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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Sustainable living

Posted on September 29 2015 at 1:36:04 0 comments

Colourful borders

Hannah Genders revisits an eco- house and garden project.

I really can’t take much credit for this project, unlike most of the eco house projects I do where I’m in at the start submitting the landscape design with the house design for planning.

On this project near Studley, Sue, who with her husband Matt has built this house and garden, got in touch towards the end of the project. The help she needed was to design a front garden area, as she was struggling to get the entrance right, the size of the paths and the borders which needed planning and planting from scratch.

It is important when you are creating a way into a building to make it clear to the visitor where you want them to go – and it’s not always to the front door, if the side door or back door are used more.

One way of doing this is to pave the main path, or make it wider, giving the main path extra “weight” to the entrance and encouraging visitors to walk that way.

The other requirement Sue had for the front entrance was to fill up the new borders with cottage garden planting and lots of flower colour in late August as the house and garden were being used for her daughter’s wedding.

When I went back and visited in early September, it was wonderful to see the planting and how it had come on and filled the space, and still with plenty of flower colour. I also had a chance to catch up with Sue on some of the background to this project.

The thing that Sue and Matt were primarily looking for was land, and a good location. Enough land to create a smallholding and be partly self-sufficient. This rang some bells for me as it was exactly what my parents did when we were growing up in Somerset, so I understand the lifestyle choice.

The plot they eventually found was at the top end of Studley with views over to the Cotswolds and Bredon Hill and the whole area was about 11 acres.

Matt had grown up with farming so it was very much in his background. They now run a small herd of sheep; the name of the breed is “Easycare” which sounds great and evidently means they are less work than most sheep, shedding their fleece so they don’t need shearing.

The couple also have some battery hens, but Sue realises they have come to the end of their laying life and so probably need to be replaced with some hens that are more productive.

As well as the animals, they grow a lot of their own vegetables in some raised beds at the back of the house and some soft fruit.

About two acres of the plot is an old apple orchard, which is currently very overgrown but is the next part of the project to tackle. There are numerous old varieties and Sue is keen to find out exactly what they are so she can do some rejuvenating pruning.

When Sue and Matt first took it on, they reckoned the whole project of the house build and garden would take them about ten years to complete.

The first three years were spent in a static caravan on the site as the original cottage was uninhabitable and the process of getting planning permission to replace it took two years in total.

The house that they have built is an oak-framed eco house, with lime render and wood cladding. It looks traditional but has the advantage of being well insulated and so having lower running costs.

The background heat is provided by a ground source heat pump, which works through an underfloor heating system, and extra heat is provided by a central wood stove. The house faces south at the back and so benefits from solar gain, and it is this side of the property that looks down the hill to the stunning views.

The front door of the property is on the north side as you approach but it had enough light to create some lovely combinations of planting, and because we added plenty of height to the planting, the house is viewed “through” the planting which gives a very soft effect.

The left-hand border features soft blues and purples, with my favourite Vebena bonariensis adding height and drama, but in the middle border Sue was brave enough to go for a stronger colour palette with some late blue salvias, deep pink lobelia and a red bergamot. All of which have a celebratory feel, just right for the wedding.

I do admire Sue and Matt for taking on this project as it’s not just about building a house and garden, but a lifestyle choice of producing food and living the good life. I wish them well as the end of the project comes into view!


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