A garden for all seasons with early spring interest in Berkshire
The creative owners of this new Berkshire garden have staged a series of garden rooms, each one a composition in colour and form. Photographs Clive Nichols
The garden at Lower Bowden Manor is a testament to Juliet Cox-Nicol’s attention to detail and her unique sense of style, form and colour, which comes in part from her experience as a garden designer but also from many years working for haute couture fashion houses in Paris. “I find flower borders too busy in summer and empty in winter,” she says. “Structure and form through conifers, topiary and winter bark, such as Acer griseum, Lagerstroemia and birches, especially Betula nigra, are more to my taste.” Many stand as elegant, statuesque, multi-stemmed specimens helping the garden glide serenely from winter into spring.
Adding to the structure is Juliet’s ‘painting in beech’, composed of multiple forms of stepped hedges – their linearity broken by the curves of topiary cones, cushions and drums of different sizes. It also creates subtle contrasts in colour; the winter fawn of beech against dark-green yew and holly, with the light-green detailing of the new shoots of Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ beyond. Read more about the garden below.
What A garden for all seasons with early spring interest from formal features, topiary and daffodils. Where Berkshire. Size Three acres of garden and four acres of orchard. Soil Clay with flints. Climate Variable in summer with cool winters, and windswept. Hardiness zone USDA 9.
In the orchard at Lower Bowden Manor, a statue of Pan stands surrounded by a carpet of daffodils added over the years by owner Juliet. Ancient multi-stem apple trees and a swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) link the garden to the wider landscape, which is part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and overlooks the Thames Valley to the Chilterns.
The Japanese-influenced pond, landscaped from a barren hollow in ten days in 2018 by Sébastien Esnouf and his team, creates a scene of which Claude Monet might have approved. The puddled clay pond with its stony ‘beach’ is framed by Juliet’s cloud-pruned trees, pale daffodils and a blossoming Amelanchier x lamarckii.
Beyond the pond is the grouping of beech drums, cones and cushions that Juliet terms her ‘painting in beech’. Her composition is framed by stepped beech and yew with Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ beyond.
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In the orchard, Juliet is gradually planting white, fragrant narcissi to alter the accent from yellow to ivory and white. Above, delicate white cherry blossom floats ethereally, waiting to be warmed by the early spring sun.
A pair of flowering Amelanchier x lamarckii, living up to their common name of snowy mespilus, flank an 18th-century wrought-iron seat. Behind, the dark foliage of a laurel hedge accentuates both the ornate seat and clouds of white flowers.
The stumpery at Lower Bowden Manor is a recent creation. The massive stumps were hauled by tractor from the Manor’s own Berry Copse and planted with evergreen ferns, favourites of Juliet’s. Behind, the flowerheads of Hydrangea paniculata help to lighten this shady corner.
The garden is richly furnished with ancient trees and shrubs. Both architectural evergreens and the filigree stems of deciduous plants display their contrasting textures as late winter silently recedes, making way for early spring.
The atmosphere of the formal Edwardian rill reminds Robert of the film l’Année dernière à Marienbad. The rill is lined with Versailles planters of standard Euonymus japonicus ‘Bravo’, and is framed by yew hedging, leading the eye to a gap in the hedge beyond and the borrowed landscape of an adjacent meadow and copse.
USEFUL INFORMATION Address Lower Bowden Manor, Bowden Green, Pangbourne, Berkshire RG8 8JL. Tel 07552 217872. Web ngs.org.uk Open By arrangement for the National Garden Scheme from April to October for groups of up to 50.
Matthew Biggs is a Kew trained gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. He is also a prolific author, with a passion for plants and their histories.
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