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A tapestry of colour at Serge Hill

PUBLISHED: 11:55 05 August 2014 | UPDATED: 11:55 05 August 2014

Wide borders filled with naturalistic planting at The Barn garden

Wide borders filled with naturalistic planting at The Barn garden

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Renowned landscape designers Tom and Kate Stuart-Smith are opening their stunning gardens at Serge Hill near Abbot’s Langley for charity. Philippa Pearson is given the tour

The courtyard garden at the Barn with colourful plantingThe courtyard garden at the Barn with colourful planting

Looking around a garden designer’s garden is always a chance to see inspiring planting schemes and creative features. The opportunity to see two designers’ gardens in the same location and on the same day is definitely one not to be missed.

RHS award-winning landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith is opening his Barn Garden at Serge Hill near Abbots Langley for two special occasions this year in July and September and his designer sister Kate Stuart-Smith’s garden over the road is also open. Both openings will raise funds for the Garden Museum, in Lambeth, London, of which Tom is a trustee.

Both gardens are very diverse in design and planting details. The Barn Garden was developed by Tom and his wife Sue during the 1980s with help from other family members, including Tom’s parents Joan and Murray. Now wonderfully mature, the gardens include a wildflower meadow with meandering paths through long grass and native wildflowers, while a prairie meadow, prepared and sown in 2011 with a mix of mainly north American perennials, makes an exotic site full of colour. The west garden area next to the barn, once a wheat field, now pleases the eye with sumptuous naturalistic plantings of perennials mixed with grasses and shrubs to create interest throughout the seasons.

Tom grew up in the nearby Queen Anne house at Serge Hill, where his parents and sister Kate still live, and the family renovated the adjacent farm buildings in the late 1980s for Tom and Sue to live in. ‘There was nothing here except an empty landscape. No trees, nothing. Just an old barn surrounded by arable fields,’ Tom remembers.

Tom Stuart-Smith's garden at The BarnTom Stuart-Smith's garden at The Barn

The courtyard garden, in the centre of the original farmyard, was the first garden to be created - planted with formal box-edged beds filled with roses and perennials. The garden was stripped out and redesigned in 2007 to create a more contemporary space using elements and features from Tom’s Gold Medal and Best In Show Chelsea Flower Show garden for the Daily Telegraph in 2006. The rusting corten steel wall, brown stone pathways and steel water tanks used in the show garden fit the space perfectly and are complimented with colourful and naturalistic planting that adds interest across the seasons.

Planting in this hot, sunny courtyard is drought tolerant, a recurrent theme in all the garden areas. ‘The ground can dry out very quickly here, especially in hot summers,’ Tom explains, picking up a handful of dry, stony soil. ‘Plants can struggle in these conditions and those that are adapted to cope with drought conditions do better. Once established, they require minimum watering.’ Plants that are thriving here include irises, echinaceas, euphorbias, sedums, salvias, eryngiums, achilleas and grasses like Stipa gigantea and Panicum.

Up the road at Serge Hill Garden, Kate Stuart-Smith has applied her planting style and ideas in the garden her mother Joan developed over many years. The walled garden still has a generous vegetable growing area but Kate has added contrasting planting and features that mingle happily with some of Joan’s original scheme. Gravel paths and wide borders planted with roses, shrubs and perennials create a romantic scene but there are also exquisite planting schemes and colour details which are truly inspirational.

All proceeds raised from the openings will support the creation of a garden design archive at the Garden Museum, to preserve garden legacies for future garden designers and creators. The permanent archive will be the first of its kind in the country, with a purpose-built repository for records of designs, plant lists and correspondence, together with photographs and media response. The founding collection will include the work of John Brookes, Beth Chatto and Penelope Hobhouse, together with the photographic archive of Andrew Lawson.

The walled garden at Serge HillThe walled garden at Serge Hill

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VISIT THE GARDENS. 
The Barn and Serge Hill gardens are at Serge Hill Lane, Bedmond, WD5 0RT, and are open in aid of the Garden Museum on Monday September 15.

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Half day, 2.30-5pm, £15.

Tom Stuart-SmithTom Stuart-Smith

Includes afternoon tea in the garden and time to explore both gardens. No booking required.

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Full day, 11am–3pm, £85.

Includes a talk by Tom Stuart-Smith about his garden and seasonal planting, tours around both gardens, lunch and free time in the gardens. Places must be booked in advance.

To book places for the full day contact Rebecca Nicholl at the Garden Museum on 020 7401 8865 or email Rebecca@gardenmuseum.org.uk Further information about garden open days and the Garden Museum can be found at gardenmuseum.org.uk

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