Admington Hall: Antonia Davies' ever-evolving garden
Although she readily admits to making a few early mistakes, Antonia Davies has created an assured set of ever-evolving garden rooms around her Cotswold home. Words Lia Leendertz, photographs Éva Németh
If any one aspect of Antonia Davies’ garden were to sum up her gardening approach, it would be her borders. Wide and generous, they tower and bulge with plants, overlapping and complementing each other, cheek by jowl, deeply unrestrained. “I have made lots of mistakes,” she admits cheerfully, “and you can tell straight away that this isn’t the garden of a professional. Nothing was really planned, though there are themes to each area and border, but I love to try out plant combinations and see if they work.”
The main border in her Walled Garden is a wonderful example of this, packed with asters, heleniums, lobelias, echinaceas, thalictrums, sanguisorbas, roses and a variety of salvias, all tripping over each other. “We spend a good portion of each year trying to undo my mistakes from previous years, moving plants that aren’t in the right place and finding new homes for them.”
Early on, Antonia had help and advice from garden designer Mary Keen. “The previous owners had a love affair with leylandiis. It was understandable as we have a strong prevailing wind here, so Mary helped me create a shelter belt of oaks, beech, chestnut and hawthorns, which would help give the garden shelter.” But having arrived with four young children, the youngest six weeks old, Antonia put her garden dreams on hold, only beginning again around ten years ago.
Discover more about the garden below.
Name Admington Hall. What A garden of rooms surrounding a part Jacobean, part Georgian country house. Where Warwickshire. Soil Warwickshire clay and a high water table. Size Five acres of intensively managed garden in ten acres of grounds. Climate Strong southwesterly prevailing winds, cold in winter, but with some shelter. Hardiness zone USDA 8.
The Gravel Garden’s meandering path forces visitors (and chickens) to slow down and pick their way through islands of airy plantings that include Stipa lessingiana, Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Rosy Jane’ and Euphorbia palustris punctuated by box and laurel shapes.
A combination of late-season flowers, including Sanguisorba ‘Purple Tails’, Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’, Eutrochium maculatum ‘Purple Bush’, Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’, Echinacea pallida and Salvia ‘Amistad’, bring a rich mix of colour to the main border in the Walled Garden.
The main door into the Walled Garden used to open on to a fruit cage, which Antonia has now replaced with a vibrant and colourful border containing Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ and Salvia ‘Amistad’, which is one of Antonia’s favourite autumn plants. “Such a wonderfully courageous plant. It repeat flowers right up until the hardest of frosts.”
Antonia’s pelargonium collection is displayed on plant stands through the summer. Antonia also keeps any of the plants she takes out of the borders on plant stands around the Walled Garden. “I am a terrible hoarder, I can’t throw anything away. I’m always sure I’ll find a place for them one day but it inevitably causes irritation with my gallant team who are forever trying to persuade me to edit down.”
Against the outside of the Walled Garden Antonia has planted a series of pleached Malus ‘Evereste’ supported by a bold block of Molinia caerulea ‘Heidebraut’, to which she has since added Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ to pop up randomly through the grasses.
Inspired by a similar avenue at Rockcliffe, a beautiful garden in the Cotswolds not far from Admington Hall, this avenue of Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ forms what Antonia likes to call her ‘sundowner spot’, as the terrace by the house offers a glorious view of the setting sun. This avenue of wedding cake trees leads on to a further avenue of tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera, and the sun sets down the centre of the entire avenue. The bridge crosses a stream that circles the property.
8 key plants at Admington Hall
A reliable flower that blooms from July to the end of September. Antonia uses it with Knautia macedonica, Pennisetum thunbergii ‘Red Buttons’, brightly coloured cosmos and Eupatorium maculatum ‘Purple Bush’. 75cm x 45cm. RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b†.
Rosa ‘Pink Perpétué’
A climbing rose that, as its name suggests, goes on and on flowering. Disease-resistant with glossy foliage, its one drawback for Antonia is its lack of scent. 3.6m x 2.4m. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.
A toadflax that starts pink and ages to a peachy yellow. “It has a lovely ethereal feel, but real wow factor,” says Antonia. 1m x 40cm. RHS H6.
Adds interest from spring to late autumn, starting off in a silvery form with blue, spiky, star-like flowers, turning soft brown while still keeping its architectural shape in winter. 45cm x 30cm. RHS H5, USDA 5a-8b.
Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’
An easy and disease-resistant, repeat-flowering rose Antonia discovered through her friend Angel Collins. She uses it in a pale, pastelly border alongside bronze fennel, veronicastrums, campanulas, stipas and Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. 1.2m x 60cm. AGM*. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.
Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’
Antonia calls this “a real autumn stalwart” and has used it a lot, finding it easy, colourful and super reliable. “Bees and butterflies love it too,” she says. 70cm x 40cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-10b.
Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Pink Popsocks’
A delicate, relatively short cosmos with effervescent green foliage that Antonia grows each year from seed. A great filler that carries on flowering into autumn. 60cm x 45cm. RHS H3.
A dahlia with a huge flower that looks wonderful picked and used singly in a bud vase, while holding its own in a border. “I love the madness of it,” says Antonia. 90cm x 75cm. RHS H3, USDA 7a-10b.
Address Admington Hall, Admington, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire CV36 4JN. Tel 01789 450279. Open By appointment for groups of 20 to 99, between May and September. Email email@example.com for details. Admission £7.50.