The first garden we owned, around the mid 70s, was in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Few photographs of it remain, but this one perhaps reflects our joint passions – plants and animals.
In the late 70s, we left London to seek the good life in Cornwall.
This was the view from the dilapidated farmhouse we bought in the village of Menheniot, near Liskeard. It was around the time of John Seymour’s influential and inspirational book The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. Note the dog in the field. She’s a black and white English Pointer. We’ve had pointers all through the years. We garden with and around them.
The farmhouse was on the edge of Bodmin Moor and, although Jeremy had a full-time job at the BBC in Plymouth, over the years we worked the barren plot into a domestic garden and veg plot.
Seen above, shortly after we bought the Cornish farmhouse, the back garden was pretty bleak. Piles of building debris are signs of the work going on in the house, but even so the veg beds are well underway.
Four years later, it was beginning to look more like a garden.
And, some years on, we revisited the house and found the garden was really beginning to mature. Those tiny conifers had become sizeable trees. And at the front of the house, the tiny fig we’d planted was beginning to bear fruit.
In the late 80s, though, promotion at work, and perhaps the feeling that our young son should know something of the wider world, took us back to London. We bought a house in Twickenham.
The garden there was already a small, leafy, oasis of calm (despite regularly being on the Heathrow flightpath), but we took up the patchy light-starved lawn, and using London bricks and pale pink paving designed it as a place to relax in, adding a pergola to eat under. It was a good area for the children (now two of them) to play in.
We missed the countryside though, and often holidayed in France. Following some of our friends, we decided to buy a holiday home there. We found a wreck of a barn in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of south-west France (picture at the top of this page).
In the fierce summer heat we set about clearing the dense scrub, planning a gently ascending terrace that would run the length of the barn front.
We only had a few weeks in each school holiday time, so it was a slow, organic process. We laid paving, and constructed raised stone beds.
Over the years the planting filled out and it was a wonderful place to have breakfast before the sun was too high, and gave great views across the open countryside.
But as the children grew up, their social ties to friends at home grew stronger (by then that was Bristol) and we decided to find a bolthole closer to home.
And so it was back to Cornwall, and another old farmhouse, this time near Launceston.
Much of the garden was laid out already, but we expanded outwards into the surrounding barns and fields, once again only able to garden avidly on the weekends and holidays when we managed to escape the city, and work.
Not until we eventually moved to live full-time in Cornwall did we begin to experience the possibilities of a deeper immersion in garden development.
Once more we moved, this time to a rebuilt mill on the North Cornish coast. Here was a very large challenge. A garden which, although basically laid out with good hedge protection from the coastal elements, was a really inviting blank canvas.
The Mill had been rebuilt 20 years previously, with the arrival at the end of a long drive centred around a rather blank open tarmac and shrubbery bed courtyard. We set about redesigning this to become a more enclosed garden courtyard, somewhere attractive to welcome visitors, which revealed itself from behind a new screen of hornbeam columns with a trellis behind.
The courtyard arrival
Re-design work underway
The new courtyard garden
The main garden beside and behind the Mill House was, again, very basically planted and shaped, so we set about ‘editing’ it – replanting and redesigning beds. This area of the house gave the best views out across the Cornish valleys, towards Bodmin Moor.
This was the main garden after a number of years. We enhanced the circular shape by extending and reshaping the bed on the left hand side, re-discovering the overgrown curve of the far side shrubbery bed, removing or reducing some overgrown shrubs and adding softer planting, and replacing the red brick edging with granite sets, which was the appropriate local stone.
Below the main garden, there was virgin territory where the land sloped away down towards an old copse.This was the next area to be tackled. Eventually, to one side it would become a greenhouse area and raised bed vegetable garden, and to the centre and right, flanked by a small mill stream, it would become the summer garden.
The virgin land as we moved in
The summer garden beds being staked out
The hoggin paths being laid in.
The summer garden was constructed to coincide with our son’s wedding that we had in a marquee in the adjacent field. The planting was a mix of perennials (nepeta, astrantia, aquilegia, linaria, veronicastrum, veronica, sweet rocket), annuals (ammi, cornflowers, nigella, orlaya, sweet peas grown up the obelisks) with various alliums, a few roses and box balls and cones marking the corners of the beds. The original aim was to supply a lot of the flowers for the wedding and it certainly achieved that even in its first year. We enclosed the beds of the garden with a low yew hedge, and later added a rose trellis at the top end.
The rose trellis was constructed with twisted tie rods that would rust naturally with time. On the south facing slope the roses thrived.
At the top end of the garden, near the driveway entrance, there was an old open-fronted barn, standing on a grass section above the millpond.
This was how it looked when we moved in. Pretty bare.
We planted some trees at the top end of the pond and in the grass area, made beds around the side and front of the barn, and allowed parts of the grass area to grow wild. This is how it looked by the time we came to open the garden for The National Gardens Scheme in 2010.
We planted a few things in the unmown grass area – hay rattle and meadow cranesbill – but other things appeared on their own after a couple of years – ox-eye daisy and, most exciting, an early purple orchid. It was also an area enjoyed by a spotted flycatcher – this was pointed out to us by one of our visitors, darting from the back of a garden seat to hunt among the long grass.
We opened successfully for the NGS, and for numerous gardening clubs and society visits for four years. Daunting at first, it became deeply enjoyable, with a real sense of achievement. The garden was featured in Homes and Gardens. We didn’t really want to leave the Mill House, but the garden became threatened by inappropriate development nearby, and we took the cue to move back nearer to Bristol, and nearer to our children and their developing lives and families. Moving to The Old Vicarage in Weare, Somerset was to be the next chapter in our gardening story. We left the Mill House with it looking fabulous, and perhaps one day it will re-open for people to enjoy.
On to The Vicarage Garden
Or see the History of The Old Vicarage