About the garden........
Like everyone, Mr P and I have created a garden that is unique to our particular requirements. It is a bonus if others find it appealing and restful. As it surrounds an old Cheshire cottage, it seems sense to describe it as a cottage garden and in many ways it is. Old cottage garden favourites fill the borders in abundance and there is of course the requisite rambling rose around the door. The kitchen garden, orchard and hen run also meet the brief for a cottage garden but towards the rear and overlooking fields is our secret sanctuary where we spend so many evenings. This is where we dug a pond and where the accompanying jetty faces the setting sun.
It was all grass when we arrived and that first summer we used to play croquet there, but there was a hollow where puddles collected when it rained so it seemed to be the perfect spot for a pond. We wanted a wildlife pond so constructed it with a bentonite clay liner which was then piled to take the jetty which projects over the water. Here, over the years and usually with a glass in hand, we have been buzzed by bats, hounded by herons and dive-bombed by swallows swooping for insects. A pair of ducks take up residence each spring and the many thousands of tadpoles have contributed to a healthy frog population all over the garden. It is the place where, at the end of the gardening day, we convene and take stock!
Surrounding the pond are the bog gardens to either side of the jetty and on the West and South sides are a hot bed (Mr P’s idea of heaven) and the white bed (which is mine). On the North side is the summerhouse that we retreat to in inclement weather and beyond that the wildflower meadow. All of this is hidden from the house and drive by a majestic white Japanese cherry, an acer griseum and some mature rhododendrons, the whole area underplanted with native bluebells and lily of the valley. This, to all intent and purposes is a secret garden where time stands still and the outside world does not exist. A mown path winds through the meadow and at the far end are coppiced willows which we use annually to make plant supports and a handful of young buckthorns, planted to accommodate the brimstone butterflies, whose larval food plant it is, and whose numbers have increased tremendously. Other mature trees border the meadow including a horse chestnut and hornbeam. There is also a rather gorgeous bronze hazel that produces prolific quantities of nuts which I do my best to beat the squirrel to each year.
Let me also introduce you to The Pottio, so named by my wonderful friend Sara, who like me, loves a play on words. It is, in effect, the potting shed patio. I know that sounds frightfully smart but it’s actually in the utility area of the garden, hidden from the LPG tank only by a row of raspberries and some hazel hurdlage. When we installed the potting shed, we had recently replaced our outdoor table and the old one was just too good to get rid of so as a means of accommodating it we extended the hardstanding for the shed to the side and installed the table as an outdoor potting bench. This has proved to be a move of sheer genius and gets constant use. It’s a place of refuge, of creativity, of a satisfying at-oneness with nature. In winter the bare branches of the trees afford a view across the wildflower meadow to the pond whilst in spring I peer out from over a frivolous froth of cow’s parsley. I have a chair, and a cushion hangs on the back of the potting shed door. When I first considered the luxury of a dedicated shed in which to pot up, I thought I might like a wind-up radio to keep me company but, aside from during the biting chill of February when I venture out to sow the first seeds with the door tied tightly shut from the inside, the birdsong is much more welcome.
Sharing this part of the garden is the hen run, occupied by a mixed flock of large hens, Orpingtons, araucanas, wellsummers and light sussex to name a few. These gorgeous girls are held in check (in his dreams only) by Graham our Orpington cockerel. Poor old Graham, he’s a bit hen-pecked. When he arrived we optimistically named him Napoleon, imagining him standing commandingly atop the hen house whilst the hens deferred to his every crow. Sadly, his crow has never quite developed into the dawn shattering sound beloved of hen fanciers everywhere and whilst it appears that his sexual prowess may eclipse his crow, the hens do nothing to hide their disdain.
Adjoining the hen run is the greenhouse which replaced an earlier and less impressive model two years ago. This new improved version has a cold frame that runs the width of the rear, which as every gardener knows, is the height of luxury. The greenhouse is largely my domain as it is mostly used to raise veg plants during the early part of the year and later it will house as many tomato plants, peppers, chillis, cucumbers and gherkins as I can possibly fit in. I will always make a concession towards the flower beds by sowing some seeds each spring and these will vary depending on my mood. This year it has been lupins and ammi majus, in a bid to prolong the white froth of the cows parsley in spring.
