In this post, we hear from Eliza, our Head Gardener, and her plans to make Woolley's gardens even more beautiful. Following Eliza's visit to Great Dixter, she also has some valuable tips for garden border design
Perfect Planting by Eliza, Head Gardener at Woolley Grange
Hello to all you keen gardeners out there and to everyone who enjoys beautiful British gardens at this time of year.
Gardens are my passion and following my recent 'Perfect Planting' study day at Great Dixter in Sussex, I am feeling even more inspired to make Woolley’s garden even lovelier! The next development in the garden is a new 100m Long Border - a really exciting and challenging project that, if all goes well, will be completed by the end of the year.
The plan for Woolley’s 100m Long Border
The Long Border is something I've been wanting to add to the garden since I started at Woolley over three years ago. I'm very excited about the creative challenge and the difference that the border will make to the whole garden.
The huge bed will run further than the length of Woolley Grange itself. Starting at the steps by Woolley’s outdoor pool, it will stretch all the way past the pond and then join the main drive down by the big old chestnut tree - around 100 meters in total. The whole bed will be south facing and along its border will be a wide stone-paved path. As well as looking pretty, with plants spilling over the edge, the path will, most importantly, open up a huge part of Woolley’s grounds to pushchairs and wheelchair users.
This big border will be a major feature of the garden so it’s quite a responsibility to get in right. I want to be quite bold with adventurous planting combinations but at the same time remain in keeping with Woolley's gorgeous historic setting - quite a challenge ahead!
The inspiration: Great Dixter and Christopher Lloyd
Great Dixter was the home to gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd until his death ten years ago. I first discovered Christopher Lloyd when I came across a copy of 'A Well Tempered Garden' in a second-hand book shop a few years ago. I must admit I knew very little about Christopher Lloyd at that point, but once I started reading I was gripped! Normally with gardening books I dip in and out, mainly just admiring the lovely pictures, but this was the first gardening book that I couldn't put down. Christopher Lloyd wrote with such warmth and passion, as well as immense plant knowledge. His books are very funny, sprinkled with witty anecdotes and playful observations. You feel like he's just chatting away to an old friend. I've gone on to read and enjoy all of his books and his advice has helped me immensely with my gardening knowledge. I would highly recommend a read!
The Great Dixter garden
At Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd has created a glorious garden. The grounds were first designed by Lutyens who laid out the gardens for Christopher's father, Nathaniel, about a hundred years ago around the 15th century manor house. But it was Christopher who made the gardens famous. Since his death, Christopher’s Head Gardener, Fergus Garrett has taken on the mantle and shares Christopher's approach to gardening. It's not a museum garden though and Fergus is still constantly changing and developing the gardens.
The beautiful gardens feature topiary, numerous mixed borders, orchards, a vegetable garden, an exotic garden and wild flower meadows. There are numerous garden 'rooms' and each one seems to have its own character. What I love most about Great Dixter is its strong personality. You get a real sense of Christopher Lloyd as you wander round, not only in the planting but in quirky features like the giant mosaics of his beloved dachshunds! Dixter is a high maintenance garden there's no denying. There are numerous mixed borders so shrubs, climbers, hardy and tender perennials, annuals, biennials and bulbs are all growing together. The planting is profuse. Christopher’s famously exuberant and bold colour schemes predominate, expertly combining every imaginable colour combination. Self-sowers like cow parsley, forget-me-nots, poppies and honesty have been left to seed themselves freely, giving a real sense of informality and romance. All of this makes Great Dixter a truly unique and breathtakingly beautiful garden that's well worth a visit.
The Perfect Planting study day: learnings from Dixter to Woolley!
Christopher Lloyd's way of gardening has definitely influenced my approach at Woolley. I crave the rather wild and romantic look, and enjoy the freedom of not adhering to convention or being swayed by what might be 'fashionable'. My revisit to Great Dixter was inspiring and jam-packed with useful information, tips and insights. On the 'Perfect Planting' study day the morning was spent in the classroom with lectures from Fergus Garrett, and then, after a hearty lunch in the Big Hall, the afternoon was spent in the gardens with Fergus and a couple of the senior gardeners. I came away bursting with ideas for Woolley! Some of the key things I learnt which you may also find helpful in your garden are outlined briefly below.
Garden border planning tips
- Let your personality show in your garden
- Use plants like paints to create lovely pictures, creating contrast between the juxtaposition of plants in terms of texture and colour.
- “Right plant, Right place”. Know your garden well and know what will make a plant happy e.g. what's the soil like, where the shady beds are, what the drainage is like etc. Eventually you'll find the perfect spot for each plant, but it takes time.
- Try to see plants in the wild as often as possible, it's only then you really know makes a plant happy and flourish. If it doesn't work in one place dig it up and try it somewhere else!
- Have 'anchor plants' in your beds. Fergus' tip was to take a photo in black and white to see what the bed looks like when you're not just concentrating on colour combinations. Anchor plants are structural, foliage plants that make the bed more 'digestible' and add year-round interest. If you focus on flowers only, the impact can be too brash and noisy. Foliage calms and has a unifying effect. Individually, anchor plants are not the most exciting plants in your plan, but they are easily the most important.
- Visit other gardens too and don't be afraid to copy, especially if you're starting out. You can add your own personality as it develops.
- Let the surrounding landscape speak to you and try incorporating it into your garden. At Great Dixter wild flower meadows flow into the formal gardens, allowing the whole garden to sit naturally in its surroundings. I love how the countryside seems to merge seamlessly in the gardens here.
Great Dixter has a brilliant nursery so, of course, I had to buy a some plants at the end of the day! I came away with three that I hope will fit right in at Woolley. More on those later! Meanwhile, back to the digging! I hope this post has inspired you in the same way that Great Dixter has inspired me. If you’d like to know more, please come and find me in the Woolley garden.