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.
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
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.
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.”
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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.
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.
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
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†.
Geranium phaeum var. lividum ‘Majus’
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.
Aconitum ‘Stainless Steel’
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.
Geranium pratense ‘Midnight Reiter’
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.
Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’
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.
A smoke bush that does best in a wild space. Bella loves its combination of deep-purple foliage and the frothing ‘smoke’ of its summer flowers. 8m. RHS H5.
This came from a Chelsea garden Bella designed with other students in 2004 as part of her design course. She has increased its stock to include it in many parts of the garden. 75cm.
Bella finds this plant so reliable and generous. Its pale-yellow daisies are a wonderful way to lighten the backdrop of an evergreen hedge. 2m. RHS H7, USDA 3a-7b.
A pretty grass that will soften any planting. It seeds itself generously, but is easy to control if you pull up the strays regularly. 60cm. AGM. RHS H4, USDA 7a-10b.
A happy accident, this was supposed to be Lilium hansonii but was muddled by the supplier. Bella keeps a sharp eye out to protect it from lily beetles. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b. 11.
A lovely, pale-yellow alternative to the more usual purple alliums, which grows happily in the sharp drainage of Pie Corner’s Gravel Garden. 40cm. AGM. RHS H5.
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Kokuryu’
Slow to get going, and definitely needs sharp drainage in this garden, but it is wonderful when it flowers, and makes a smart, grassy edge to paving. 20cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b.
*Holds an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural
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