GARDENING IN THE AUTUMN: WILDLIFE LOOKOUT
PUBLISHED: 14:12 07 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:32 30 August 2017
As summer begins to fade, it’s easy to forget that our gardens still have so much to offer and at the Garten Garden in Seworgan the focus this month is on wildlife in the garden, writes Louise Danks.
One-and-a-half acres bordered by boggy moorland and battered by winds fresh from the Lizard is where garden designer Sara Gadd lives with her family. It’s the perfect showcase for working with the conditions you are given rather than fighting nature where Sara faces a number of challenges. With very little between The Garten Garden and The Lizard, wind is a huge and devastating problem with easterlies being the main culprit. A shelterbelt on the south side provides much needed protection but with that comes shade, coupled with the neighbouring moor - an area of wild swamp this means that Sara has developed this garden as small sheltered pockets depending on the microclimate.
The natural soil is a clay loam type which dries and cracks easily in the drying winds and any sun,’ she explains. But it also can become waterlogged and kills any plant that cannot survive winter waterlogging. We have an amazing depth of topsoil from years of previous farmland cultivation, and the history of the property being a small holding and cow barn.’
Waterlogged soil in winter means that many perennials are grown as annuals or lifted each year and re-planted in the spring. If it’s a plant I just have to have then I’ll give it a go and over-winter it in the poly tunnel,’ she explains. I can’t grow anything sun-loving as a rule, those have to be treated as annuals.’
Daylilies do well here, a bed which resembles a pond in the wet winter months is home to many different varieties of hemerocalis that Sara can leave from one year to the next, lupins are a different matter . They won’t survive being waterlogged, I lift them,’ she tells me.
Presented with an overgrown garden and a field full of bracken and brambles on her arrival around 15 years ago, Sara set about getting the production areas under way. Today these areas have become established and the more ornamental parts of the garden have taken shape. It’s important that a garden is used; for me it isn’t just for looking at,’ she says. The Garten is my classroom; a testbed where I try out plants I might use in a client’s garden. It’s vital to know how they’ll behave before I work with them.’
Roughly divided into three areas: the most intensively ornamental area, the recreational part where camping and cooking takes place in a willow circle - along with the odd game of football and the productive vegetable garden and orchards.
I am a big fan of heritage seed varieties and grow as many different types as I can here,’ she tells me. Using different varieties and having a range of coloured flowers and fruit is entertaining but more significantly it’s stopping these plants fall out of use. The autumn planted crops will be looking good this month too,’ she promises visitors.
Sara under-plants the tomatoes in her greenhouse with basil which she allows to flower. This attracts bees which will pollinate the crop. The greenhouse smells amazing, the crop is improved, there is basil to eat and the bees are very happy. Her raised beds provide produce throughout the year and now the young orchards are establishing well after relocation
They were too wet and also in a frost pocket so we replanted them further up the slope - it’s not until you live with your garden that you can know where everything will thrive.’
Nearest to the house is a rustic terrace of large granite slabs which were collected specifically to match the stone of the house. Instead of being set in concrete, they are left with wide gaps infilled with gravel and edged with granite setts for effective drainage. This sunny area is home to asters, grasses and rudbeckias, native ferns and sedum also provide interest. An impenetrable hedge of Olearia macrodonta protects the terrace, it tolerates salt winds and hard pruning - and it looks good with its glaucous evergreen foliage flashing its white under side.
I’d never grown roses here because of the damp but I’ve recently planted a rose hedge,’ Sara explains. It starts white and then ranges from pink to peach to more vibrant colours at the far end.’
The herb garden, close to the back door for convenience, is made up of small log-filled gabion baskets with herbs planted in troughs along the top and - like many personal touches in the garden - is a beautiful combination of the artistic and practical.
A wild pond is delightfully overgrown; iris, astilbes, digitalis and monkshood are encouraged to flower to fill the borders surrounding the water and protect it and its inhabitants. The fernery is one of Sara’s favourite parts of the garden; it’s stuffed full of specialist specimens waiting patiently to be noticed by those who will appreciate it. Verdant and understated, it prospers in the damp shade letting others take centre-stage.
A rhododendron and azalea walk leads deep into the shadiest part of the garden where Sara plans to create further floral wildlife habitats, these will take shape over the next year or two. Many of our boundary hedges have started to mature and have been blown down in the winds. Where this has happened, we’re replacing the trees with yew because it is native and the birds will love the berries. We tend to leave the boundaries very wild - they let wildlife in rather than keep it out. That wouldn’t work for us, part of the joy of being here is seeing a slowworm or a toad.’
The bamboo walk leads draws further into the heart of the garden, stepping into a clearing of predominantly hydrangea planting, turning a corner where hostas are planted in a generous carpet, a mass of rudbeckia and a gunnera dominates reinforcing the sense of scale.
Planting in ones and twos here doesn’t work,’ explains Sara. The large-scale approach not only makes the garden flow but creates the effortless simplicity and calm. In a sheltered pocket, close to the terrace, acers flourish in possibly the most tranquil spot. Their coloured, palmate foliage adds a delicate quality here.
One of the positives of gardening with shade is the contrast it can deliver: any light is heightened and the shade exaggerated and nowhere is this more evident than here. Seeing plants presented against a dark, shaded background makes their effect more intense. Grasses and Verbena bonariensis, for example, are delicate and easily lost in a busy, complicated border - but against the backdrop of vegetation in deep shade and they sing.
The Garten Garden feels larger than its one-and-a-half acres because of the clever way the paths draw you through. The Garten Garden’s wild, rambling nature is infinitely charming. The placement of large granite boulders found and then re-sited in the garden are a deliberate reminder of the wilderness this space has been worked from.
It’s a calm, contemplative place where Sara and her family, live, work and grow in harmony with their surroundings. The garden is an extension of their home where all are welcome, from the wildlife that lives there - to the many visitors who will head there this month.
ALSO THIS MONTH
After a busy spring and summer season Cornwall Wildlife Trust is for the first time bringing its popular Open Gardens scheme to a close with a pair of special October events in beautiful settings. Autumn is a magical and colourful time in Cornwall and the Trust are excited to open a brand new and unique garden as well as offer visitors the chance to view its most popular location in a whole new light…
A grande finale to the Open Gardens scheme is the truly stunning Pedn Billy on the Helford Passage, which for the past two years has been the Trust’s most visited garden.
It is surely one of Cornwall’s most beautiful and unique gardens, with wild flower areas, beautiful specimen trees and terraced borders. In the past it has opened in the spring. This year, it moves to the early autumn with a whole new range of plants and colour to admire. Half of the twelve acres are ancient woodlands with paths that wind down to Port Navas Creek and Helford River to a private beach, which along with breath taking views make this a garden event not to be missed.
Open Gardens is run by dedicated volunteers to raise vital funds for the Trust’s work protecting Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places. Sponsored by Stay In Cornwall, it is now in its sixth year and hopes to surpass 2015’s record breaking total of over £11,600. The scheme is also kindly supported by Crantock Bakery and Roddas who provide delicious pasties and cream teas, which along with an array of home baked cakes by volunteers make these events a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in some of the county’s finest gardens.