What Private family garden. Where Hampshire. Size Eight acres in total, including one and a half acres of ornamental gardens. Soil Silty loam that is prone to waterlogging. Climate Temperate, but with strong westerly winds. Hardiness zone USDA 8.
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My initial brief was to hide the house, although at that point the house only existed in a set of architectural plans,” says designer Jane Brown, walking round the Hampshire garden she has been working on for ten years. It shows unusual foresight for a client to start thinking about their garden at such an early stage, but, says Jane, “the owners are both designers specialising in interior lighting, so they have a good eye and really care about details. They also lived in the house next door for many years and always coveted the view from this piece of land.” When they got the chance to turn fantasy into reality they wanted to create something really special, with a house built in brick, flint and stone, with steeply pitched tiled roofs and large windows with a faintly Gothic detail in the glazing bars. “It is beautiful, but, in a sea of post-construction devastation, it looked enormous,”says Jane.
Her plan from the outset was visually to anchor the house in the surrounding countryside while making the most of its lovely views.“We decided to incorporate lots of trees into a series of heavily planted gardens. The owners are keen gardeners and wanted colour, texture and year-round interest. But they are also very sociable and asked for lots of different outdoor living spaces where they could spend time with friends and their three grown-up children, who visit regularly.”
It was a massive undertaking, and although a full masterplan was drawn up at the outset, it was implemented in stages, as resources allowed. “Huge effort went into getting the foundations right, which wasn’t easy because the site slopes away quite steeply to the west,” says Jane. The best views are to the north, so Jane kept the garden on this rear side of the house relatively open. There is a stone terrace with plenty of space for socialising, and broad, shallow steps leading down to a wide lawn that was specifically proportioned to accommodate a large marquee for formal entertaining.
“The garden comes to a bulge here, which I disguised by planting an avenue of clipped hawthorn trees within box-edged beds that frames the view. At the bulge in the boundary I put a ha-ha to invisibly divide the garden proper from the neighbouring field with its sheep,” says Jane. It is a tremendously effective bit of visual trickery, typical of Jane’s great skill with the technicalities of garden design.
Equally clever and understated is the brick and flint wall on one side of the Ornamental Garden. Like the house, it appears to have been there forever, but was dreamed up to conceal a sharp slope away from the house. “It gives a sense of enclosure in a part of the garden that could otherwise have felt exposed, and was designed to provide a backdrop for a greenhouse, although that wasn’t installed for several more years, while the owners got the main plantings established,” says Jane. Today, the Alitex model they chose, with bespoke glazing bars that echo the windows of the house, also looks perfectly at home.
The family spend as much of their time in the garden as possible, relishing a sense of enclosure that never veers into claustrophobia. Dozens of trees, including amelanchiers, phillyreas, acers and Cornus kousa, help define the sequence of gardens that lead all round the house, linked by paths of gravel, brick and a touch of local flint. The expansive flowerbeds are filled with an explosion of salvias and echinaceas, perovskia, euphorbias and ornamental grasses, and dainty Stipa tenuissima seeds into the paths, along with erigeron and Alchemilla mollis. The overall effect is extremely pretty, but the underlying architecture provides a robust framework that stops it degenerating into chocolate-box cliché.
The original vision now appears complete, but keen gardeners with land are never satisfied and Jane and the owners are still dreaming up extensions to their original plan. The descending land behind the greenhouse wall was recently reimagined as a Secret Garden wrapped about with wildflower meadows, leading to an orchard and on to a secluded stumpery with an evolving collection of ferns and hellebores. Meanwhile, at the other side of the garden, up a slope filled with roses and choisya, buddleja, lilac and Viburnum opulus, a giant digger is currently cutting steps into the bank. “This leads to the highest part of the garden, which already has a few good trees, so the idea is to make a mini arboretum, encourage the native wildflowers and make another nice space for casual meals,” says Jane.
A lichen-dusted table and festoon lights strung between the trees mean this farthest corner of the garden is already well worth a visit. The recent appearance of wild orchids only adds to its attractions. In a garden with so many nooks and crannies, why would you want to go anywhere else?
Find out more about Jane’s work at janebrown.co.uk