Looking forward to the colours of an autumn garden? Be inspired by this rambling country garden of a romantic, timber-framed farmhouse, which has been gradually transformed over the last 18 years by its owners Sir Vernon Ellis, who was Chairman of the English National Opera for many years, and his wife Lady Hazel.
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What sets the garden apart is the swathes of prairie-style planting, which reaches its crescendo of texture and colour in late autumn. The effect is based on the planting themes of Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, with huge drifts blending into one another.
Once covered in 1,500 half dead fir trees and overgrown chestnut coppices, with boggy areas and acidic, heavy Weald clay soil, the sloping garden presented lots of challenges. But Sir Vernon and Lady Hazel also saw it had great potential, so worked with garden designer Sally Court to create the planting plan.
Although he had always had an interest in gardening and plants, this was the largest garden Sir Vernon had tried to tackle. 'It looked like a WWI battlefield when we removed the trees,' he remembers. But gradually, over time and with the addition of copious amounts of top soil, the 10 acres have been cultivated on this picturesque, hilly setting.
Autumn garden colour
From late summer through autumn the deep herbaceous borders surrounding the large lawn are filled with colour. They billow with mauve asters, repeated clumps of crimson Sedum spectabile, Japanese anemones, dahlias and a variety of rich-toned salvias – a particular favourite of Sir Vernon’s.
These were inspired by a bed that he saw at Kew Gardens, and he has created a dedicated border around the house to over 30 varieties of salvias.
The land contours down, with an intersecting stream that was created to lead to an existing pond that was cleared and enlarged. There are many water features in the garden, from frequent springs to boggy areas.
Prairie-style planting in the autumn garden
Designed by nurserywoman Marina Christopher, the prairie-style planting blends together.
Examples of the planting include Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’, Sanguisorba officinalis and Veronicastrum virginicum with daisy-shaped asters, heleniums and rudbeckias.
All of this is set against the parchment foil of the ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ and feathery Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.
At the bottom of the garden is a small sunken garden room with bubbling, individual water features, surrounded by ornamental grasses. This sheltered, hidden spot is a true suntrap, perfect for catching the rays of late summer sun.
Many of the plants have been selected because they thrive in the moist, rich acidic soil. These include the beautiful Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’, prolific Eupatorium maculatum ‘Purple Bush’, and Thalictrum delavayi.
Others cope with sun or part shade in a range of soils, in particular the frothy Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’.