The Making of the White Garden ~ 1. The Plan

Since the relocation of Bee HQ to a small village in north Oxfordshire, (is it the Cotswolds? ~ no, not quite but we can see it from here) I have spent a great deal of time on and in my new garden. The last time we moved house, at the turn of the new millennium, we didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to design the garden ourselves, so employed a landscape garden designer. This time round I have just enough know-how, chutzpah and creativity to test myself and boy! am I having fun. I am now spending the majority of my time in the place that gives me the most pleasure: the garden.

The ‘bones’ of this garden (which is just under an acre in total) are exquisite. Clearly somebody with a good eye for structure, dimension and form planted heaps of simple but useful yew, copper beech and box hedging, a few good shrubs (repeated throughout the garden), a handful of hardy perennials, some classic topiary and half a dozen espaliered fruit trees. The lines are clean, the proportions are just right and the borders, such as they are, are small but of reasonable depth. Apart from a bit of tinkering, I have left all that largely alone, other than pruning, trimming and general maintenance. The soil still needs a lot of organic matter adding, but that will happen over the next few years, and beyond.

On first seeing the garden, in January of 2016, I was struck by the opportunity to do something bold with a fairly large expanse of lawn at the back of the house. A sales brochure from 1874 calls the house a “gentleman’s farmhouse”; it was built at the very end of the 1700s. The brochure also talks of “a large piece of highly productive garden ground and lawn”. Neighbours have said that a few decades ago, there was an orchard on the area in question and the village children used it as a playground. Presumably in the mists of time, it may have had farm animals on and around it. Certainly the soil is generally fairly good at the back. Unlike the front of the house, which is quite manicured and designed, we found a rather dull and under-utilised space ~ perfect for a new project; it felt like the owners who made all the design decisions at the front simply ran out of steam.  I must admit now that even before we had exchanged contracts on the house, I was already planning what I grandly referred to as my parterre. I even did some initial drawings.

Below, you can see my (very) rough drawing of how it looked in the January, followed by a photo (looking north-ish) which should give you an idea of the blank canvas. The two lines of fastigiate yews made no sense to me at all and they were removed (and resold and therefore reused) within a week of us moving in. The white A3 plan below that is a very simple sketch of the ‘parterre’ idea and I was bold enough to include a plant list. At that stage, the idea of it being a white (+ green + grey) garden hadn’t occurred to me.

 

White Garden

What did happen when we moved in at the end of April 2016, was that I planted up a cutting garden (look out for a separate blog post to come) and spent several months deciding whether the parterre idea could work. Taking that time to decide ended up being an excellent decision. So how does it look right now, in June of its first year?

Annie Bee\s white garden south border

 

Annie Bee's white garden north border

 

More soon ……..

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Annie Bee x

Making A Cheap, Recycled Compost Bin

My latest homemade project here at Bee HQ is a compost bin. When I googled “compost bin made from recycled wooden pallets” there were 1.7m suggestions, so you might ask, why add one more? Well, I hope you will find this simple and clear.

I have an 8-9 step guide below, and, in case you worry it is difficult and time-consuming, I found it surprisingly easy to make, bearing in mind I am a very amateurish DIY-er. How wrong could it go?

First up, find yourself a kindly local company willing to let you have the pallets. You need four, roughly the same size and shape. Some pallets (which tend to be painted bright red or blue) are not to be recycled; they belong to the company who own them, CHEP, who are very clear on the subject:

CHEP equipment cannot legally be bought, modified, exchanged for non-CHEP equipment, sold, or otherwise disposed of. Unauthorised appropriation, use or disposal of CHEP equipment is strictly prohibited.

However, there are many other pallets around, and I have never been turned away when I have asked for them from companies where I am a customer (thanks Hillier Garden Centre, Wickes and Topps Tiles). Indeed, they seemed happy for me to have them, especially when I explained why I wanted them. Obviously you need to be able to transport them (they fit in the back of our trusty Volvo with the seats down) and, while rather unwieldy, are not too heavy.

I did read a handful of the million or so internet articles and forums, and was slightly concerned that some of the pallets are stamped MB which means they have been treated with methyl bromide, which is a pesticide. One article said to avoid using them if you are going to be then putting the compost you make onto crops (which I won’t). All the other articles I read (The Telegraph, Guardian and Gardeners World) didn’t mention it at all. In the end I made an executive decision to not worry about it. Also, sorting through the pallets searching for the stamps (many not easily visible) made me look pretty damn fussy. I reckon life is a little too short and delaying making the compost bin (and therefore the compost – which is a fairly long process anyway) seemed a bit silly and counter-productive. More to the point, I just wanted to get on with it. Patience is not my middle name….

