“Our cottage garden has an exotic twist”

Statement tropical and Mediterranean plants mingle with cottage-garden favourites in this travellers’ paradise. Linda and Chris Pegden share its story

Tudor Roost garden in Essex - hermerocallis 'Stafford', sunflowers and pink hydrangeas create colourful layers of planting by the pond

by Liz Potter |

Two worlds collide in this exciting garden. On one hand, it’s a charming English country confection, filled with hundreds of roses and clematis, packed with pots and boasting a neatly edged, carefully tended lawn. On the other, it’s a madcap rampage through the Mediterranean and the tropics, all big leaves, spiky palms, experimentation and invention. Yet, curiously, everything seems to rub along together nicely.

“When we moved here in 1993, nearly three decades ago, it was as a house swap,” explains owner Linda Pegden, who lives here with her husband Chris. “Apart from one ‘Bramley’ apple tree, a large lawn and a croquet set, there wasn’t much here, but there was plenty of room to improve.

Tudor Roost garden in Essex - hostas create a leafy frame for the fish pond, with trachycarpus and tree ferns beyond
Tudor Roost garden in Essex - hostas create a leafy frame for the fish pond, with trachycarpus and tree ferns beyond ©NEIL HEPWORTH/BAUER

“Luckily there was a fish pond, so when we moved, our fish had somewhere to live too. But the pond was pretty small and we have large koi carp, so we had to dig it out and make it much bigger.”

Already keen gardeners, the couple created new planting areas as they went along. “We made a new conifer bed first, then kept adding more borders until now there’s more borders than lawn!”

Dating from the mid-1980s, the detached house has a rose garden in the front, with a magnolia tree and a rugosa rose hedge. “The back garden is much bigger, and what remains of our lawn now snakes around borders and island beds. Each bed has a different look and feel, from hybrid tea and floribunda roses to azaleas and rhododendrons. The carp pond is in the middle, surrounded by lush and leafy plants such as gunnera, hostas and a columnar purple beech tree, Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’.”

A path loops around the edge of the garden, leading to secluded seating areas, including the gravelled Millennium Garden created in 2000 when the couple bought an area of adjacent land. “It was on the edge of a disused gravel pit, and we converted it from a brambly thicket into a secluded suntrap,” says Linda. “We planted it up with tree ferns and a large palm tree, dug out a second pond, with lilies and a gazebo to sit in. The house casts a lot of shade, so this area is really nice in spring as it gets the sun. We spend time there listening to the birds.”

Tudor Roost garden in Essex - a suntrap seating area is filled with large-leaved architectural specimens including banana plants
Tudor Roost garden in Essex - a suntrap seating area is filled with large-leaved architectural specimens including banana plants ©NEIL HEPWORTH/BAUER

Family caravan holidays fuelled Chris’s passion for big-leaved exotic plants. “We drove all over Europe, to France and Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece and we saw all sorts of exciting plants,” remembers Linda. “Back in the 1980s and 1990s you could bring them back home with you, so we would go to garden centres in Portugal or Spain and buy seeds, shrubs and even small trees, so a lot of our more interesting plants came from abroad!

“We saw beautiful umbrella pines when we visited Coto Doñana National Park in Spain, so we got one for the garden. It’s now huge! Our holidays have always been adventurous, so it inspired the tropical garden theme here at home.”

Other plants, acquired closer to home, have provided their own form of horticultural intrigue. “In 1997 we bought a monkey puzzle tree for a pound in Scotland,” says Linda. “It was just a four-inch long spiky piece of twig, but we planted it anyway. It grew and grew, then produced seedheads, which exploded, and then it died. It’s unusual for a monkey puzzle to grow so quickly, to produce both male and female flowers, then promptly die. So it was a bit of a freak. But we now have lots of little baby monkey puzzle trees, and a friend who does wood turning was pleased to have the wood.”

Tudor Roost garden in Essex - dahlias and clematis proviode a colour contrast
Tudor Roost garden in Essex - dahlias and clematis proviode a colour contrast ©NEIL HEPWORTH/BAUER

The garden has undergone a full transformation in the 28 years since Linda and Chris arrived, but changes continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace. “The garden has been a godsend for us during lockdown,” says Linda. “Having opened for the NGS for 22 years, we’re now considering our options carefully. Opening for the public is a lot of hard work, but we like doing it. People enjoy wandering around and having tea and cake, and it’s an incentive to keep the garden in good shape.

Tudor Roost garden in Essex - a lovely lawn helps frame the busy planting areas, with a monkey puzzle tree in the background
Tudor Roost garden in Essex - a lovely lawn helps frame the busy planting areas, with a monkey puzzle tree in the background ©NEIL HEPWORTH/BAUER

“We have runner beans in pots and tomatoes in the greenhouse, but our next project will probably be a vegetable area. Edible plants can look lovely, but also get tatty easily so I originally felt that visitors would prefer to enjoy shrubs and exotics. But with the pandemic, things have changed and I think people are now more interested in productive gardening.”

IN THE GARDEN WITH… Linda and Chris Pegden AT Tudor Roost, 18 Frere Way, Fingringhoe, Colchester, Essex CO5 7BP GARDEN SIZE ¼ acre SITE North facing SOIL Neutral and free-draining FEATURES Borders of herbaceous perennials; lawn with island beds; conifer bed; exotic plants; pond; gravelled Millennium Garden; seating areas; mix of Mediterranean and tropical planting areas with English cottage style

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