Worden House Garden

A Mediterranean-inspired garden for a changing climate

In the rolling south Devon hills, designer Conrad Batten has created a productive Mediterranean-inspired garden that is adapted for a future climate. Words Matthew Reese, photographs Jason Ingram

Sheltered in the head of a small picturesque and secluded valley with a predominantly southerly aspect sits the contemporary building Worden House. The Mediterranean-style garden wraps around it, flowing along the slopes and into the valley below before dissolving into the surrounding countryside. From the very top of the garden, one can just make out the sea on the horizon beyond the curves of the nearby hills. Conrad Batten‘s ornamental garden is nine acres in stoney shillet soil and Worden House has mild winters, warmer summers, with a hardiness zone of USDA 9.

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As a former pupil of the renowned forest gardener, Martin Crawford, Conrad thought it would be wonderful to create a productive Mediterranean forest garden and made the decision to use olives. Conrad has also planted the garden to be ready for climate change. “Martin Crawford suggested ten years ago that in 30 years’ time, we are likely to have a climate similar to Bordeaux,” says Conrad.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

A lush mix of the French almond Prunus dulcis ‘Ferraduel’, hydrangeas and Acanthus mollis line the steps to past the Cyder Barn down to a lawn shaded by a Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

This intimate sandstone terrace, described by Conrad as “perched yet tucked” is sheltered by aromatic shrubs and tall grasses while offering views out over the surrounding countryside.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

A grass path winds its way through soft planting to the pool. Mounds of clipped Teucrium fruticans add structure and echo the shape of the hills behind. Their silvery foliage also provides a link to the olive grove.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

The fluffy heads of Pennisetum macrourum add height and a lightness of touch to this richly planted border, punctuated by domes of clipped Helichrysum italicum and Teucrium fruticans.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

Near the house planting is more formal and structured and around the edge of the pool silver-blue foliage comes to the fore to match the pared-back style of the bleached oak deck.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

Tall clumps of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ create a light veil around the pool area and add a contrast of texture and colour to this mix of Erigeron karvinskianus, myrtle, rosemary and fig.

Worden House Garden
© Jason Ingram

Heavy oak sleepers, back-filled with shillet taken from the site, are used as steps throughout the garden. The biscuity grasses mix with thyme and self-seeders to give the planting a natural feel.

Get the look: four plant combinations

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Read Matthew Reese’s full article in September’s issue of Gardens Illustrated