DISCOVER CORNWALL'S PERFECT CHRISTMAS GARDEN
PUBLISHED: 11:52 15 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:55 30 August 2017
Louise Danks discovers the perfect Cornish Christmas garden: a place where people come together and work in harmony for the good of all
Louise Danks discovers the perfect Christmas garden: a place where people come together and work in harmony for the good of all
In four years and with three acres of land between Helston and Redruth in a hamlet called Releath, Clare Webb has started a business, a garden and a social enterprise that mean a great deal to a number of people who work and volunteer here and – of course – her clients.
After a change in career from florist to teaching assistant – which left Clare yearning for more creativity in her work, and on to a swift decision to start a garden design degree. And now all of her skills have converged at the Cornish Cutting Garden to create a place where horticulture, creativity and people work together in harmony.
I wanted to do something creative and innovative with a social impact,’ explains Clare. I formulated a seed of an idea and it took us a year to find the right place to start the Cornish Cutting Garden, we searched and searched before finding the perfect space.’
A former fruit farm over run with brambles and invaded by an army of slugs and snails may not seem like an ideal spot to start a garden but thanks to hours of hard work and a flock of ducks and hens to help control the molluscs, the garden is happily thriving.
Clare’s site surveying skills mean that she constantly analyses the conditions, climate, topography and plants and their effect on each other allowing her to make subtle changes. Doing battle with the wind was of primary concern; Putting in windbreaks was one of the first jobs that we did,’ she tells me. I knew that I couldn’t underestimate the wind and as everything that I planted had to be of the best quality for cutting, protecting it was essential. I planted willow because it is fast growing and I use it in some of my artwork, particularly wreath bases.’
Eucalyptus has been another fast-growing tree planted as a windbreak, it works well because she keeps it pollarded, cutting the plant back hard and encouraging it to become bushy rather than tree-like. I also use a lot of the eucalyptus in my floral arrangements, it’s a stunning foil for wedding flowers, I’m quite proud that I’ve been able to harvest some for the first time this year.’
I’m not a tidy gardener,’ admits Clare. I like to get stuck in, I don’t get too hung up on where things pop up, I just move them when the time is right. I tend to design as I go.’
Her design for the garden has taken the shape of an intricate colour wheel and she is also working on a circle of beds where the plants are classified by their season of interest. This makes it easier for some of my clients and also helps to jog my memory too!’ The colour wheel is now well-established and the blooms that are cultivated are of the highest quality for Clare’s floral wedding arrangements.
Clare is a great believer in pushing the boundaries where cut flowers are concerned. It’s definitely worth trying a cut flower and seeing how it performs when you bring it inside and put it in a vase. Hellebores last well and being in a vase tilts their heads up so they can be seen, but it’s not a traditional cut flower.’
It pays to remember that many plants in the garden have more to offer than just their blooms: there are the stems, the seed heads and the fruit all of which can be brought into the house for decorative purposes, particularly at this time of year. Peony and tulips, alliums and iris bring the garden alive in spring with gladiolis, dahlias and roses in adding heat through the summer months. Edible flowers and herb foliage is another mainstay of the garden. Lavender, fennel, nasturtium and mint provide masses of cutting material and also interest in the garden which acts as a living brochure.
Growing plants specifically to cut and use their blooms is somewhat of a science; what thrives one year may fail the following year.Lupins have been one of Clare’s success stories, she’s done what many good gardeners do and not fought nature, now growing as many as possible, testing the market for the cut blooms which keep producing well into October, as well as collecting her own lupin seed to test its viability before offering it for sale.
A perennial meadow at the entrance is where Clare is now moving many of her more rampant perennial plants which have proved too vigorous for the colour wheel. Achillea does well and spreads effectively, wanting to keep the flowers and foliage, Clare is moving the plant to the meadow where it can have more of a free reign.
Teasels are a useful plant here, changing with the seasons and not only being a valuable source of food for birds but also a stalwart in much of Clare’s work during the winter. In the meadow, they are allowed to self-seed with abandon. Eryngiums, echinops, giant scabious, verbena bonariensis and centaurea also self-seed happily and provide the garden - and Clare - with a constant supply of new plants without being too thuggish and invasive.
Cornflowers offer a further season of interest than the one Clare had envisaged. The flowers are of course stunning with that perfect bright blue, but the dried stems come autumn are a beautiful architectural material to work with when making wreaths. I’ll be growing many more cornflowers next year!’ says Clare.
In order to keep colour and interest at its best in the gardens, annual seeds are sown at intervals throughout the growing season in order to ensure many months of colour I like to push the boundaries, to see what a plant is capable of, how it will react to being cut-back, will it flower for a second or third time? How long will a particular annual flower? Can I over winter it here?’ Questions Clare. This philosophy is a good one to follow in any garden, getting to know what a plant is capable in your own space is always preferable to following a text book, after all each garden and even each border will have its own micro climate affecting each plant differently.
There is more being nurtured at The Cornish Cutting Garden than just plants, Clare feels passionately about the power of working in a garden and its effect on the mind and has worked hard at developing a community garden; a space where those with learning difficulties can come and work, build confidence and life skills, gain a qualification and grow in independence in a safe and welcoming environment. She has created a sanctuary, a catalyst for recovery, that by working with the soil, being outside surrounded by the natural world and has a positive effect on the body and the soul.
Clare has found a way to channel her creativity and her community spirit at the Cornish Cutting Garden, a fabulous way of using every single one of her enviable skills and all of her seemingly boundless energy encouraging plants and people to thrive and grow.
Clare runs a number of creative courses in the large workshop space and there are spaces on an upcoming day course where you can learn all about what to grow and how to use natural materials in making a stunning and unique Christmas wreath. Check facebook.com/cornishcuttinggarden for details.
Open to visitor by appointment, get in touch with the team if you would like to get involved with any aspect of the Cornish Cutting Garden.
This article first appeared in Cornwall Life December 2015 issue.