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A woodland garden with a modern classical home

On her journey from novice gardener to professional designer, Bella Stuart-Smith has created a multifaceted, ever-evolving garden at her home in Hertfordshire. Words Jodie Jones, photographs Claire Takacs.

IN BRIEF

Name Pie Corner What Private garden designed to complement a modern classical house, with formal pool garden and woodland walk Where Hertfordshire Size Four acres Soil Various Climate Temperate
Hardiness zone USDA 8

To the north of the house, crisp topiary shapes on the terrace contrast with more relaxed planting around the pond, including generous clumps of rosemary and Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’. The beds are filled with masses of Allium cristophii and the beautiful, lavender-coloured Geranium ‘Philippe Vapelle’.
To the north of the house, crisp topiary shapes on the terrace contrast with more relaxed planting around the pond, including generous clumps of rosemary and Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’. The beds are filled with masses of Allium cristophii and the beautiful, lavender-coloured Geranium ‘Philippe Vapelle’.

Wandering round Pie Corner on an early summer’s day, slanting sun highlights a collection of quirky topiary and formal hedges. Bees buzz lazily from one mound of lavender to the next, past beds fizzing with geraniums and alliums, foxgloves and salvias. It is all the work of Bella Stuart-Smith, who started with the ultimate blank canvas – no garden, no house – and went on to create a perfect country estate in miniature. When Bella and her lawyer husband Jeremy were drawn away from London with two small children and the promise of building a new home on inherited land, they were joining a very exclusive community. Most of Jeremy’s family live in this magical corner of Hertfordshire and, as their surname suggests, they are all exceptional gardeners.

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The need to cultivate large quantities of vegetables has dwindled now that Bella’s children have grown up and moved away, and these days the kitchen garden is increasingly ornamental. Soft-blue love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) pops up everywhere since Bella grew the flowers for her daughter’s wedding more than two years ago.
The need to cultivate large quantities of vegetables has dwindled now that Bella’s children have grown up and moved away, and these days the kitchen garden is increasingly ornamental. Soft-blue love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) pops up everywhere since Bella grew the flowers for her daughter’s wedding more than two years ago.

Brother-in-law Tom’s world-famous Barn Garden is just down the lane, and Serge Hill, long-time home of Tom and Jeremy’s parents but now occupied by their sister Kate, can just be glimpsed from Bella’s drawing-room windows. “Starting from scratch here was rather daunting,” says Bella. “I had done next to no gardening before we arrived, but everyone was terribly nice and helped with initial design ideas and structures.”

The first step, in 1988, was to demolish two derelict cottages and fill their existing compact footprint with a new house. Bella and Jeremy commissioned “a minimalist cube in the tradition of Sir John Soane”, with terraces on three sides, taking in glorious views over rolling countryside to the east. “We put in some hedges and planted a couple of new gardens, including a beautifully maintained vegetable garden (where love-in-a- mist and Ammi majus have self-seeded freely ever since Bella grew the flowers for her daughter’s wedding, more than two years ago), and a gravel garden with the free drainage and protection necessary for treasured Melianthus major, Knautia macedonica and Molopospermum peloponnesiacum.

In the remains of the former cottage garden, Bella has created a wild rosarium, including the dainty-flowered Rosa Kew Gardens (= ‘Ausfence’) and the highly fragrant white rambling rose Rosa ‘The Garland’ underplanted with foxgloves and cow parsley, leading to a woodland clearing where rough stools, carved from the stumps of felled sycamores, are drawn up around an open fire.

The sheltered Gravel Garden includes Melianthus major with its grey- green pinnate leaves, the crimson flowerheads of Knautia macedonica and bold clumps of golden-yellow Allium flavum. The grass Stipa tenuissima self- seeds happily and must be controlled.
The sheltered Gravel Garden includes Melianthus major with its grey- green pinnate leaves, the crimson flowerheads of Knautia macedonica and bold clumps of golden-yellow Allium flavum. The grass Stipa tenuissima self- seeds happily and must be controlled.

Most recently, Bella cleared an overgrown conifer plantation to give her the space and slightly acid soil necessary to explore a growing interest in rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas. “I am really not safe on a visit to Pan-Global Plants nursery,” she says, pointing out a Hydrangea heteromalla so choice that it has only a registration number, not a name.

Bella has come a long way since she arrived at Pie Corner as a novice gardener. She has taken a degree in garden history, chaired the Hertfordshire Gardens Trust and qualified as a professional garden designer, but her greatest achievement remains her own glorious garden, which will never quite be finished.

Useful Information

Address Pie Corner, Millhouse Lane, Bedmond, Hertfordshire WD5 0SG.
Open The garden will open for the National Garden Scheme on 18 June, 5pm-8pm. Admission £5. Please note that all tickets must be booked online in advance at ngs.org.uk

12 Key Plants 

1

Lilium hansonii

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Bella uses this lily to follow on from ‘Ballerina’ tulips, to provide a continuation of orange before the hotter colours of July get going. 1.2m. RHS H6†.

2

Geranium phaeum var. lividum  ‘Majus’

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Bella loves the pale-lavender flowers of this delicate geranium. It is tolerant of shade, flowers abundantly, and is extremely useful on a dry bank in front of shrubs. RHS H7.

3

Aconitum  ‘Stainless Steel’

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With its wonderful, steely-blue flowers, this picks up the colour of a nearby Amsonia and looks lovely with the acid green of euphorbias or Alchemilla mollis. 1.2m. AGM*. RHS H7.

4

Geranium pratense  ‘Midnight Reiter’

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A cultivar that Bella values for the striking markings on its dark leaves. She acquired it from a local GP-turned-nurseryman, via her local garden society. 50cm. RHS H7.

5

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’

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An old cultivar with enormous double flowers that have a delicious fragrance and will grow in sun or partial shade provided the soil is rich and well drained. 95cm. AGM. RHS H6.

6

Cotinus ‘Grace’