Gardening: Inspired by the wild
PUBLISHED: 12:23 21 July 2015 | UPDATED: 12:23 21 July 2015
In the North Herts village of Breachwood Green, a pretty 17th-century cottage has a very unusual collection of plants, landscaping and containers inspired by wilder parts of the UK and our gardening heritage. Philippa Pearson visits
‘Most gardens have a lawn,’ says Melvin Gore as we enter the rear garden of the charming 17th century cottage in Breachwood Green where he lives with wife Maureen, ‘But after a while we didn’t want that, we wanted something that would show off the plants.’ Their planting space is little more than a quarter of an acre including the front garden, but it delivers a surprise for the amount and different types of plants and the landscaping. The couple, who were both born in the village, moved to the cottage some 40 years ago. ‘We were living in a nearby village but knew this cottage quite well,’ explains Gore, ‘and as soon as it came up for sale, we bought it and moved back.’ The cottage, however, was practically derelict and hadn’t been lived in for four years. There was a great deal of work to do inside, so the garden took a back seat for a while. The ‘garden’ wasn’t actually a place for plants, though: ‘It was full of sheds,’ Gore recalls. ‘Every inch was taken up by sheds and there were no plants anywhere.’
Once the house was habitable, he set about removing the structures and making a garden. At first, there was an area of lawn as the couple had young children and then a small pond was added. As the couple became more interested in gardening, browsing nurseries and visiting horticultural shows, they soon started to add more plants and borders to the space.
Another hobby is walking, particularly in Scotland and the Peak District and this is where the inspiration for their present garden came. ‘The landscape of the Peaks and Scotland with its rocks and water was something we wanted to bring to our garden,’ Gore explains. More than five tonnes of Westmorland stone was brought in to create a stunning landscape and backdrop for the planting. Some areas are planted up as alpine beds or miniature rock gardens while others shape the contours of the garden, giving height as well as depth. The original small pond was enlarged, now stocked with plenty of fish, and a ravine, complete with bridge, was added to emulate the rocky hilly terrain of the couple’s much-loved rambling territory. A further smaller pond and stream were also added. Bases of some of the sheds that once covered the garden have been creatively recycled into raised scree beds which make for unexpected planting delights as you wander around the garden exploring its many hidden aspects. Some of the original brick paths remain, and the outside privy is now the potting shed.
The greenhouse is full of plants and seedlings in various stages of growth and there’s a fine collection of pelargoniums. Maureen collects these pretty geraniums, which offer interesting leaf shape and markings, often fragrant foliage and delicate flowers, and displays them in areas of the garden as well as in the conservatory. Dahlias, stored in one of the remaining sheds over the winter, get started off in spring in the greenhouse and create a stunning display in the front garden, particularly the deep red Bishop of Llandaff with its dark foliage and luminous flowers. The front garden is typically that of a traditional cottage garden with masses of different plants enjoying the sunny aspect and creates a wow factor as you pass by on foot or car.
Intermingled in both the front and back gardens are interesting and carefully-placed agriculture and gardening items from years gone by. It turns out that both the Gores have enjoyed collecting not only plants for the past 40 years, but also vintage garden tools and machinery.
A large shed houses an extensive range of these and walls are lined with rows upon rows of secateurs, trowels and other garden tools, large and small. One of Gore’s favourites is a double hedging machine which was used in its heyday by two gardeners to cut neat hedges on grand estates.
The collection is fascinating - you can trace the development of how some tools have changed over the centuries. The use of larger items such as stone sinks turned into alpine toughs or rain hoppers used as wall containers in the garden is a fun and quirky touch.