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TheVillage Gardening

A sustainable space

Posted on February 29 2016 at 3:47:14 0 comments

Woodland cleared

Hannah Genders finalises one of her favourite garden projects.

This is the longest project I’ve ever done: not the largest in size, as that one was in France, but certainly the longest time on site.

I’ve written about this project before in The Village and as we are now entering the final stage to get it all finished I thought I’d do an update on the progress.

When I say the longest, I actually started on the project when the clients bought the site in the summer of 2011. The intention was always to knock down a dilapidated building and build an eco house. The site was very overgrown, covered with brambles that had taken over for at least 15 years, I think.

So while planning permission was being sought for the site and the clients were deciding which architect to go with, I started working with a local woodland co-operative to clear the site.

We took out all the non-native species and replanted the woodlands with oak, sweet chestnut and an under-storey of hazel.

This clearing encouraged the woodland flora like bluebells and anemones to come through as it let the light in, and we also planted lots more bulbs to make the woodland a really beautiful setting.

All the wood that we took out was used to make paths, bridges and the frame for a roundhouse that is used as a retreat space for quiet reflection.

The roundhouse is a sustainable build, made from straw bales and lime render with a green roof – it sits on the woodland slope and looks out over the Bristol Channel. The paths created through the woodland link this lovely building to the main house.

The house and the landscaping around it are now complete, the family have been living there for a year and it’s finally looking more like a garden and less like a building site, but I’m excited to see it this summer as it’ll be the first year that all the perennial planting we’ve put in will be up and in flower.

The house sits in a steeply sided V-shaped valley so the living space is elevated at the back with decking opening out on to wonderful views.

A series of natural pools that take the water down the valley have been refurbished with a waterfall and a swimming pond near the house. Ornamental gardens at the back of the house sweep down to the lower slopes and a little beach.

A rustic fence made from sweet chestnut divides the pool area from the main lawn and borders; this is a sustainable material and contrasts well with the modern look of the house.

Near this fence we’ve planted a very naturalistic border with perennials and grasses, mainly blues and purples but with the odd deep red to match the colours in the woodwork on the house – plants like Cirsium rivulare and Sanguisorba officinalis or, to use its common name, ‘Great Burnet.’

Both of these jostle in with ornamental grasses and the occasional zing of orange from Helenium and geums. If you know these plants you’ll understand why I’m excited to see them come up this summer.

The whole site was designed with different zones from the start. The ornamental gardens that I’ve described at the back of the house also have shrub borders for all-year colour and interest, and we manged to save a Clerodendrum, one of the biggest I’ve seen.

It sits near the decking at the back of the property and gives off its wonderful scent in late summer.

The pools that run down the slope near the house culminate in a large, natural pool at the bottom that the house overlooks – this has been cleaned out and relined with clay to form a wildlife haven. It has a jetty and little boat for paddling about on warm days.

The water continues beyond this point as a stream to the beach, and these lower slopes have been planted with hydrangeas in drifts to echo the gardens at Trebah in Cornwall, one of the clients’ favourite places.

Fruit and vegetable gardens have been created on an open terrace area, and we’ve had to experiment with what grows well here. While this area gets lots of light, it is also exposed to strong winds that occasionally carry salt.

All the currants have done really well, but the raspberries have struggled. The top slopes on this area are planted with three types of vines, as the client is keen on wine and wants to have a go at viticulture. The other aspect of these terraces is that on a less windy day the views are just breathtaking.

Below the fruit terraces, in a more sheltered area that originally had an old shed, there is now an office: again an eco-build, wood-clad with wood pattern to contrast the planed wood effect.

This is a very low-energy build and is now just awaiting its green roof. It is already being used as an office and it also has fabulous views up the Channel.

The landscaping around this office building, and clearing the fields to get them ready for the meadow planting, is the final stage of the project. Once all this is done, we can finish the driveway and move out!

As you have probably realised, I have a special connection with this project – not just because I’ve been there a long time but because it ticks every box for me.

It’s about sustainability, eco-living and using the landscape as a retreat place to rebuild and restore people’s lives.

I hope what we’ve created there really does become a blessing for many people. It’s going to be very hard to leave – I’m thinking of applying for the gardening job!


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