Gardening: Converting a garden in Abbots Langley

PUBLISHED: 09:56 19 July 2016

The sunken garden (Photo Chris Roper)

The sunken garden (Photo Chris Roper)


When he retired, Peter Tomson rolled his sleeves up and really began to enjoy his Abbots Langley garden. Philippa Pearson visits Abbots House

Some borders are colour themed (Photo: Chris Roper)Some borders are colour themed (Photo: Chris Roper)

Having moved to The Abbots House in Abbots Langley some 61 years ago, it was only when Peter Tomson retired 25 years ago that he took up gardening seriously. Peter and his wife Sue enjoyed having the garden maintained by others for many years, but Peter’s passion for horticulture flourished after retirement and he wanted to keep active and busy. ‘The garden was quite formal and well laid out when we moved here,’ he explains. ‘Then when I had more time to spend in the garden, we developed it.’

The couple worked on softening the garden that surrounds the 16th-century house with its Queen Anne facade and added more informal planting. Borders were widened and made bigger, new borders were added with new planting. The tennis courts were dug over and planted with trees, shrubs and other plants, while sculptures were placed around the garden to bring a new dimension and points of interest.

One particular desire of Peter’s was to add more trees and the garden now has a generous collection. There are plenty of unusual and interesting varieties here which bring interest throughout the seasons with foliage shape and colour to blossom, fruit, bark texture and outline. Peter’s favourites include Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, known as the wedding-cake tree, because of its distinctive, horizontal, tiered layers of branches with beautiful creamy variegated foliage. This is good tree for a smaller garden, too, and will create a focal point in any space. Chilean Fire Bush, Embothrium coccineum, with its showy display of red tubular flowers in spring and summer, is another of Peter’s favourites. This evergreen shrub can be grown as a tree, so is also a good choice for small gardens.

Peter views his tree collection much like a stamp collector views theirs: ‘You just have to keep on getting the full set,’ he says ‘until you have a completed page.’

The orchard area (Chris Roper)The orchard area (Chris Roper)

Elsewhere in the one-and-three-quarter acre plot, the area is divided up by wide grass pathways into outside rooms and these create a range of different feels and looks in the garden. There are interesting shrub borders offering contrasting foliage and shape, and borders offering a range of different colour schemes and planting combinations. There’s a Mediterranean semi-formal garden, a sunken garden, a pond and a scented garden. The sunken garden was likely to have been part of the garden’s layout in the Edwardian Arts and Crafts era.

‘When we moved here the sunken garden was mostly grass and we cleared this away and then added some paths, a pond and new planting,’ Peter says.

A productive vegetable garden supplies produce for the kitchen and a small orchard brings blossom in spring and fruit in autumn. A wildflower meadow under-plants the orchard, creating a good space for bees and other pollinating insects while also blending the informality and pretty softness of this area with the rest of the garden.

When Peter began to spend more time in the garden he dedicated a lot of it to the greenhouse and polytunnel; growing plants from seed and cuttings, then selling his plants at weekends by the gate.

Many of the shrubs have been grown from seed or cuttings (Chris Roper)Many of the shrubs have been grown from seed or cuttings (Chris Roper)

‘I’ve grown a lot of the shrubs in the garden from cuttings and seed and it’s very rewarding to see how they have matured over the years to full-sized specimens.’ Peter and Sue have been opening their garden to the public in aid of the Red Cross and the National Garden Scheme for some 20 years and do most of the work in the garden themselves, with occasional help when needed at key times of the year.

Now 89, Peter’s future plans for the garden are to take time to enjoy the plants and the changing seasonal interest throughout the year. But he has no plans to give up gardening, its roots are too strong - ‘I’m out there all day and every day, whenever I can.’

Visit the garden

The Abbots House

10 High Street

Abbots Langely WD5 0AR

The garden is open for pre-booked groups of 10-30 until August for the National Garden Scheme. Contact Peter on 01923 264946 or to arrange a booking.

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