Four pallets later, I started the project by getting some chicken wire from the shed and pegged it out onto the area I had chosen for the compost bin. This is to prevent vermin from burrowing and tunneling into the compost from the bottom.

Chicken wire at the bottom of the compost bin

Next step is to get the first two, then three, pallets roughly into the right place and tie them together with some wire once you are happy they are about right.

Roughly tie the pallets together

Three pallets in place

Stand back. Admire. Have a cup of tea.

Maine Coon 'helper': Huck

At this point our one-year-old Maine Coon, Huck, decided I needed some ‘help’.

Saw the gate in half

Get a saw and cut the fourth pallet in half.

Screw and nail the pallets together

Get a drill, some screws, a hammer and some nails and secure the entire structure together.

Gate hinges for the final pallet

This is the only part where another pair of hands is welcome, and I luckily had my nephew staying who was able and willing. You want this bit of the compost bin to open so you can fork your waste in from the wheelbarrow. You could have the entire fourth pallet opening in this way of course. Initially I used some small hinges, but realised the weight of the ‘gate’ required more substantial ironmongery.

Attach a cabin-hook

An alternative to a hook would be some farmer’s twine but this looks elegant ….. for a recycled compost bin.

Hook it on

All done. Now the far more difficult business of making good compost begins. And more to the point, one compost bay in isolation is not ideal, so I will need to add at least one other pallet-structure to this first one. However, I can wait for a few months before I need to go scouting for more pallets. This is what I will be aiming for:

Ideal 3 compost bays

Overall cost?  Under ten pounds for the hinges, screws and chicken-wire.

Cheap. Cheerful. Recycled. Fun.

What’s not to like?

Annie Bee x

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Hidcote Manor Garden: Something For Everyone

There are a few significant gardens in the UK which are on any keen gardener’s ‘must-see’ list; Hidcote in Gloucestershire is one of them. Today it is owned by the National Trust and, unlike most NT gardens which seem to open in March or at Easter, Hidcote opens in mid-February, giving visitors the opportunity to discover its winter bones. From our new Bee HQ, Google Maps took me winding through 3 counties and many narrow lanes, and despite being in the very back of beyond, I finally found it after a couple of wrong turns here and there. Just in time to get a take away coffee and start my mooch about, note-book in hand. Being February, it wasn’t too busy, despite it also being half-term. It was peaceful and tranquil. The hover-flies massing on the Mahonias were about as loud and hectic as it got.

Hidcote Manor Garden Gloucestershitre

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Evergreen ‘bones’ to any garden are fascinating I think. This is a garden which was built on the idea of different ‘rooms’, by the famous American plant-hunter and gentleman gardener, Lawrence Johnstone (1871 – 1958). Other gardens are set up in a similar fashion (notably Sissinghurst in Kent) and it is now a technique often employed in modern gardens.  The bones at Hidcote are mainly box hedging, plenty of yew, pleached hornbeam, pergolas and topiary. Gates, pillars, vistas and gazebos abound and there are beautiful views of the Malvern countryside too. I have a particular interest in vertical structures and am always on the look-out for exciting ideas for my own garden. It is often easier to see these in the depths of winter than when they are smothered in luxuriant flowers later in the year.

 

Beech Allee at Hidcote

It was very noticeable just how many actual gardeners (as opposed to visitors) were at Hidcote today. Presumably a mixture of volunteers (the National Trust has thousands of volunteers who help maintain their properties and gardens) and paid staff. None of them seemed at all put out by my many questions (primarily about box blight and pruning times for some shrubs). Indeed the advice was thorough, expert, interesting and willingly given.

Lawrence Johnstone's Tool Shed, Hidcote

Hidcote Facts & Figures

If you have never been, I thoroughly recommend a visit. A cafe, National Trust shop and a plant sale area all add to the delight.

 

Annie Bee x

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Garden Inspiration (Full of Bees)

When your country has been turned upside down, nobody knows what the future holds, there is enough political infighting on all sides to last several lifetimes, and the summer refuses to arrive, what is a girl to do?

Visit a garden and wallow in the simple beauty of a gloriously planted space of course.

