‘It was like exploring in the jungle, there were so many weeds, including bindweed everywhere,’ she recalls. Blessed with a sheltered spot, a range of aspects in the large areas around the house and ideal loamy soil with a neutral pH, the process has been relatively challenge free, with the exception of the recurring bindweed needing to be kept at bay.
There were a few mature trees that have been retained, including an avenue of black poplars, some old pears trained along a wall, a cherry with wisteria scrambling through, along with an enormous listed Quercus rotundifolia (Portuguese holm oak) by the house that Suzanna would have loved to be able to take down. ‘Despite being evergreen, they shed dry, crinkly leaves and have an excess of pollen that seems to get everywhere. I would recommend people didn’t plant them near a house,’ she advises.
CREATING A MASTERPIECE
The process of transformation was, surprisingly, quite rapid. ‘My style is quite instinctive,’ explains Suzanna. ‘I have always been intrigued by plants and surrounded by gardens. I admire people such as Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, whose fascinating books I have read and enjoyed. I look at greats from the past as well, such as Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead. I think there is probably a subconscious influence, but I’m very much my own animal,’ she says.
At the heart of this traditional garden is a central striking armillary sphere in memory of Suzanna’s late husband and granddaughter. ‘Two large buxus balls were already there and the others were added for additional focal points. We grew all the English box for the hedges from cuttings.’
At the front of the house, a parterre was created and infilled with lavender ‘Hidcote’. Out from the parterre is another formal area that is softened by informal textural planting. The design has a strong linear brick-built rill and pond set on a sea of gravel. ‘The rill was inspired by the long wall of the nearby cottage, and it was actually completed at a rapid speed. I laid it out and the builder went ahead and put it all together,’ says Suzanna. Framing the space are layers of junipers of varying colours, interspersed with drought-tolerant planting in this open sunny area, including pittosporum, phormium, euphorbias, Erica lusitanica (tree heather) and ornamental grasses. ‘During the late summer, mesmerising clouds of wafting soft pink and white Japanese anemones dance in the breeze – it’s simply beautiful,’ she comments.
Containers of lime green Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (Hakone grass) draw the eye, as does candy pink Calibrachoa (petunia million bells) spilling out of terracotta pots and opening water lilies greeting the sun. Suzanna adores roses and they are used throughout the entire garden. Some of her favourites include Masquerade, Orangeade, English Heritage, Compassion and Graham Thomas.
It is the walled garden, with its densely planted herbaceous borders under a pleached Lime Walk, that is truly ablaze in the early autumn. ‘I am not a pastel kind of person,’ explains Suzanna, as we stroll beside the rich tapestry of flowers, where crimsons, reds, oranges and golds make up the striking colour palette. ‘I love the bold flow of colours from the dahlias, late-flowering roses and perennials. I just like bright, strking colours with their rusty tones, deep oranges, showy reds and vivid burgundies – but not too much yellow. You need to be careful with yellow,’ she adds.
Dahlias – which are lifted and replanted every year – have to be the shining stars in this garden, some are so old that their names have been forgotten, so they have just been labelled as red spider, in intense red, burgundy and gold shades. Lemon whirlybird blooms of Dahlia ‘Honka’, the ever-popular ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, a nod to Lloyd, and iridescent pink ‘Fascination’ are mixed with repeated plantings of golden rudbeckias, Penstemon ‘Ruby’, roses such as ‘Buff Beauty’, nasturtiums and perennial Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’ (wallflower) – resulting in a stunning combination.
The borders have been planted so that there is always something to admire. They peak in spring with orange tulips ‘Princess Juliana’ and red ‘Apeldoorn’ above a carpet of blue forget-me-nots, then the hybrid musk roses bloom through to the crescendo of autumn with the dahlias and all the array. ‘Early autumn is grand finale time – and the brighter, the better. I can’t say I have a favourite plant, although I do like the late-flowering roses, such as ‘Wild Edric’, because they never stop flowering,’ says Suzanna.
Providing structure and a destination central point to the intersecting lime walk is a large sculptural pergola over a curvaceous urn that is set on circular paving. Scrambling up the pergola are massed nasturtiums and clematis. To one side of the borders, you discover a productive garden with a rather adventurous blend of climbing vines, including morning glory and Thunbergia alata (black-eyed Susan) entwined around rusty poles. Crinkly spears of ruby chard pop up among daisies, and step-over apples frame one side, overall creating a whole scene that is quite charmingly eclectic.
SHARING THE GARDEN
It is clear that Suzanna gets great joy from the garden, whether wandering the borders each evening with her two delightful dogs, Araminta and Millie, or hosting grand picnics and family celebration lunch parties. Although much of the hard work is now done by head gardener Jamie Clarke and his team, Suzanna is the one guiding the look and feel of garden. ‘I find it difficult to stop and just sit. There always seems to be something to do, and I am constantly changing things. I tend to wander around with secateurs in hand, deadheading as I go,’ she says.
‘We have lots of return visitors who enjoy the garden in the different seasons and appreciate seeing the changes we’ve made. New this year, I am trying bronze fennel among the hot pink dahlias ‘Fascination’, which we are sure will be a striking combination to get people talking. One comment from a visitor that I really appreciated was “I love the way there is a formal plan with lots of informal planting”. I think it sums up exactly what we have always aimed to do,’ explains Suzanna.