FOR SARAH BEART gardening has always been a family affair. Her garden in north Norfolk reflects a gardening talent that has been fine-tuned since childhood.
“My granddad used to grow sweet peas and when I was young I had my own small plot and little tools. Both my maternal grandparents’ fathers were head gardeners, so I’m sure it’s in the genes!” says Sarah.
Her great-grandfathers oversaw gardens on large estates in Norfolk, where Sarah and her family still live, in a small village near the market town of King’s Lynn. It’s a rural idyll complete with a 13th-century church that looks over the garden.
“Our house was the former rectory, where Admiral Lord Nelson’s second cousin once lived, as rector,” says Sarah. “When we moved in nine years ago, we found that our overgrown plot harboured a secret garden. Under the brambles and bindweed we uncovered the beds, planting areas and lovely old roses that a former gardener had created. We even found a pond. In fact it was all so overgrown that we didn’t discover a huge statue of an owl until three years later... I weeded and weeded and dug and dug, exploring the space gradually to see what other treasures were hidden in the undergrowth.”
Sarah’s exploring and digging revealed the bare bones of an excellent garden that, through a process of evolution, became the framework of the bright and charming cottage garden we see today – the perfect partner for Sarah’s historic cottage.
“The boundary is lined with tall trees, which give the garden a sense of seclusion and create shade,” she says. “I try to make a feature of the shady areas – for example one contains a 35m (115ft) long stumpery made from a local tree surgeon’s offcuts and filled with ferns and hostas.”
“I’ve also created a woodland walk containing the garden’s 64 trees, whereI’ve planted violets, primroses, thalictrum and Japanese anemones.”
To help organise the space, the large plot is divided into three distinct areas: the main garden with its dramatic herbaceous borders, sweeping lawns and pond; a gravel garden and rockery for sun-loving alpines; and a relaxed wild flower area that’s humming with bees and butterflies.
Throughout the garden are unusual elements to draw the eye. “The dovecote has been home to a flock of white doves since before we moved in, and we have a small group of bantam hens that roam free in the garden. The birds bring character to the garden too; they drink from the large pond and roost in our bay tree.”
The deep herbaceous borders are Sarah’s pride and joy. “I love cutting flowers for indoors, particularly traditional English flowers, which I like to paint in watercolours. I love the process of growing them from seed, cutting them and then painting them.”
Sarah has filled her deep flower beds with vibrant, but always well-co-ordinated, colours – yellows, pinks, reds and blues, softened with cool white flowers. They also provide cut blooms for Sarah’s mum, who’s a keen flower arranger.
Sarah has strung a rope swag through the main border. “It’s a lovely feature that adds height and, in places, makes a support for climbing roses. My grandmother used this technique in her garden and I always wanted to recreate it here.”