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Prairie-style planting

PUBLISHED: 11:57 16 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:57 16 June 2015

Grasses and Bronze Fennel add height in the border

Grasses and Bronze Fennel add height in the border


With wonderful views but an exposed site, an inspiring Old Knebworth garden has been created with colourful prairie-style planting. Philippa Pearson explores

The stunning white bark of the Himalayan Birch contrasts with the box ballsThe stunning white bark of the Himalayan Birch contrasts with the box balls

‘It was the view from the garden that made us buy this house,’ says Sue Wood as we wander around her garden in Old Knebworth and take in the breathtaking views. She and Paul Wood moved to the newly-built Field End House, surrounded by gently rolling farmland, some 26 years ago. 
‘The garden was just a plot of bare land with lawn and not much else apart from the mature trees on the field boundary,’ remembers Wood. Today, the garden has deep meandering borders filled with pretty planting that suits the location and the exposed windy site.

Wood enjoyed her parents’ garden while growing up near Datchworth but it was some years later when the gardening bug finally bit her. The first few years after moving to the new Knebworth home were spent attending to the interior of the house and the needs of the family. ‘We didn’t do too much in the garden to begin with,’ she explains, ‘and concentrated on putting patios and seating areas in, which Paul did, and only minimal planting.’

It was her good friend Julie Wise, with whom Sue went to secretarial college, who sparked her interest in plants and gardens. Wise is the county organiser for the Hertfordshire group of the National Gardens Scheme and a garden designer, so not a bad friend to have on hand when you want to start creating a garden, which Wood began in earnest seven years ago. ‘She’s been very inspirational and helpful,’ says Wood. ‘I’ve learnt a lot.’

Fuelled by Wise’s inspiration and with Wood finally developing her third of an acre outside space, her passion for plants and gardens was further enhanced on a one-year Garden Expert course at Capel Manor College in Enfield. ‘I absolutely loved it. It was an inspirational course that gave a good grounding in horticulture.’ Armed with her developing knowledge and advice, Wood started to transform the garden at Field End House. It was evident that the first thing any plant in the garden would need was the ability to stand up to the windy conditions. ‘The downside of having a garden with lovely countryside views is that the site is very exposed,’ Wood says. ‘We get strong winds coming straight off the fields and these can be quite cold and damaging to plants.’

Mixed planting by the garden wallMixed planting by the garden wall

She has countered this with deep borders filled with self-supporting prairie-style planting with lower levels of spreading plants to help with the framework; all giving a naturalistic feel. Year-round interest is important and she has planted groups of Himalayan Birch Betula, with its stunning white bark, in borders, while a well-placed group of different sized box topiary balls adds a contemporary feel. These work well with the informal meadow-style where the lawn has been left to grow long along the boundary under tall lime trees.

he patios on either side of the house provided an opportunity to introduce different planting styles. ‘I like to experiment,’ Wood says as we enjoy the textures and architectural shapes of exotic plants at one patio. Here, ferns under-plant Castor and Swiss Cheese plants while bamboos and banana plants bring height. The other patio sits in full sun and is surrounded by plants that can cope with this and the exposed conditions: sedum, lychnis and erigeron. Nearby, established clumps of the Chinese silver grass Miscanthus sinensis rustle in the wind. New plants and planting associations are tried out throughout the garden and Wood’s current focus is on extending the woodland planting under the lime trees.


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