Clearing away the cobwebs: rediscovering a garden

The beauty of gardening and garden design is that no two jobs are the same. Not only is each space, location, climate and growing conditions slightly different, the origin of each garden also varies greatly. By this I mean that creating a garden isn’t always from scratch. In fact, gardens rarely start with a completely blank canvas; there is often a mature tree or hedge that needs to be sympathetically incorporated into the design.

Of course, the ultimate example of this is undertaking a full restoration project. A garden initially conceived over 100 years ago with trees that are older than any living person on this planet. With it comes a succession of people who have been inspired and contributed to its overall vision. The excitement of starting on a new project like this is thrilling and foreboding; what treasures will we find? can we unearth and improve what others have done before us? will we do justice to the vision of the garden’s creator?

A mature confier has gradually eaten away at the driveway over the years, making it difficult for vehicles to pass.
Lifting the lower branches lets in the light and shows off the curve of the drive.
What is this lovely large Magnolia hiding?
Removing lower branches reveals beautiful architecture, a statue in an alcove and some nice shrubs including Skimmia japonica and Euonymous fortunei ‘Silver Queen’.
This walkway is overgrown full of Carex pendula and suckering shrubs.
A bit of digging, pruning & tying in opens up the space and shows off the pencil Taxus baccata.

Restoration, by definition, is the “restitution of something taken away or lost” and is so important before things decay so far that they cannot ever be rediscovered. It is a long process that requires imagination, foresight and lots of resources. The best bit is that we can benefit from the imagination and foresight of its creators all those years ago and hope that in another 100 years time, new generations will appreciate what we have done too.

Visit to Caerhays Castle

To see the best Magnolias in the country this is the place to go. Caerhays Castle in Cornwall is home to one of England’s national Magnolia collections and what a magnificent collection it is!

Unfortunately my photos don’t do it justice as the weather was misty, wet and at times, just pouring with rain. Us gardeners are a hardy bunch though, so it didn’t dampen spirits, but keeping the lens dry was another matter.

In the company of some esteemed gardeners, Martin and I were taken round the gardens with Charles and his wife, Lizzie.  Bearing in mind Charles’s ancestors were responsible for employing two of the famous plant hunters G. Forrest and E.H.Wilson, it gives you some idea of the time and expertise that has gone into making this collection.



It was such fun listening to the maestros debating the naming of certain trees. Robert Vernon from Bluebell nurseries, Robert Hillier, Charles and his head Gardner Jamie Parsons! I was struggling enough pronouncing mollicomata!




One of the oldest Magnolias was planted in 1870 and is one of six champion trees being monitored. A champion tree is the largest and most splendid of their species grown within the British Isles. To think this was the year that Charles Dickens died – now that’s some history!


Walking at a hearty pace Charles showed us new areas of the garden he is clearing, creating large spaces on hillsides for more Magnolias. This is so familiar to Martin and I and compares well with our progress at Belvoir where our Magnolias are now looking their best; we are certainly a month behind Cornwall.


To choose a favourite would be difficult but the last Magnolia we saw was called Lanarth (pictured below), with beautiful large deep pink/red flowers displayed on bare branches. Another star of the show was ‘JC’; already we had picked up the lingo! This Magnolia was bred by Charles’ Grandfather, John Charles.


I am passionate about trees, they are the backbone of any garden design. It is so important to see them as a mature specimen to appreciate their real potential. Visit Burncoose Nurseries to see all the varieties available and much more.

Trees at Belvoir

If my salary depended on blog updates, the company would be in the drink!

As you gardeners know the ‘back end’ of the year is always a busy one! We have just finished planting up a design in Lincoln that had a large Cedar dominating the proceedings. I’m pleased to say he now looks part of the furniture, doesn’t take centre stage any more, but still has all his beautiful sweeping branches. Photos to follow:

So what have I been doing… well the Cedar is the link.

