While every gardener dreams of the endless scope of a bare plot, there are advantages to inheriting some sort of garden. Established trees and shrubs add a maturity that can take years to achieve while weathered paving is so much softer than newly laid. The important thing is to know what to take out and what to leave in place.
When Allan and Louise Hirst took over Ampney Brook House two years ago the changes that needed to be made were obvious. While there were numerous shrubs and some beautiful trees, the nearly four-and-a-half acres had little in the way of colour apart from roses. Then there was the terrace, a vast expanse of uneven Cotswold stone paving.
“It looked like a lorry car park,” recalls Allan.
It was the first thing to go, replaced by tiny pea shingle inset with stepping stone slabs and bigger stretches of paving. The still large space is broken up into more intimate areas by modern furniture and sleek pots filled with bright annuals, which provide a contemporary contrast to the old Cotswold stone building.
Knowing what to do with the trees was more difficult and Allan called in a tree consultant for advice. The result was the removal of 70 trees, including several from a group of pines, planted by a previous owner as a crop and never harvested. While the need to thin them was obvious, taking down a large beech was less so but the resulting sense of openness and views towards other more beautiful trees has been a vast improvement.
Much of the transformation of the garden is thanks to Allan’s collaboration with his long-time gardener Linda Bensley.
“Linda provides anything requiring professional knowledge and skills,” he explains.
Together they have introduced much-need colour over the existing framework, adding herbaceous borders and breaking up several rose beds to give more variety; one has become the beginnings of a knot bed, designed to echo a motif over a nearby door, another has been turned into a ‘prairie bed’ to remind Allan of his American roots.
Nothing is wasted: roses have been found new homes elsewhere in the garden and even self-sown buddleia is being used to bulk out elder that screen the pine plantation from the main garden.
“Anything that self-seeds gets dug up and moved,” says Linda.
The area that has seen the biggest transformation is what used to be straightforward lawn at the back of the house. That is now home to an impressive greenhouse, used to grow all the bedding for the garden, and a pretty yet productive kitchen garden. Box is gradually giving a formal edging to the beds and a seat, made from garden tools, offers a welcome place to sit.
The herbaceous borders that now frame the main lawn have contrasting colour palettes of hot and cool. At one end there are delphiniums, cosmos, zinnias and lupins threaded through with Verbena bonariensis while at the other geums, dahlias and phlomis sizzle in yellow, red and orange.
“There are some soft colours in here as well,” says Linda, “because I wanted the two to blend.”
Linking the borders are long iris beds that still have an architectural element when not in flower.
The shrub borders have had flowers, including feverfew, campanula and astrantia, added to the existing mix of viburnum, cornus, peonies and philadelphus to extend the season and introduce more colour.
In the orchard hundreds of tulips, alliums, snowdrops, aconites and primroses have been planted and bluebells are beginning to carpet ground beneath the trees.
Indeed, as you move away from the house towards the brook on the boundary so the garden becomes more relaxed with a newly created bog area that is proving a magnet for wildlife, a native hedge, planted to screen the tennis court from the drive, and Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ growing through an apple tree.
There is also a touch of fun: wooden pigs, carved from some of the felled trees, and a signpost, made from another tree that came down, helpfully pointing out the direction of the pub.
“We’ve tried to create different moods in different places,” says Linda, “and added a little bit of humour.”
With plans to revamp as yet untouched areas it’s clear that this young garden still has more to offer. But the combination of a mature framework and fresh ideas mean it is already delivering.