A gravel path in this garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith

An Oxfordshire garden built on Tom Stuart-Smith’s original designs

Building on a design by Tom Stuart-Smith, the blossoming talents of David Richter and Beth Marshall have made their mark on an Oxfordshire garden Words Rory Dusoir, photographs Marianne Majerus

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.

Before the couple arrived, the owners had engaged the garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith to redesign the garden, in concert with a re-build and extension of the existing farmhouse in 2009. Tom took the opportunity to establish a large wildflower meadow, and several flowerbeds about the house, but his most important intervention was to build a large, walled garden, enclosing a greenhouse for fruit and propagation, vegetable beds, some existing, venerable, but still vigorous, apple trees and substantial flower borders. Although Tom is no longer directly involved in the day-to-day running of the garden, it still bears the strong stamp of his design in terms of the layout and structural planting, while the development of the herbaceous plantings has been devolved, with Tom’s blessing, to David and Beth.
Planting from Tom Stuart-Smith in the walled garden in Oxfordshire
© Marianne Majerus

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 in this garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith
© Marianne Majerus

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 in this garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith
© Marianne Majerus

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.

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The full version of this feature appeared in March’s Gardens Illustrated. Subscribe here