The garden you will be visiting…
Our garden has grown from an acre to over four acres through the acquisition of adjacent land over 45 years. The development has been spasmodic, largely controlled by the needs of a growing family and the time and funds we have had available. It is a family garden with the design and construction our own responsibility. Design depended on many garden visits with notebook in hand. Over the years we have gradually learned about colour, form and scent, locating them not just in flowers but in leaves and structure. This has led to collections of our favourites: spring bulbs, magnolias, cherries, crab apples, peonies, irises and shrub roses, starting in February and taking us up to the end of June.
We hope our website will encourage you to visit us but until then we have used links from this text to the gallery for all the various beautiful plants we talk about below to show you how they have looked this past year.
Early plantings created shrub rose borders, influenced by Abbott’s Ripton, Sissinghurst and Hidcote. The idea of creating rooms at Sissinghurst influenced us considerably as this has been a garden enlarged at different times with no overall structure plan. Sight-lines to the village church tower and the church at Aldwincle became important, as did the wish for the garden to remain a playground for children. Now it is grandchildren who explore it! Except for two fine Yews and Copper Beeches, we have been privileged to plant all the trees. Some are now a good size, so with luck you do live to see trees grow to maturity. They have often commemorated some family event. They now give even better cover for wildlife and hide and seek!
The kitchen garden has box hedge-bound paths incorporating collections of peonies and irises. The tree peonies flower first, with Rockii in both UK and American forms foremost. Suppliers have been David Austin, Claire Austin, Kelways and Jean-Luc Riviere of Lyons, France, where he is the seventh generation of his family nursery.
The irises flower from mid-April with an intermediate old Kelways variety, Langport Smoke, outstandingly floriferous, scented and long-lasting with its mid-blue flowers. We have had it here since the 1980s, justifiably grabbing attention. There follows a range of tall flags moving across the deep, mysterious, darkest blue of Dusky Challenger, the nearly black colours of Ghost Train and Sable Knight, the intensely purple Rosalie Figge and Plum Fun to the mid tones of Mer du Sud and Yaquina Blue with finally the lighter ones of Caroline de Monaco and Silverado. Then there are the whites: Cliffs of Dover and Nordica. Dual-toned irises, Noctambule and Piste Noire, add character to the display. There are over 50 varieties lasting through May into early June, depending on the weather, mainly supplied by Austin father and daughter, Kelways earlier on and now Cayeux from France. It is marvellous how the Riviere and Cayeux families have spent five generations and more devoted to breeding and developing their plants. We find that the irises and peonies enhance each other, overlapping with the roses, magnolias, malus and prunus. The precise combinations vary each year giving each season its own character.
Early Springs have affected the flowering period of the roses and herbaceous border, often bringing them into flower earlier than a decade ago. The roses cover old French varieties like Charles de Mills, Comte de Chambord and Fantin Latour, as well as Portland roses and Hybrid Musks with their attribute of flowering again and again almost up to Christmas. The shrub roses are not just in borders but also spaced throughout the wild areas to ensure flowering in them over a longer period. In the wild they are able to grow to the size that nature gives them. Buff Beauty is now enormous after thirty years, with R x Dupontii a favourite for its scented, creamy, single blooms. Moyesii Geranium has reached tree-like proportions after close to forty years. The challenge has been to have a selection of glorious roses that flower only once interspersed with those that repeat. In this group, we have found Hybrid Musks a valuable addition.
Flowering trees are a joy. We have tested the capacity of our soil here to grow a range of magnolias. The new root stocks, being introduced by the bravest growers like John Ravenscroft, are offering new opportunities for gardens that border on neutral to lime. Wada’s Memory is now over twenty feet from its planting in 1990 with Soulangeanas doing well in numerous forms. Loebneri Merrill is over twenty years old and provides a spectacular show of strap-like white flowers covering the whole tree each year. Loebneri Donna is equally reliable with pretty, smaller, white flowers; Eskimo also grows well, as does Spectrum a little later, with its delicious deep purple blooms. The soil conditions, with good drainage, are fine for cherries and crabs, which both thrive here, some like Prunus Avium Plena, Fragrant Cloud and Yedoensis becoming substantial trees.
The collection has now spread to Beeches with the cut leaf purple Rohannii now nearly thirty years old, with its cousin, the rarer form Rohan Gold, slower but making good growth. They contrast well with the glaucous leaves of Fagus Engleriana, the cut leaves of Asplenifolia, the larger ones of Prince George of Greece and the strong, fastigiate form of Dawyck Gold. Autumn colour comes from Acer Rubra forms as well as the pretty leaves and berries of various Sorbus, led by Olympic Flame. These were introduced to us by an old friend, Richard Mayall, holder of a national collection of Betula in Ruyton XI towns in Shropshire. His arboretum is well worth a visit, teaching us about a range of related plants as well as a specific collection. Some of his Betula and Sorbus have found their way to Titchmarsh.
Like most enthusiastic gardeners, we are always learning from nurserymen, other gardens and visitors alike. Nick Macer of Pan Global Plants is a source of rare and tempting plants. From him have come a range of Buddleias including the white form of Buddleia Salvifolia, Agathosma and Glomerata, all flowering early in the summer, and the last two wearing beautiful gowns of silver foliage. These are slightly tender but worth the extra care we give them. Nick also has interesting philadelphus with an emphasis on Mexico where he has made plant-finding trips. Mexicanus Rose Syringa has the sweetest scent of all, from creamy flowers with a tall growing habit. It fully justifies the protection of a wall or other sheltered spot. His forms of Purpurascens have beautiful deep purple calyxes and are hardy and less demanding.
Steve of Hoyland Nursery near Sheffield has tutored us on Agapanthus, which now form a major part of our late summer flowering. In pots and borders they give a remarkable range of blues, whites and variegations between the two with different foliages to offset them.
As a contrast, you pass through a fine iron gate made lovingly by an elderly blacksmith, Mr James, in Broughton, near Kettering in 1980, into what has been christened the quiet garden. Instead of the original intention of planting a double herbaceous border we decided that maintenance had to be considered – so it changed into a structure of a lawn with clipped yew hedges in green and gold, fastigiate Irish yews and two contrasting, large-leafed Paulownia Tomentosum, which faithfully flower each year in late May. The variation in forms and leaf sizes and the half-moon pond, embraced by its own lower hedges, give this little garden a sculpture and spirit of its own. It is tranquil, away from the throb of daily life.
The earliest aconites usually greet Christmas and the cycle starts again, leading to the first Prunus, Conradinae, in February, and the droves of snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils, finishing with the Pheasant Eye narcissi as late as the end of May – and so the miraculous roundabout goes on year after year. Aren’t we fortunate in this country to have such variety, brought to us from all over the world!