Rustling nature trail
PUBLISHED: 13:05 24 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:05 24 August 2015
Julie Wise's garden at Rustling End has wonderful naturalistic planting that is simply inspirational, Philippa Pearson writes
As I walk with Julie Wise through her garden, plants brush against my legs as we wander in an area she calls The Wedge, so-named because of its shape. At times it is hard to make out the path as plants tumble over the edges, and when we pause in this semi-wild garden, the bird-song is plentiful and joined by the gentle hum of bees enjoying a feast of flowers. The wildlife theme extends across the whole garden which Julie has laid out as different ‘rooms’, each separated by hedges. ‘I planted these with tiny trees when we first moved here,’ says Julie as we stand by the now mature yew hedging. ‘As I wanted to divide the garden up to create a sense of enclosure and interest.’ Julie and husband Tim bought Rustling End Cottage in 1993, then a run-down farm workers’ cottage that hadn’t been lived in for two years. One of her friends politely called it ‘a shed in a field’, but the couple were charmed by the cottage and its location on the edge of woodland near Codicote. ‘The cottage needed masses of work,’ explains Julie. ‘We spent every bit of spare time we could focussing on making it habitable again.’
As Tim worked away on the inside of the cottage, Julie began to think about the garden, which was a wilderness. ‘There were hardly any plants here,’ Julie recalls. ‘Just a few specimens dotted around and some trees.’ Julie’s work as a cabin crew attendant on British Airways long haul flights meant she wasn’t around much to look after the garden; she was often away for three weeks at a time, so her strategy once the hedging was in was for the planting to look after itself and adapt to her lifestyle. ‘I chose a lot of self-seeding plants that would cover the ground quickly and without too much attention from me.’
When Julie and Tim married, their wedding list was left with Heritage Trees in Hertford and guests bought trees, shrubs and other plants for the couple.
Before most of the planting was done, the heavy clay soil was improved with well-rotted farmyard manure. ‘There used to be a dairy farmer in Codicote,’ Julie says, ‘who brought tractor loads of the stuff over to us.’
Julie’s philosophy is to let plants find their own place in the garden and her naturalistic approach to both gardening and planting is visible everywhere. Areas may be divided up into rooms, but the overall mood is as though nature has guided the planting schemes. Wildflowers mingle with cultivated plants to create an entirely natural, holistic and quite breath-taking effect, with many surprises that simply work well and are inspirational.
The centre of the rear garden has long, deep borders backed by mature yew hedges with a broad gravel pathway separating the beds. Here, tall herbaceous plants, roses, grasses and plenty of self-seeders give a meadow-like feel to borders, which blend perfectly with the cottage and its rural surroundings. The terrace by the house has drought-tolerant planting with a laurel shrub creating a strong focal point. ‘I started this area in 1996 after the previous dry summer when, fearing the failure of many plants, I concentrated on drought-tolerant plants near to the house,’ Julie explains. ‘These plants are now doing well and are never watered, and the gravel is topped up each spring.’
Julie was born and grew up in neighbouring village Woolmer Green and has always loved the nature in the area. ‘I had a wonderful primary school teacher who used to take us on nature walks,’ she says. ‘It was very inspiring.’ During her career with British Airways she would spend time abroad visiting gardens, often early in the morning while acclimatising, taking in different styles of planting.
‘I really enjoyed Piet Oudolf’s planting at Chicago’s Millennium Park with its wonderful naturalist mix of native plants,’ Julie recalls. A few years ago, Julie did a garden design and planting course at Oaklands College in St Albans and now designs gardens for many clients across Hertfordshire, working with a team of friends to maintain the gardens she creates. Julie’s enjoyment of gardens wasn’t restricted to when she was working abroad, as she and her mother spent much time visiting Hertfordshire gardens open for the National Garden Scheme. ‘I was always inspired by the immense range of gardens opening for the NGSand the fabulous selection of plants for sale,’ Julie explains. She opened her own garden in 2000 as part of the scheme, the first garden to open in the evening, and was soon co-opted on to the county committee, becoming county organiser for Hertfordshire NGS in 2009. With around 60 gardens open this year in the county, Julie is kept busy but she thoroughly enjoys her work with the charity and still finds time to tend her own beautiful and inspirational garden.