The Cotswolds are absolutely laden with lovely gardens and houses to visit, and I plan to visit each and every one; Asthall Manor, near Burford, seemed a great place to start. There has been a house on that site since 1272 but the core of the house you see today was built in 1620. The reason it is currently open to visitors is the stone sculpture exhibition , “on form 16“, which is organised, curated and hosted by the manor’s current owner, Rosie Pearson. I over-heard one of the gardeners explaining that there are 3 types of visitors to Asthall: those who want to see the garden and admire the house; those who are interested mainly in the sculpture, which is dotted around the extensive grounds, the neighbouring church and churchyard plus a couple of the rooms inside, and then you have people who are interested in the Mitford family, who lived in the manor between 1919 and 1926.

Asthall Manor on form 16

For me, it is always the garden, and this one is utterly gorgeous. Designed in 1998 by Julian and Isabel Bannerman (who also designed the gardens at Highgrove) it is a Grade II listed Historic Garden, and is a wonderful mix of scented, pastel borders, a sloping parterre, wild meadows, woodland and water (including a hidden lake and a glorious natural swimming pond).

swimming pond at Asthall Manor

sempervivum at Asthall

Is it just me or does it seem to be a particularly good year for roses? The roses at Asthall were quite something to behold, draped all over the ancient walls and house, gently scenting the air. I spied a number of gorgeous Astrantia and Achillea which I have noted and will need to try to source for my new garden which will be planted next spring. And the entire 6 acres were a pollinators dream. The place was a-buzz, despite the unseasonal chill in the air.

Astrantia Asthall Manor

roses at Asthall Manor

My photos don’t do it justice ~ if you can, go and visit. There is a nice little pop-up cafe in the walled garden and you get a lovely catalogue for the entry price of £10.

on form 16 catalogue

In the meantime I am having to deal with the possibility that we have Box blight at Bee HQ. A truly horrendous thought. I have also just heard on the weather forecast that there may be a ground frost tonight in parts of the UK. In July.

The world seems to have tilted on its axis. Hold tight and buckle up folks.

Annie Bee x

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A Gem Of A Garden Amidst An Aerodrome

With the sound of light aircraft buzzing nearby, I spent this morning walking leisurely through the charming Swiss Garden, originally part of Old Warden Park, and now in the lee of Shuttleworth Aerodrome in Bedfordshire. When I went to pay my £8 entrance fee in the Visitors Centre, the lady at the till was talking to a pilot (I assume not airborne) about which way to approach the runway. Now that is what I call multi-tasking ~ selling postcards and doing a spot of traffic control.

The Swiss Cottage

For the vast majority of the time, I was on my own wandering through this 200-year-old, Regency pleasure garden, tucked away in Central Bedfordshire, near the market town of Biggleswade. By the time I left, there were a handful of other visitors, but until then it was just me, a couple of resident peacocks and 2 knowledgeable and helpful gardeners. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful English autumn day. You can’t ask for more.

Swiss Garden Shuttleworth Bedfordshire

England is laden with famous, gorgeous gardens, and you could spend a lifetime visiting them all.  The Swiss Garden is not particularly well-known but is definitely worth visiting. It is part of the Shuttleworth Collection, a Trust, committed mainly to the preservation of transport artefacts — primarily bicycles, motor cars, and aeroplanes; essentially, the primary appeal seems to be the aviation museum, but this alpine landscape, chock full of follies is a hidden gem.

Briefly, the history is this: Created in the early 1800s by Robert, the third Lord Ongley, the garden lay within the 2000-acre Old Warden Estate, and took eight years to complete. In the 1870s, the new owner,  industrialist Joseph Shuttleworth, added a few Victorian flourishes of his own while retaining the original layout. The Shuttleworth Trust describe it thus:

~ Today, it is an outstanding example of the Regency fashion for creating landscapes in a picturesque alpine style

In 2014 it underwent an 18-month restoration process funded to the tune of £2.8 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund. I understand it is still on the Heritage at Risk Register but it is not obvious to the layman why that is still the case. It looks in very good nick to me.

There are 13 or so structures, from the Swiss Cottage itself (above) to an Indian Kiosk, bridges, a grotto, and a Chapel  ~ all amongst simple, but effective planting and some fabulous trees.

Victorian Urn at Swiss Garden

Swiss Garden at Suttleworth

Old Tree roots at Swiss Garden

Swiss Garden grotto

If you live nearby and haven’t been to visit, I can highly recommend it. If you love gardens and airplanes, you will be in heaven! There are some more of my photos of the garden on Pinterest.

Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth, Old Warden, Bedfordshire

Have a good weekend

Annie Bee x

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