A plantsmans paradise
PUBLISHED: 16:31 27 July 2010 | UPDATED: 16:08 20 February 2013
Discover a garden and nursery, hidden away on the hills above St Margarets-at-Cliffe, filled with rare and unusual plants
The challenge of gardening on an exposed, wind-blown coastal site has been readily taken up by David and Teresa Ryder at their aptly named property, Windy Ridge. "We were looking for something out of the way with a large space for a garden, but with outstanding views across open countryside to the sea beyond and the woodlands at the back of the property," explains David.
"We felt we had the perfect location for us, plus adequate compensation for the three-quarters of a mile of rough tracks to get here!"
When the couple arrived from Temple Ewell near Dover in 1983, they could see great potential even though there was just an old army hut, which had been converted into domestic ownership around 1949, standing in an area of scrub.
Brambles, nettles and blackthorns dominated the landscape and there was a small area of rough grass and rubble by the front of the bungalow. Due to the unmade tracks to the property, a large quantity of bricks and hardcore had been spread at the front of the house to provide a standing for a car.
After spending many years making the bungalow habitable, attention turned to the garden. "The garden was started around 1990 with no grand plan, just clearing areas and trying to link them together to work as a whole," says Teresa. "We had two young children, so some of the clearings became play areas at first and later evolved into ornamental gardens."
Exposed to cold easterly winds and with alkaline clay over a chalk soil, careful consideration was given to providing shelter with hedges and selecting appropriate plants. Naturally protected from westerly winds by the lay of the land and with spring arriving a little later, autumn being generally milder and few frosts on the site, many tender specimens - some from the Southern Hemisphere - can be planted in areas of the garden.
One of the most important features is a pond that attracts a great variety of wildlife to the garden. Providing good bio-diversity through a wide palette of plants was also an important consideration and a strip of land to the west has been left for wind protection and as nesting sites for wildlife.
David, who has a design background, is the main 'ideas' person in the garden's development, but all is carried forward as a joint decision and effort. "As for what inspires us, I'm tempted to say masochism," he laughs. "But really it's just a love of plants and propagating and a constant need to try something new."
Always feeling there was potential to make the garden pay for itself in some way led to the incorporation of a nursery which, since 1996, has become a full-time job. The Ryders have developed collections of hardy perennials, grasses, shrubs and herbs, many that customers can see growing in the mature, natural setting of the gardens.
"We have a fondness for penstemons and salvias but mainly just get pleasure from growing something that's new to us. Teresa also has a particular liking for irises and I am especially interested in kniphofias," says David. "We've learnt over the years not to dismiss a plant just because it is out of fashion. There's a place for every plant - even if that place is the compost heap."
The gardens and nursery continue to evolve. Visitors enjoy sitting in the garden taking in the peaceful ambience. Most customers discover the nursery through personal recommendations, others come across this hidden gem while walking in the area or on its special NGS open days.
Regular visitors come from as far afield as Holland, Belgium and France, and Teresa also gives guided walks around the gardens to horticultural societies.
Every day, except Tuesday (10am to 5.30pm)
Special National Gardens Scheme days: Sundays 19 July, 13 September (2pm to 6pm)
Home-made teas and cakes. Admission 2.50, children free
July in the garden
Plant of the month
Hemerocallis, day lily
named because each bloom only lasts a day
clump-forming, strappy leafed perennial
dazzling range of colours - cream, gold, apricot, orange, red
spidery, flat, ruffled or double flower shapes
easy to grow
fertile, moist but well-drained soil
best colour in full sun but can also grow in part shade
divide every two to three years in spring to maintain vigour
feed and mulch in spring
the dense foliage suppresses weeds
effective in drifts or through borders
July can be a dry month, be waterwise and collect rainwater or recycle grey water
Deadhead flowers to encourage new growth and repeat flowering
Mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds
Lift and divide bearded irises when finished flowering
Plant autumn-flowering bulbs such as nerines and amaryllis
Plant up a culinary herb container and keep near the kitchen or barbecue so you can cut as needed
Sow lettuce and salad leaves, spring cabbage, oriental vegetables, radishes and endive
Start summer pruning on espaliers and fans
Prune back side shoots on cordon gooseberries and currants
Thin apples after the June drop if still overcrowded, remove any small, diseased fruits
Harvest crops when young and tender, for example beetroot, courgettes and beans
Create a cooling, no-fuss water feature in a pot. No plumbing needed. Select an interesting, largish, watertight container, such as a glazed pot, half-barrel or an old laundry tub. Place in its final position and ensure it is level. Water lilies need a sunny spot. Use dwarf aquatic plants in water baskets, add some pebbles and fill with water. Remember to change the water regularly.