New house, new garden, new beginnings …

As I write, the low winter sun is highlighting the amazing sculptural forms in the garden and the frost is glistening on every surface.  Every minute of this archetypal winter’s day should be appreciated as the rain and mud will return before long!

Frosty Hedera on a winter's morning

Hoar-Frost-on Selborne Common

We’ve settled into our new cottage and the builders are just finishing off carpeting and decorating the upstairs ready for Christmas.  The hard landscaping in the garden is almost complete (including lots of great new raised beds for the vegetables and fruit) and we’re left with lots of lovely large planting spaces to fill over the next few months.

A garden designer’s garden is a test bed for new plant combinations, a practical space for putting all the hours of horticultural training into practice and a show piece illustrating our ability to create an outdoor space.  In spite of all this, my garden is still my sanctuary and the space where I will retreat to when the builders’ mess takes over and the demands to choose kitchens, tiles, floors and carpets just gets too much!

My new cottage is situated in a tiny Hampshire village; in fact, in the absence of a village shop, a school or a pub, we can in fact call ourselves a Hamlet.  We’re 627 feet (191m) feet above sea level and suffer a microclimate all of our own.  I’ve heard that whatever the temperature is at the bottom of the hill, you can guarantee that ours – on top of the hill – is at least 2 degrees lower!  The garden faces north but I am hopeful that the summer sun will still shine on my garden and that lack of light will not be a problem.

Years of traditional cottage gardening on our plot means that we have amazing soil.  We sit on a bed of chalk and the pH is either neutral or slightly on the alkaline side.  However, I imagine that over the past 100 or so years, the soil has been improved with tons of animal manure and seasons of good soil husbandry!

At each digging we unearth more treasure from the garden and the soil gives up its somewhat unusual content!  Bottles, earthenware vessels and rusty tools have been collected and now provide the content for styling shots and decoration!

The garden is surrounded on two sides by a fantastic Hawthorn hedge providing a home for literally hundreds of rather loud House Sparrows and quieter, more demure Dunnock!  There is absolutely no sign of a decline in these lovely birds in our piece of Hampshire and long may this last!

Hawthorn or Crataegus monogyna makes for excellent deciduous hedging material.  I suspect that ours was planted back at the end of the 19th century when the cottages were built as it is now approximately 1m wide and way over 2m tall.  Its thorny branches provide safe nesting space for birds and it does well on our slightly chalky soil.  The early green spring foliage is an amazing colour and – depending on the pruning regime – the subsequent flower is gorgeous and light and brings promise of longer days and warmth.  It is unfussy as to where it is planted and likes full sun or even part shade.  Berries are an added bonus – again depending on the pruning regime.  However, even without the added extras, this hedge is highly recommended either as a single species boundary or as part of a native mix.

We have also planted a lovely specimen of Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’.  This lovely medium sized tree has the most amazing autumn colour of rich orange, yellow and red and is weighed down with hundreds of deep rich, spherical haws.  I’ve read that the berries don’t seem to last long before they drop but I’ve seen examples where the tree has clung onto its fruit well into winter … so finger’s crossed!  The bees love the blossom in spring and it brings welcome height to the area of the garden situated between the house and the greenhouse.