Blackland House

Polly Nicholson’s tulip-filled walled garden

Around Blackland House in Wiltshire, Arne Maynard designed a series of walled gardens filled with plants of the highest pedigree for tulip grower Polly Nicholson

Finding a house for sale with not one but three walled gardens could be classed as extremely fortunate. Add to that the bonus of fertile, free-draining, alluvial soil beneath your feet, and it seems Polly Nicholson hit the horticultural jackpot when she, her husband Ed and their four children, moved to Blacklands ten years ago.


Polly’s first priority was overseeing the renovation of the 18th-century house in Wiltshire. Then she set about restoring the gardens, working hand in hand with designer Arne Maynard to create spaces that served as both a family garden and a workspace for Bayntun Flowers, Polly’s artisan flower-growing and floristry business. She knew from the start that she didn’t want anything that shouted ‘look at me’, a garden that would both echo and frame the beauty of the 120-acre estate around it, and the Malborough Downs beyond. “I wanted soft forms and something that linked with the landscape, so there is a lot of cloud hedging and topiary,” she adds.

In April, it is the garden’s breathtaking display of blossom that first catches the eye. There are curving rows of pleached crab apple Malus ‘Evereste’, echoed by the established fruit trees that were carefully incorporated into Maynard’s design. The beds are lit with the contrasting tones of the pink and green tulip ‘Virichic’ and the deep, dark ‘Black Hero’, all set into a patchwork of bee-friendly oreganos (Origanum laevigatum ‘Hopleys’ and lime-green Origanum vulgare ‘Thumble’s Variety’) in beds edged with soft mounds of Daphne x transatlantica Eternal Fragrance (= ‘Blafra’) and Teucrium x lucidrys.

Although a separate flower field provides space for Polly’s cut-flower-growing business, she also picks from her own gardens. Bayntun Flowers supplies flowers wholesale to select florists in London and in Wiltshire, as well as creating bespoke displays for events. Polly is constantly experimenting with rare, new and unusual flowers and bulbs, assisted by her head gardener and brilliant plantswoman Hannah Gardner. “The people I am supplying don’t necessarily want bulk, they just want something different,” she concludes.

Blackland House - Polly Nicholson (23rd April 2017)
The coach house is flanked by a magnificent Magnolia grandiflora. Steel planters on the terrace are filled with scented Osmanthus delavayi.
Tulipa 'Virichic' Tulipa 'Black Hero' in the Pool Garden backed with Pleached Crab Apple
An old ‘Worcester Pearmain’ apple tree (centre right) blossoms among tulips, overlooked by a distinctive Pyrus communis ‘Conference’ on the left.
Blackland House - Polly Nicholson (23rd April 2017)
A mature lime tree graces the pool garden alongside an avenue of pleached Malus ‘Evereste’ with Osmanthus x burkwoodii below.
Blackland House - Polly Nicholson (23rd April 2017)
The Foster & Pearson greenhouse is the centrepiece of the ornamental walled garden. Box topiary is underplanted with Pulsatilla vulgaris, Origanum and Euphorbia epithymoides, while the central rill holds irises ‘Delta Butterfly’ ‘Merebrook Purpla’ and ‘Black Gamecock’.
Blackland House - Polly Nicholson (23rd April 2017)
A view of the walled garden looking towards the coach house. The paths are made of hoggin mixed with local pea gravel.
View of the church with Tulipa 'Spring Green', Tulipa 'Queen of the Night' and Camassias
Towards the neighbouring church, pollarded limes, with cloud-pruned yew behind and balls of Osmanthus x burkwoodii in front, are planted into wildflower turf yielding a succession of bulbs.


BREEDER TULIPS: 1: ‘Queen Alexandra’, 2 ‘Roi Soleil’, 3 ‘Fairy Nymph’ (after breaking), 4 ‘La Joyeuse’, 5 Jules Favres’, 6 ‘Je Maintiendrai’. BROKEN TULIPS: 7 ‘Mabel’ 8, ‘Columbine’, 9 ‘Bessie’, 10 ‘Absalon’, 11 ‘Insulinde’, 12 ‘The Lizard’.

Preserving and expanding her collection of English florists’ tulips is a labour of love for Polly. She loves the jewel-like tones of these garden antiques, some of which have pedigrees dating back to the 18th century. The streaked and splashed petals of the ‘broken’ forms are caused by infection by the tulip breaking virus; the taller, single-tone cultivars are the ‘breeders’, grown to be deliberately infected in search of new breaks. “We had an amazing break this spring from a ‘Fairy Nymph’ (see above) identified by [writer and gardener] Anna Pavord,” says Polly. “We’ve potted the bulblets on and we’re trying to create a tiny stock. I love the fact that we are preserving a thread of that history.”

The garden is not generally open to the public aside from occasional open days for charity. Bayntun Flowers also runs seasonal events.


Photography by Jason Ingram