obviously waiting for Clare’s next inspiration, which is possibly going to be a water feature.

Rosa 'Ballerina' with its large sprays of slightly fragrant blooms

Rosa ‘Ballerina’ with its large sprays of slightly fragrant blooms

The studio garden is full of interesting objects and plants. The brick path is set off with large box balls, leading the eye to the next part of the garden. But first linger over the beautiful sculpture and the large pot, which looks as if it has been lifted from The Arabian Nights. The Geranium ‘Rozanne’, a vigorous and spreading perennial, looks resplendent with the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Sedum is a nectar-rich plant, which benefits invertebrates such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies. These insects are important pollinators and, like birds, they bring colour and movement to the garden as well as providing food for other creatures.

Comma butterfly at rest on sedum

Comma butterfly at rest on sedum

 

The hot garden is awash with clashing colours vying for your attention. The sun-loving, architectural Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, with the purple verbena, demands your attention along with the magenta Lychnis. These startling combinations cannot be missed. Lysimachia ‘Firecracker’ and Stipa gigantea, sometimes known as golden oats, add additional height and interest to the hot garden, while Alchemilla mollis froths at the edges of the circular lawn in a more relaxed way. The box balls give further structure to this glorious riot of colour and interest. The hare sculptures are the icing on the proverbial cake, or in this case, garden.

Hares sprinting through the garden

Hares sprinting through the garden

The pond garden is the complete opposite to the hot area, with leaves in all their glory taking centre stage. The diverse assortment of leaf shape, leaf colour and leaf texture is mesmerising. There are pointed shiny leaves, large fringed leaves, smooth dark green leaves, light green, textured leaves – a cosmopolitan mix of foliage. This cool, reflective area of the garden, where one can sit on a stone bench and contemplate the environment, is ideal for wildlife where creatures have a beach area into and out of the pond for easy access and exit, as well as an all-important drinking facility.

The peaceful pond with a wide variety of foliage

The peaceful pond with a wide variety of foliage

This piece of paradise on earth is completed with an interesting array of trees in a wilder part of the plot: Indian bean tree or Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’, royal ferns, cardoons with their huge, purple, thistle-like flowers, Eucalyptus gunnii Azura and Yukkas. There is so much to see, enjoy and ponder here that if gardens don’t excite you, then the sculptures will, or the beautiful vistas, or the amazing wildlife. The garden was alive with ringlets, commas, meadow browns, red admirals, peacocks, gatekeepers and speckled woods. An array of birds serenaded the air, accompanied by an orchestra of invertebrates enjoying the range of wildflowers. This is a garden not to be missed.

The brick path leads one through the sculpture garden to the ‘hot ‘ area

The brick path leads one through the sculpture garden to the ‘hot ‘ area

Lower Abbotts Wootton Farm garden is open under the National Garden Scheme on 8-9 July, 2.00-5.00. Admission is £4 and there are home-made teas. For more information, visit www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/33325/

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