On the other side of the greenhouse are the vegetable beds, without doubt the most important area of the garden (at least to me). These are bordered by low box hedges and intersected by three parallel paths. Its not a huge space but I manage to pack in quite a lot. I don’t bother with potatoes because we live on the Cheshire Plain – home to hundreds of potato farms and the source of many a packet of potato crisps. It seems absolutely pointless to use valuable space for these when I can buy a sackful from my neighbouring farmer. The more I can plant that will grow vertically, the better so all varieties of beans, broad, runner, french, peas and edamame are all great. Similarly sweetcorn is a winner. Having lost loads of brassicas to the munching of caterpillers over the years, I now have the luxury of a brassica cage with fine mesh netting that is butterfly proof. Once planted, this more or less looks after itself until I’m ready to start cropping. Soon after planting, I put a thick level of straw mulch around the base of the plants and this prevents weeds from surfacing. This year I am growing kalettes, kohl-rabi, cavolo nero, broccoli and sprouts. Any remaining space in the main bed, after all the basics are in, gets planted with lettuce, radishes, beetroot, chard and spinach. There are two supplementary beds which we call the allotments, one of which just has blueberries in and the other, varies from year to year. This year I have planted some globe artichokes there so if they do well, they may stay. In addition, there are large pots outside the greenhouse which have courgettes and tromboncino in, along with sweet peas and nasturtiums. The pottio also houses pots of left over vegetables, this year there is a standard gooseberry, several tomato plants and two courgettes.
An arch leads through the loosely styled Japanese borders with various acers and an impressive forest pansy tree (Cercis Canadensis) to the area of lawn immediately above the house. Here the patio adjoins the back of the garage and is home to a vigorous fig tree which enjoys the South facing aspect. We also have a monkey puzzle tree here which has frankly outgrown it’s space but which we can’t bring ourselves to cut down. I tend to grow more exotic looking plants in pots on the patio and they do well with the aspect. When we moved here, there was nowhere at all to sit but we eat outside at every availability and like to chase the sun as it works around the garden, so we have created several places to sit. The patio has both a dining area with table, chairs and barbecue and a sitting area with comfy chairs and a firepit.
In the centre of the main lawn is the PDR, abbreviated from pièce de résistance, which ironically, it absolutely isn’t! Because the garden of this cottage has been extended over the years with the acquisition of more land, we have the unfortunate feature of a large septic tank right bang in the middle of the garden. Whilst we had thought originally that we would move it to a less prominent position, it turns out that this septic tank is a feat of Victorian engineering, brick built and (according to those who know) a rare three chamber variety. More to the point, it works extremely well and as all septic tank owners know, that is not something to be trifled with. When we arrived, this unsightly large, raised carbuncle was surrounded by a short clipped laurel hedge which only made it more of an unattractive feature. Instead, we have positioned a huge rusty iron pergola on top of the circular wall and planted ferociously all around it. With the rose and clematis which now scramble over the pergola, no visitors to the garden are any the wiser about what lurks beneath. So much so, that our neighbour (known for her dry wit) announced that the pergola was the ideal place for her and her husband to re-new their wedding vows.
Beyond the PDR is the (new) croquet lawn and the only area of grass large enough to accommodate a small marquee when the need arises and behind this is the orchard with eating and cooking apple trees, two Victoria plums, a pear, a cherry and a Warwickshire Drooper, an old fashioned yellow plum. A further utility area on the boundry houses a brick-built shed and two more compost bins.
Back through the arch and beyond the allotments is the most recent area of garden. Mr P, being a lover of all things herbaceous has always wanted a traditional double border with central path and ideally surrounded by aged brick walls. However, since we don’t have acres of land and any kind of wall would be an eye-watering expense we have surrounded two beds with yew hedging which is now in it’s third year. The beds are basically rectangular and separated by a gravel path. They are planted with largely late summer flowering plants and grasses. The idea being that once the hedges are at their required six feet height, they will form a dark green backdrop to the plants, allowing them to shine. Once established to full height, this hedge will add further to the secret garden element of the pond area and enhance the feeling of moving from one room to another.
We have realised that we are now, disappointingly, running out of room for large projects so we will have to content ourselves with tweaking existing planting schemes.