Studying trees and reading up on my garden history. This all started because we are currently listing and mapping all the trees at Belvoir Castle, as you can imagine there are some magnificent specimens.


This fabulous Oak, who has certainly stood the test of time was planted in Tudor times!  We do not have a date yet, but this gnarled old trunk supports one of the oldest trees on the estate.


The large tree in the background is probably one of the easiest to identify. This is the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) whose seeds were first sent from Chile to the United Kingdom in 1841. The records at Belvoir show the tree was planted in 1842, so it must be one of the first to be planted in the Country.


From the same family as the Monkey Puzzle, this Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) was first identified in Australia as recently as 1994. This was planted at Belvoir in 2008, so again will be one of the first in the country. I’m not sure what it will think to our harsh winters so we will keep a close eye on this one.



This is a Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), known in Japan as the Sugi which is their national tree. But as this lovely old tree is not labelled the jury is still out on my nomenclature!


This is the fruit of the Magnolia (Magnolia campbellii mollicomata). This large variety is one of the  first to flower in February with large, pink to rose-purple water lilies. It can take 10-15 years before the first flowers appear – luckily this one now covers herself with a stunning display. (Pics to follow in Spring).


This superb display of autumn colour is from the Sorbus sargentiana. If you look at the picture of the Monkey Puzzle tree you will see this one in the background. Walk past this in the spring and summer and you just wouldn’t believe what a spectacular display is about to unfold.

Well enough of my indulgence – if you see someone hugging trees you will now have a good idea who it is!

Autumn colours in Lincolnshire

4 months since I wrote a blog – what have I been doing!

The tennis court transformation is complete. All the plants have taken, including the 25 year old pleached Lime, (whose roots were submerged beneath the court) it even had to be clipped this year.

The Cedar that was brought from Italy has grown at least 8 inches and is looking in the peak of condition.


The bright red shrub is an Euonymus alatus – I planted 3 and the one in full sun has done the best. Doesn’t it look terrific? The Asters really add interest this time of year and create plenty of colour in October.


The yellow Indian Bean (Catalpa bignonioides) tree has thrived. We have watered a couple of times as the area is quite a sun trap.


Tennis Court Transformed to a Garden

In February 2013 we started our tennis court transformation.

One of our lovely ‘regulars’ who we have now been working for for over 10 years decided his tennis days were numbered. The Tennis court needed re surfacing and he was unsure what to do; “What would we do?” my eye’s lit up and one of our most challenging projects began.

There were two stipulations; Could we transplant one of the 25 year old pleached Limes, and could we plant a Cedar Lebanon. The rest was up to us.

As the existing area was symmetrical it made sense to run with a formal theme. The pleached lime running alongside the court formed a superb division and backdrop, but one of the Limes impeded our access for heavy machinery and had to be removed.  Transplanting a 25 year old tree half buried under a tennis court seemed out of the question, but our client desperately wanted to save the tree. I didn’t think for a minute it would survive, how happy I am to be proved wrong!

The beech hedge was removed in the centre to make way for the centre isle.

The beech hedge was removed in the centre to make way for the centre isle.

The Cedar of Lebanon arriving from Italy - poor thing it was so cold here.

The Cedar of Lebanon arriving from Italy – poor thing it was so cold here.

Careful manoeuvring over the pleached Lime.

Careful manoeuvring over the pleached Lime.


Digging out the central beds whilst leaving hardcore in for the paths.

Digging out the central beds whilst leaving hardcore in for the paths.

Many tonnes of Top soil added to make up the levels (one of the best things we did as the soil adjacent to the house is shallow).

Marking out the paths using wood and stakes for the edges.

Marking out the paths using wood and stakes for the edges.


We used Everedge, steel lawn edging to create the inner circles.

We used Everedge, steel lawn edging to create the inner circles.

The final design with the Cedar centre stage.

The final design with the Cedar centre stage.

One year later.

One year later.