This flower and vegetable garden in Oxfordshire is designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. A three-acre garden within a 57-acre estate, it also contains a four-acre wildflower meadow and extensive woodlands. The soil is stony but fertile loam to varying depths above chalk.
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The Chiltern Hills, a chalk escarpment that at its highest elevations passes for dramatic in the context of southeast England, peters out gradually as it runs southwest towards the Thames. Atop one of these gentler undulations near Henley-on-Thames sits a private garden and estate where David Richter and Beth Marshall arrived to take up positions as head gardeners three years ago, having both graduated from the Kew Diploma in Horticulture. Although the combination of gardening on chalk and a hilltop exposure sounds difficult, the depth of soil above the chalk is quite variable across the estate and as such is quite fertile, if very sharply drained, while various woodlands help to buffer the wind.
Planting in the walled garden, close to the entrance, is planned to harness the moment when the still-productive, old apple trees come into blossom. Box balls define a central bed overflowing with Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, its lime green is repeated in clumps of Helleborus argutifolius and contrasts with the vivid colours of tulips ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Abu Hassan’.
A gravel path, leading to the front of the house, marks one side of the apple beds, while a row of large yew topiary shapes, known as the skittle beds, because of the yews’ shape, mark the other. Surrounding the trees, purple Fritillaria persica ‘Adiyaman’, and tulips ‘Havran’ and ‘Prinses Irene’ mix with purple and white honesty, Lunaria annua, and the burgeoning foliage of the massive Conium maculatum.
The vegetable garden, with its hazel wigwams, has become Beth’s domain. Here she organically grows a wide range of vegetables, such as the exotic yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius), an Andean, tuber-bearing daisy, and salads high in polyphenols – all grown for their health benefits. The large glasshouse is home to a fan-trained peach and a vine as well as offering the couple space for propagation.