The Apostle Garden, next to the house, is a relatively new garden made of two symmetrical parterres, each with six yew apostles, and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ planted in the gaps. The old flowerheads of the hydrangea last through the winter and the plants are then pruned in the spring. The yew will be clipped annually into tight forms.

Structure and planting at Malverley’s in winter

Head gardener Matthew Reese reveals how Malverleys’ strong structure helps support the garden’s accomplished planting, links it to the surrounding parkland and comes into its own as the garden slips into winter. Words Matthew Reese. Photographs Jason Ingram. 

In Brief

What A new English flower garden with mixed border planting in a formal design, influenced by the writings of Christopher Lloyd, Vita Sackville-West and William Robinson.
Where Hampshire.
Size Ten acres.
Soil Variable, mostly stony acid loam with clay.
Climate Temperate. Sheltered from the west, but exposed (with views) to the east.
Hardiness zone USDA 9.

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The objective when designing the new English Flower Garden at Malverleys was to link the house to a beautiful garden, and for both to sit comfortably within the surrounding countryside. There was an existing walled garden containing an ornate kitchen garden and white garden, and there was also a narrow terrace garden shadowing the house. Between the two was a large sea of lawn punctuated by swathes of ordinary Rhododendron ponticum. There were also many specimen trees dotted across the lawn and a wooded area that would require careful consideration when laying out the new design.

The decision was made to remove the rhododendrons, and use the lawn space as the canvas for a new flower garden composed of a series of connecting ‘rooms’ or enclosures that would connect the house to the walled garden. The style is influenced by the gardens at Great Dixter, and follows a similar course using thick yew hedging to divide the garden into sheltered rooms, all connected by York-stone paths.

Next to the house, the Terrace path runs up a flight of steps into the new gardens. The path is constructed in checkerboard pattern of a mixture of cobbles and York-stone slabs. Thyme and self-seeded Dierama grow in the cracks between the paving. The Miscanthus nepalensis is also self-seeded and has very good winter seedheads

Next to the house, the Terrace path runs up a flight of steps into the new gardens. The path is constructed in checkerboard pattern of a mixture of cobbles and York-stone slabs. Thyme and self-seeded Dierama grow in the cracks between the paving. The Miscanthus nepalensis is also self-seeded and has very good winter seedheads.

At Malverleys, the garden is separated into rooms with 1.5m-thick yew hedging, clipped to complement the architecture of the house. The reclaimed York-stone paving was laid out to connect the rooms via a series of intimate paths and, together with the yew hedging, forms a unifying framework through the garden, even though the garden rooms have contrasting atmospheres. The hedging is also a perfect dark foil to set the planting against and acts as a remarkably effective windbreak, but remember that yew roots are hungry and penetrating, and may need controlling so they don’t compete with the plants in the borders.

To add a sense of drama while moving through the garden, light and space become part of the design. As the light changes throughout the day, the atmosphere changes in each space, which highlights the depth of the planting and the beauty of the individual plants. Moving through the garden, you will often find yourself travelling along tight, shady woodland paths before entering the more open garden rooms through small gaps in the yew hedging. To further emphasise the movement from one space to the next, all the rooms are on their own level, and you enter or leave each space by going up or down a series of steps. Another feature in the garden (inspired by similar features at Sissinghurst) is the narrow yew corridors or allées, which allow for the option to bypass individual gardens and create a contrast to the more open areas. The rooms are quite generous in size and were designed to house deep borders, allowing for depth in the planting compositions and to comfortably accommodate mixed plantings of small trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials without looking too congested.

Landscape design

Another new room, the Cool Garden is surrounded by a protective wall of tall yew hedging and has deep mixed borders that include the excellent winter grass Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’. The design is asymmetrical but the planting and the large, central copper bowl take the edge off the layout.
Another new room, the Cool Garden is surrounded by a protective wall of tall yew hedging and has deep mixed borders that include the excellent winter grass Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’. The design is asymmetrical but the planting and the large, central copper bowl take the edge off the layout.

One of the major challenges when creating the new garden at Malverleys was harmonising the garden with the surrounding landscape and countryside. For the design to accommodate the existing trees and buildings, many of the rooms could not be perfectly symmetrical spaces. However, the garden is not usually viewed from above, but from within, and any asymmetry is not obvious once the borders have been planted. It is far more important for the design to marry with the landscape. We used strong linear vistas to focus on the buildings and trees and incorporate them into the garden. Looking out towards the parkland, we focused the vista on a group of black pines and oaks in the park. The tall yew hedges on either side of this corridor draw the eye towards the group of trees and encourage you to notice their presence in a way that you perhaps might not have done without prompting. This ‘borrowed view’ aspect of design is often found in Japan. In the opposite direction, we carefully worked to incorporate a redwood, an ornate chicken house and the topiary garden into the perspective, which helps unify these features with the garden.

To further increase the dialogue between the garden and countryside, we have planted a few conifers in the borders that echo the character of the conifers in the park. On the same axis is a large ornamental pond, which was built to capture the various trees in its reflection, further reinforces the landscape’s connection with the garden. The pace of the garden changes as you get further away from the house. The formality slips away, the flower borders disappear and meadows form that subtle bridge to the countryside.

With the right ingredients, gardens will get better with age. At Malverleys the hedges will tighten up, the woody plants will mature and the structure will become more defined. Careful consideration of the structure of the garden is imperative when creating the design. It should not only help to define the space, but also highlight all the elements within.

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USEFUL INFORMATION
Address Malverleys Gardens, East End, Hampshire RG20 0AA. Web malverleys.co.uk Open The garden is open by appointment to groups only. Admission £10. Please book online via the website.