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Manor House gardens

This wonderful garden consists mainly of two woodland gardens, a walled garden, various borders and large swaths of lawn with specimen trees. This is rejuvenation project which myself and Nicky Wharton began a few years ago, and it has been pleasure to be part of. Nicky is one of the foremost plants people in the South West and works as the plant archivist at Trebah Gardens, Cornwall and our skills complement each other. We have worked together on a number of projects.

We began with an outline survey and reported with observations and recommendations. These recommendations involved the removal of some large trees which opened up some lovely views, and the addition of several stands of Red Oak in the lower field which gave more of a sense of enclosure and privacy without losing the original intended 18 Century composition of grand open vistas.

The clients are not active gardeners but are keenly involved in the design and follow developments closely, and employ a team of gardeners to maintain the grounds. It’s always an important consideration in this kind of project to get everyone on board, to hear and consult with all parties involved. Diplomacy and time is often needed when other professionals, such as gardeners or architects are involved. Each can contribute in their own way, and we strived to ensure this was the case. Working alongside gardeners is essential to the long term success of a project like this. The clients now employ an experienced plants person one day a week, who can focus on the more specialised plant care and developing the garden long term.

The Cottage Garden
We started with redesigning the herbaceous borders in this stunning walled garden. A passionate gardener is essential for an herbaceous border to work, as it is a constantly evolving, living creation. Design and management are so closely interlinked in the herbaceous border and the whole joy is in the continual process of minor adjustments, divisions, removals, additions and the delight of accidental plant combinations, allowing some volunteer seedling, removing others.

Manor House gardens

This border was designed to complement three beautiful spheres commissioned from local artist Willa Ashworth The spheres were specially chosen for this space as the cottage garden has a flat croquet lawn which contrasts with the strong line of the sloping bed and back wall. Any bench or vertical sculpture would have accentuated the slope, using spherical sculpture worked well.

Borders and sphere

The Woodland Garden
The woodland garden had been neglected over the years and the plants were clearly suffering. The problems included poor soil with little moisture retention, disease and die back with the clear presence of the dreaded honey fungus. We had a big clear out, quite ruthlessly getting rid of the sick, ailing and out of place plants. The planting had little variety, dominated by Philadelphus, self seeding Tree Peonys and was hemmed in by Yew trees. There were a few gems, mature Cornus and Magnolias, which were enough to retain some middle canopy and a sense of maturity.

Before we could undertake any planting we had to improve the soil condition and moisture retention by incorporating vast amounts of compost to the existing beds. This involves a programme of continual improvement. Implementing a containment programme for the Honey Fungus, starts with the basic principle that a healthy plant has a stronger immunity towards disease.

The presence of Honey Fungus sadly limited the choice of plants: we omitted the notably susceptible genera and species (see the R.H.S Plant Pathology Advisory Leaflet No 5). These include Acers, Butula, Hydrangea, Magnolia, Rhododendron/Azalea and Virburnums.

I could not resist letting a few Acers run the gauntlet. Some of the upper and middle canopies we planted were Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Parasol’ /’Stared’ Parrotia persica Vanessa (an unusual form), Halesia Carolina ‘UConn Wedding Bells’, Tilia ‘Petiolaris’, a large selection of Cornus and Euonymus. We continued the middle canopy with Corylopsis, Stachyurus chinensis, Hamamelis, Daphne and clusters of Sarcococca for deep shade and winter scent. A couple of my favourites are Sinocalycanthus chinensis in particular Sinocalycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ which have beautiful dusky wine-red magnolia like flowers, opening to reveal a cream-coloured centre, there is a subtle fragrance in early summer. We planted two Disanthus cercidifolius which is more of a curiosity, apparently hard to grow, we lost one and the other is so far thriving.

White foxgloves
White foxgloves self seeding but still require weeding out the ones that revert.
Cornus Kousa
Cornus Kousa below seen in the back ground above
Stachyurus praecox var. leucothrichus
Stachyurus praecox var. leucothrichus
Protecting new planting from deer and rabbits
Protecting new planting from deer and rabbits

Although having a more limited palate due to the Honey Fungus, the opportunity to plant some more unusual and rarer woodland plants has been a great pleasure. Just to be involved in such a multi dimensional composition, not just with the initial planting but to be able to have a hand in the future adjustments, nurturing it into a delightful woodland garden to be enjoyed by future generations.

I would thoroughly recommend Karan Junkers book ‘Gardening with Woodland Plants’ to anyone undertaking a woodland garden, also her nursery Junkers for specialist plants.

It was a privilege to be part of the regeneration of this incredible garden.

Manor House gardens
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