THIS CHARACTERFUL COTTAGE is packed with green-fingered ideas. “I’m always experimenting,” says owner Louise Bateman. “No garden is ever finished, so whenever I have a new idea, I’ll go for it. If a plant doesn’t thrive or meet my expectations, I’ll try something else.”
Whether it’s building a wildlife pond, planting a stipa spiral or putting up some homemade fencing, Louise loves turning her artistic ideas into reality. Nowadays her garden is a picturesque retreat with bags of character and a billowing, natural look.
It’s a far cry from the scene that confronted Louise 11 years ago. “The house is a cedar bungalow built in the 1950s and had two previous owners, but neither of them was very passionate about plants. The garden wasn’t neglected as such, but there was about 30 years of plant growth to take in hand, and lots of conifers and overgrown trees and shrubs which took a team of professional tree surgeons a week to remove. We did the rest ourselves.”
Renovating the garden was far harder than Louise had anticipated. “We kept on finding concrete buried under the soil, which we’ve dug out and used to make the driveway wider. We prefer to recycle when we can – I’d rather not send anything to landfill if I can avoid it.”
Resourceful to the last, Louise is a devoted propagator of plants. “If I want a plant I tend to want a lot of it, as I like to plant things en masse for more impact. So, I’ll propagate new or interesting plants to make a fresh planting scheme. It takes time but I’m a great believer in growing plants from seed or cuttings whenever possible. It opens up the potential to plant on a grander scale and to experiment with plants without blowing your budget.”
Louise is a long time member of the Hardy Plant Society and the Royal Horticultural Society and takes part in their national seed distribution schemes, which helps her get hold of unusual plant varieties to grow from seed. “Some tender plants, such as my 13-year-old cannas are overwintered in my conservatory, and in the spring when I sow seeds every inch is packed with plants, so you can hardly get inside to water. There’s no space for any furniture and I dread cleaning it in June!”
Self-seeders are a good source of free plants, too. “I planted 100 allium bulbs in our front garden a few years back and now there’s about 1,000. Alliums grow so easily from seed. If you’ve got a plant that loves your soil, it makes sense to grow a lot of it.”
Louise also uses division to create more of the same plant. “A friend gave me a little piece of Carex comans and I divided it to plant individual clumps around the garden. Then, when they were big enough, I moved them to create edging for a path. I like their informal style and they’re evergreen too. I’ve paired the grasses with arctotis ‘Orange Prince’ – it’s the perfect colour to complement the carex’s dusty brown.”
The garden has a formal layout that belies Louise’s relaxed approach to self-seeders. “But within the formal structure I have plants spilling over border edges to create more interesting shapes.
“I decided to open my garden for the NGS one September,” she says, “and ended up introducing more late-summer flowering perennials such as dahlias, crinums, rudbeckias, kniphofia and heleniums – the perfect recipe for a hot border. They keep the borders bursting with colour right into the tail end of summer.”
Filling the garden with plants like this helps to keep weeds down. “I also avoid turning the soil. Digging gives annual weed seeds a chance to germinate,” she explains.
Louise has some secret allies when it comes to improving her loamy clay soil. “I have two ponies which keep me supplied with fertiliser and soil conditioner,” she says. “But instead of digging it in, I find that mulching with manure gets the garden off to a good start each year. But it has to be done before the soil dries out in spring because this is such a dry part of the country. The rain gets as far as Nottingham but then goes off up the river Trent and we don’t seem to get any of it!”
With little rainfall to rely on, Louise has wisely chosen plants that can cope with a bit of drought – silvery-leaved dianthus and artemisia keep her borders looking fresh. Soft-leaved Phlomis ruselliana has also proved a great architectural plant for sun or shade. “I’ve taken a leaf from Beth Chatto’s book, creator of the famous dry garden in Essex,” says Louise. “Her motto was ‘right plant, right place’. She’s absolutely right.”