The Turning of the Year, Gardens, Wiltshire

PUBLISHED: 19:58 05 February 2012 | UPDATED: 20:56 20 February 2013

The Turning of the Year, Gardens, Wiltshire

The Turning of the Year, Gardens, Wiltshire

Art, wildlife and the River Ebble are features of this lovely garden, as Gina Gordon describes

The Turning of the Year



Art, wildlife and the River Ebble are features of this lovely garden, as Gina Gordon describes



By now, the blowsy over-abundance of summer is gone and the last blast of autumn colour has faded. Winter has arrived. Plants without their leaves take on new personalities and the structure of hedges and profiles of trees are thrown into relief. These shapes and outlines will be the bedrock of the gardens design through the colder months and on into the next year. The results are most successful when carefully considered from the outset.


Such a garden is found at Manor House in Stratford Tony. Artistic imagination lies behind all the planting and it is complemented by works of art. Now home to Hugh and Lucinda Cookson and their children, a garden on this open, sloping site first took shape in the hands of Hughs parents. They created the lake in the low ground where the River Ebble flows through on its way to Salisbury. Today, it is central to the gardens success, an ever-changing focal point around which the garden turns.


Indeed, things seldom stand still here, and there is usually a project for the winter. This year the plan is to thin out some trees and pollard the willows in the water meadow, ably assisted by John Lamb, the gardener. A great many trees and hedges have been planted through the years and have settled into maturity. Yew is used extensively and kept tightly clipped while beech maintains an interesting texture by holding its leaves through winter. Both are used as screening devices.


Hiding a view within a garden creates mystery and has been used here to good effect. The drive approaches the house under mature trees and then curves around a lawn circle planted with three multi-stemmed Judas trees which frame a view of the front door. Beyond this, not much can be seen without going through a wall via an eye-catching gate. Its striking design of metal panels was a collaboration with John Edmunds, a blacksmith in nearby Bishoptone. Further work of his is seen in whimsical pieces in rusted iron found erupting from a border to mimic eight-foot tall seedheads, smaller practical elements such as plant supports, and a handsome gazebo placed by the lake to take advantage of the evening sun.


Stepping through, the visitor is greeted by a long view down the slope towards the lake. In summer the borders along the south-facing house and walls billow with texture, colour and interest. Straight ahead a large curving island bed, retained by stone walling on one side, has been sculpted out of the slope. At its end a Persian ironwood (Parrotis persica) has been planted as a full stop. It was chosen not only for its vibrant autumn colour but also for the attraction of its strong winter outline. Close by, a delightful bronze sculpture of three children has been placed under the curving branches of a weeping birch (Betula pendula Youngii).


In a sheltered corner by a tall yew hedge on the western side of the main garden there are views to the lake in winter from the garden room adjoining the kitchen. In summer, the terrace outside is a seating area and another collaborative piece, a water feature in polished steel by Alison Armour-Wilson, provides sound and movement. Nearby, an abstract form in white marble has been placed to stand out against the dark cinnamon bark of an old yew and two tall pieces in deep green marble by Paul Vanstone stand near an arch clipped out of the yew.


Once through the arch, the visitor moves away from extended spaces and into the intimacy of a small parterre with a restricted colour palette. Clipped formality is found in partitioned areas surrounded by low box hedging with silver balls of santolina within. Twin lollipop standards of silver-variegated holly flank a bench at one end and rusted steel containers planted with box spirals add another sculptural element. A narrow gap through the hedge down the slope leads out into wider spaces once more, through the orchard and on to a wildflower meadow adjoining the Ebble and the borders of the lake.


The environment here is a valuable support to wildlife, especially birds. A weeping birch on the island is a perch for the heron, and mallards feed in the water. For us the attraction of the lake is its ever-changing reflections and the colour and texture in the planting at its edges. Bamboos and the spiky leaves of yucca hold their shape when many plants are cut down by frost. In low winter light, coloured stems become invaluable points of interest. When cut back hard this winter, the willows will soon produce fresh growth with strong colour to the bark to be admired all through the following year. Spring pruning of shrubs in the Cornus (dogwood) family will accomplish a similar vibrant result.


Creating a garden with year-round interest, especially in winter, is no mean feat. It requires a design that sets the colour, shape and texture of the planting in dynamic juxtaposition with introduced elements such as the materials used for hard landscaping and the choice of containers. Outdoor art is a sublime extra. When all these details work together the effect is engaging, beautiful and more than the sum of its parts. Manor House is one such place, settled in its maturity but looking ahead to the changes to come as one year ends and another begins.


Manor House, Stratford Tony, Salisbury SP5 4AT. Further information can be found at stratfordtony.co.uk and in the NGS Yellow Book for 2012, available from February.



Boughs of holly


Hollies have many attractive characteristics, not just in winter but throughout the year. Most are evergreen, and those with variegated leaves show colouration from cream through to gold. A few, such as Handsworth New Silver, have purple stems. Berries are borne by females with a male nearby. Beware, names can be misleading. Silver Queen is male and compensates for its lack of berries with shrimp pink young leaves. Golden King, a female, produces red berries and has almost spineless leaves with bright yellow margins. With an erect habit suited to tubs or hedging, GreenPillar needs little cutting.

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