Gardening - Act of enclosure

PUBLISHED: 09:09 28 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:03 20 February 2013

Peter Barrett

Peter Barrett

A tiny garden in Hemel Hempstead is positively brimming with plants and ideas. Philippa Pearson is enchanted and inspired as she explores the garden...

This garden is one big experiment, says Peter Barrett as we squeeze past borders and pots brimming with plants, because I love to try different plants out in different places. Once an area of lawn with a small collection of flower borders when Peter and wife Gaynor moved here in 1983, the garden has been totally transformed into a lush oasis with a treasure trove of interesting and unusual plants. Amazingly, this tiny garden only measures 50ft x 25ft yet it contains nearly 500 different plants. Peter is very inventive in his choice of plants for the containers and is not afraid to use specimens which normally require open ground to put down tap roots; pine trees, tree ferns, apples and pears are thriving in pots in the garden.

Apart from Peters experimental use of containers, his other criteria for the garden are to have paths that offer a choice of direction and to have the sound of water everywhere in the garden, this being provided by three water features. The concept works, brilliantly. Whilst the garden is not divided into separate rooms, a design solution often used to create themed areas, despite the tiny size the garden has different areas that flow naturally into each other. Near the kitchen is Peters experimental productive plot where potatoes, tomatoes, gooseberries and blueberries flourish in pots; theres even strawberries growing in hanging baskets which not only look great but are easy to harvest. The joy of having lots of plants in containers is that they can be moved around in the garden to bring an instant new look to an area, which is what Peter has done with his productive plot.

Last year, I had the vegetable and fruit outside the patio, says Peter, but decided to move them nearer the kitchen door this year; however, this area is shadier. Theres even a mini-orchard in the garden where Bramley apples, pears, cherries and plums look scrumptious in large pots. His secret to keeping plants looking good is thorough watering and liberal feeding with chicken manure pellets. Peter has also chosen plants for year-round interest and likes interesting and unusual specimens, such as the Wollemi pine and a good range of ferns. As part of his experimental approach to gardening, hanging baskets are planted with perennials. He uses coir baskets for Campanula poscharskyana and dwarf trailing bamboos to good effect as the plants happily root all over the matting, creating a stunning hanging feature.

In 2007, Peter contacted the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) looking for some tips and advice about how he could raise the standard of the garden. A visit from the local Hertfordshire NGS committee followed and the team were enchanted by the garden so, almost by default, the garden opened for the charity in May 2008. Peter opens twice a year for the NGS in May and August and opens at other times by appointment from May to mid-September. With his palette of plants for seasonal interest, September is a good time to see grasses, late summer perennials like Helianthus Lemon Queen and Anemone x hybrida in flower and the first signs of foliage colour on acers and shrubs like Cotinus. The even tinier front garden does not escape Peters planting and here I found my favourite ornamental grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster, a handsome grass at its peak in September with tall plumes of pinky-bronze flowers and stems turning a golden brown after the summers sun.

Peters garden is truly inspirational and is a must-see place to get ideas for your own garden and to be wowed by his use of plants in containers, and all in such a small space. Take a notebook with you when you visit!

Visit the garden

Peter and Gaynor Barrett
9 Tannisfield Drive
Hemel Hempstead HP2 5LG
01442 393508

The garden is only open by appointment until mid-September, please contact Peter to organise a visit. Open for the NGS in May and August; see the NGS website for details of 2012 openings.

Garden designer and RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson was awarded Peoples Choice Award for Best Show Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2010. Visit or contact her on 01767 651253

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