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Kent garden of the month: Heronden, Tenterden

PUBLISHED: 12:27 14 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:58 20 February 2013

The borders were set out by Clem Gibson in 1993

The borders were set out by Clem Gibson in 1993

Inspiration from the world-renowned Le Jardin Plume in Normandy saw Vicky and Peter Costain replace a formal rose garden in their walled garden with a contemporary scheme of grasses and perennials

Words and pictures by Leigh Clapp

Inspiration from the world-renowned Le Jardin Plume in Normandy saw Vicky and Peter Costain replace a formal rose garden in their walled garden with a contemporary scheme of grasses and perennials.

When they moved to Heronden, near Tenterden, in 1992 they originally renovated the walled garden; clearing a jungle of kitchen garden and then planting three long herbaceous borders and a large central rose garden after the fashion of Mottisfont Abbey.

However in 2008, after years of the roses not doing very well, drastic action was needed. "They were no longer looking their best after 17 years, falling prey to honey fungus and other disfiguring diseases," says Vicky.

"We saw photos of Le Jardin Plume, followed by visiting the garden and it really inspired us."

Le Jardin Plume has box-edged beds brimming with dense, late-season planting set against an acre of trimmed blocks of grasses, and the impact these vistas made was the start of the idea.

In addition, they had been admiring the roundabout near Cranbrook with its prize-winning prairie planting by local garden designer Kate Ball, whom they subsequently contacted.

In collaboration with Kate, the Costains have created a circular theme with four beds of grasses and perennials surrounding an urn as the central focal point.

"Our input was the basic design and we had lengthy discussions about which plants to use and we took Kates advice on these," says Vicky.

"She came up with the planting scheme and ordered all the plants all 876 of them which we planted one very wet April day in 2009 with the help of our wonderful gardeners Sue and Chris Gilks."

By 2010 the garden had really matured, with a blend of flowers and grasses, including gaura, nepeta, sedum, salvia, verbena, miscanthus, stipa and verbena bonariensis. "There is not a plant that we dont like although we did remove all the Eupatorium purpureum, which self seeds a bit too readily, changing to Eupatorium Riesenschirm," adds Vicky.

"We all have different favourites but among them are Pennisetum Red Buttons, Stipa tenuissima, Molinia caerulea and the Echinacea."

With no real challenges, as the garden is protected by the walls and consists of well-worked soil, the solution has been very successful, with the added bonus of also being undemanding and easy care.

The main chore is to cut down the grasses and perennials each year in early spring. Some of the evergreen grasses, such as the stipa, need only to have any dried leaves combed out and tidied.

From mid spring to late autumn there is a shimmer of colour and texture and through winter there are skeletal shapes and seedheads to enjoy.

Also of interest through the season are the herbaceous borders that frame the grass garden. "One is basically spring-flowering with lupins, peonies and bulbs, the south-facing one is for summer with peonies, roses, campanula and delphiniums. The east-facing borders are full of asters, helenium, ceratostigma and hydrangeas," adds Vicky.

Vicky and Peter opened their garden for the first time last year with the National Gardens Scheme, at its peak for the September opening.

This year the timing is a bit earlier so you will need to be quick off the mark to visit on 27 or 28 of August.

If you miss Heronden this season, another great inspiration for late-season perennials and grasses is Nettlestead Place, which we have featured previously.

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