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Garden Focus: Amwell Cottage near Wheathampstead

PUBLISHED: 13:02 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:02 02 May 2017

The vegetable garden (photo: Philippa Pearson)

The vegetable garden (photo: Philippa Pearson)

philippa pearson

Amwell Cottage near Wheathampstead has a traditional cottage garden and an ancient orchard with abundant blossoms this month. Philippa Pearson visits, as can you

Netting around borders helps prevent rabbits and deer eating plants (photo: Philippa Pearson)Netting around borders helps prevent rabbits and deer eating plants (photo: Philippa Pearson)

‘There’s a sense of space in this garden, which we love,’ says Kate Birss of her garden at Amwell Cottage near Wheathampstead. The cottage was built in the 17th century but extended over the years, with the garden mostly laid out in the 1930s. ‘We haven’t changed much in the actual layout of the gardens from that period,’ says Kate who moved with husband Colin to the property from London in 1999. ‘But we’ve added different styles of planting and created more areas within the garden.’ The informal garden of two-and-half-acres wraps itself around the cottage and includes a large orchard, extensive lawns with herbaceous borders, a woodland area with pond, a productive garden with a greenhouse and raised beds, all framed with tall yew hedges and old brick walls. There’s also a fire pit garden area created by garden designer Fiona Green, which is a lovely sheltered place for the family to relax in and enjoy throughout the year.

The large orchard has apples, pears and plums, and is laid out with mown paths through long grass which wander past the gnarled fruit trees. The long grass has naturalised plantings of daffodils followed by cow parsley when the fruit blossom is out.

‘The orchard is very old,’ says Kate, ‘and there are several old fruit varieties in here. The blossom in late spring is an absolutely gorgeous sight.’

Kate and Colin have kept bees for many years, which make their home in the orchard to take advantage of the abundant late spring blossom.

Abundant apple blossom in the orchard (photo: Philippa Pearson)Abundant apple blossom in the orchard (photo: Philippa Pearson)

The public have been welcomed in spring too, with the couple opening their garden for the past eight years for the National Gardens Scheme. The fruit blossom and tulips, paeonies and perennials in the borders all bring colour and interest, which makes this a popular garden to visit. ‘We also do fantastic teas,’ Kate adds, smiling. Always a benchmark of a good garden opening.

The traditional cottage garden-style planting is embellished with copious plantings of roses, including an arbour planted with climbing roses and other plants which makes a lovely scented feature in the garden. A new rose bed was planted in the autumn while the terrace has thornless roses and ground cover varieties which bring colour to other areas.

The site is surrounded by fields and open space which means that the herbaceous borders in particular are also enjoyed by other visitors, namely rabbits and deer.

‘We keep the borders fenced off with netting, particularly in the early growing season,’ says Kate, ‘but take this down for public opening time.’

Iris in bloom (photo: Philippa Pearson)Iris in bloom (photo: Philippa Pearson)

Through trial and error, Kate has learnt to grow plants that prosper well in the garden’s environment and that will survive any unwelcome visitors.

There are colour zones across the garden’s borders moving from reds and pinks to blues, purples, orange and yellow and white. There’s also a shady area with ferns and hostas, and lots of stone seats around to sit and enjoy the space and the beautiful views across the surrounding countryside through the seasons.

Kate and Colin have help twice a week in the summer from John, their gardener, but both enjoy the opportunity to be outside and looking after the borders. Family help out as well when they can.

A new feature for their NGS opening this year is an art exhibition in the garden. ‘Garden View’ will feature works in any media that represent the garden, whether a view or an individual plant. The pictures will be hung around the garden and the exhibition is open to all artists including students, amateurs and professionals. All work will be for sale with a percentage of sales donated to the charity Hope and Homes for Children.

The greenhouse is a key part of the productive garden (photo: Philippa Pearson)The greenhouse is a key part of the productive garden (photo: Philippa Pearson)

Deer & rabbit resistant plants

Try these plants if you have problems with nibblers in your garden.

Climbing roses and other plants make a scented avenue (photo: Philippa Pearson)Climbing roses and other plants make a scented avenue (photo: Philippa Pearson)


bay, clematis, digitalis, euphorbia, hellebore, hydrangea, lavender, rhododendron


acanthus, astilbe, bay, buddleja, clematis, dahlia, hellebore, nepeta, phormium, viburnum

Visit Amwell Cottage

The garden is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday April 30, 2-5pm. Admission £4, children free.

Homemade teas. Refreshments in aid of Hope and Homes for Children. Art exhibition in the garden. Dog friendly. Plants for sale. Suitable for wheelchairs.

Amwell Cottage

Amwell Lane




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