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Garden of the month: Oak Cottage, Elmsted

PUBLISHED: 07:39 24 July 2016 | UPDATED: 07:39 24 July 2016

The characterful house

The characterful house


The Castles have filled their garden with wonderful perennials to create a real plantsman’s paradise, reflecting their specialist nursery next to the garden

Four years ago Rachael and Martin Castle downsized their Swallowfields Nursery and moved their home and business to Oak Cottage in Elmsted.

“We loved the surrounding countryside, deep in the North Downs, with its beautiful rolling farmland and woods abundant with wildflowers all around,” says Rachel.

“The cottage is off the beaten track and yet still relatively close to Canterbury. The garden was full of potential and had some lovely mature trees and shrubs in already, which we thought would provide the backdrop for our gardening plans.”

The first task was to set up a micro-nursery, which they have run for 10 years. It specialises in salvias, auriculas and plants with unusual foliage, scent or habit, including many old-fashioned cottage garden plants. Plants are sold at specialist fairs across Kent and on NGS open days. “We are both from keen gardening families and decided to make the dream of running a small nursery come true,” explains Rachael.

The nursery stock was placed at the far end of the garden where there had been a vegetable plot, a greenhouse was erected, Martin built a potting shed for the propagation of stock and a compost area was established.

Attention then turned to developing the garden. Conditioning the heavy clay soil that is fertile yet suffers from flooding in winter and drying out in summer is a continuing priority. This is being achieved by adding as much organic matter as possible, from their own compost, farmyard manure and grit, to improve drainage and make the soil more friable.

“We have been working to improve the lawns, which were very mossy and patchy, by aerating, scarifying and feeding. We’re quite high up here, 160m above sea level, so the temperature is three or four degrees lower than surrounding areas. High winds are not infrequent,” adds Rachael.

Existing garden beds were widened and new ones established across the garden. “We both like the cottage-garden style of gardening with a mixture of well-maintained, informal planting.”

“Martin is interested in the overall shape and layout of the garden while I am very motivated by the individual plants and their characteristics. We attend many specialist plant fairs with the nursery where we find new and unusual plants that might do well in the garden.”

Planting focuses on providing year-round interest with hardy herbaceous perennials being the key to achieve this. In August the scene is of billowing profusion from choices such as massed salvias, echinacea, rudbeckias, heleniums and ornamental grasses. A particular favourite is the towering Diascia personata.

“This seldom-grown diascia achieves heights of four feet or more and is a mass of dusky pink for months on end. It responds well to a heavy mulch over winter as it is not incredibly hardy but a real asset to the late summer border.”

“We have been delighted to find that this garden has some wonderfully shady areas, in particular beneath a spectacular old magnolia. We had absolutely no shade at all in our previous garden so this has been a voyage of discovery and has opened the door to planting a whole range of plants that were hitherto impossible.

“We have planted trilliums, and ferns and some wonderful shade-loving, ground-cover plants, also pulmonarias, Anemonopsis macrophylla, Luzula nivea, erythronium, cyclamen and many more new delights.”

Across the garden there is such a diverse palette for shade and sunny areas with the exuberant beds kept neatly in control by their tidy edges on the swathe of green lawn.

The garden is open for a couple of days this month through the National Gardens Scheme after their first time last year.

For visitors there is the opportunity to see both expected and unusual plants growing in the garden and then you can buy some to take home for your own garden. The range of tactile and brilliantly coloured salvias is very tempting, including Salvia microphylla Wild Watermelon, which Rachel recommends for its long-flowering pink blooms from June to November. w

Find out more

Oak Cottage, Elmsted TN25 5JT

18 and 20 August, 11am-4pm

Admission £3.50, children free, home-made teas
Swallowfields Nursery

www.swallowfieldsnursery.comGet the look

• Neatly defined, curvaceous garden beds, densely planted, on swathes of lawn

• Planted for year-round interest

• Wide palette of herbaceous long-flowering perennials

• Tips from Rachael and Martin:

• Don’t buy all your plants at once. Buy a few during each month of the year and this will help you choose ones that flower at different times

• Cut back half the stems of your hardy perennials in late May (the Chelsea chop) to encourage a greater number of flowers later in the year

• Regularly deadhead your plants to encourage a longer length of flowering and prevent plants from forming seed heads

• Cut your early flowering perennials such as geraniums and diascia hard back after their flowering and you will get another flush of flowers later in the year

• Pinch out the tops of annuals such as cosmos and zinnias when planting out to encourage a profusion of smaller flowers slightly later

Plant of the month

Crocosmia, montbretia

• sprays of bright red, orange or yellow flowers

• clump forming

• sword-shaped leaves

• hardy, tough, reliable

Growing notes

• full sun

• good soil

• plant corms in spring

• grows larger in warmer areas

• if space limited, plant smaller variety

• can be left undivided or divide every 3 or 4 years to improve vigour

• use for vibrant contrasts in the border with cannas, nepetas, asters, grasses or dahlias

Jobs to be done

• Do take time to just enjoy summer’s zenith, throw a hammock between trees, dine al fresco and have fun with the family in the garden. Don’t worry about watering the lawn, any browning will soon turn to green with autumn rains.

• Whenever you get the chance, deadhead spent flowers, keep on top of weeds and add some feed to keep plants flowering longer.

• If you are going away, move containers to a shady spot to prevent them drying out. You can stand pots on gravel trays filled with water to be absorbed. Consider installing a trickle watering system on a timer.

• Grab the secateurs and trim lavender and rosemary after flowering, you may also like to take cuttings from pelargoniums, fuchsias and tender perennials to pot up for free flowers next year.

• You could add further floral interest by sowing some hardy annuals for next spring and summer in their flowering positions, such as calendula, forget-me-nots and Californian poppies

Plant Hunters Weekend

The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle kicks off the August Bank Holiday weekend (27, 28, 29 Aug, 11am-5pm) with a celebration of the lives of some of Britain’s most intrepid plant hunters who heroically discovered the far-flung botanical delights of the world and have inspired Tom Hart Dyke, as a modern day plant hunter, to travel all over the world.

Visitors will experience a Plant Hunters expedition camp complete with plant presses, roaring fire, canvas tents and authentic dress of the period. Tom will lead free guided tours of the World Garden at 12 noon and 2pm (no prior booking required) starting at expedition camp to take you on your very own plant hunters’ adventure!


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