Growing with the family - Garden designer’s Wheathampstead space

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 April 2020

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea

Judy Shardlow

A garden designer’s own Wheathampstead garden is an exercise in transforming a bare space into a range of interesting and beautiful areas.

With its elegant crisp curving lawn and well-planned selection of plants in generous borders, the garden at 28 Dale Avenue, Wheathampstead is full of inspiration at this time of year, and retains much interest across the seasons.
‘I looked at my garden at this time last year,’ its owner Judy Shardlow explains, ‘and I thought how lovely it looked in May. The garden brings me much happiness.’
An award-winning garden designer, Judy – who for years advised readers on the garden pages of this magazine – and her husband Peter moved here nine years ago when the outside space presented a blank canvas. 
‘There was nothing much in the garden apart from the lawn and a few trees,’ Judy says.
Their first project in the 30m x 25m country garden was to plant more trees to provide screening and interest. There’s liquidambar, an American sweetgum tree with fiery foliage in autumn, witch hazel with catkins in late winter, and a compact magnolia with spring blossom. An upright amelanchier provides spring blossom followed by berries and good autumn colour, while a Cornus controversa, known as the wedding cake tree, has distinctive tiers of horizontal branches with variegated foliage – a lovely focal point for any garden. Judy has also used Ligustrum trees, privet trees planted for screening that provide interest with flower and berries and so are also great for wildlife, and evergreen foliage.

The couple carried out further work in the garden around their young family, fitting in projects here and there when time allowed.

‘I did do a plan not long after we moved here,’ explains Judy, ‘and my starting point was a curving, sweeping lawn that led you on a journey from one end of the garden to the other.’ One feature they inherited was a swimming pool, but it was tucked away at the end of the garden and made it difficult to maintain the area around it. Judy removed the lawn surrounding the pool and created gravel borders filled with sun-loving and fragrant plants, heathers, bulbs and ornamental grasses. 
‘It looks super here now, is much easier to look after, and the air is filled with scent in summer.’

A big silver birch tree commands presence and moisture from the soil, so Judy created an island bed around it, carefully choosing plants that would thrive in these conditions. Stepping stones lead to a grass path beneath the tree, and the island bed includes herbs, salvias, irises, agapanthus, lavender, eryngiums and many varieties of Harkness and David Austin roses and lots of irises.

The island bed by the silver birchThe island bed by the silver birch

‘We garden on heavy clay and it’s quite a sunny site and to help the new planting get established we installed a seep-hose irrigation system in the borders, and this has been invaluable.’ 
Judy now advocates the use of irrigation systems to her garden design clients: ‘It’s a much better way to water your plants and means you can get on with other things rather than spending hours using a hose pipe or watering can.’

There’s a small vegetable patch at the end of the garden, partitioned by yew hedging
and accessed by a rose arch, and the family grows salads and summer vegetables in raised beds here. Despite it being a slightly shady area, the plot thrives. Elsewhere, a north-facing shady border has ferns, Heucheras, hellebores and hydrangeas, while irises, arum lilies, an acer and ferns surround a large pond. A large south-facing patio has climbing plants and sun-loving perennials.

Judy had planned to open her garden to visitors this month in aid of the National Garden Scheme, but of course following government guidelines around coronavirus the NGS has cancelled its garden events until further notice. Judy also had another reason she wanted to open it to the public. Her dad was poorly last year and received much help from Macmillan Cancer Support in hospital, and Judy would like to give something back. Macmillan and the NGS work together in a unique partnership, and since 1984 the scheme has donated more than £17.2m to the charity.
‘It would be lovely to not only inspire visitors in my garden but know that valuable funds will be raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.’

Fragrant rosesFragrant roses

Hopefully, that can take place in the not too distant future.

See more of Judy’s work at

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