Another cold day in the New Forest, supervising planting in our daughter and son-in-law’s new garden. It was a familiar spot long before they bought the house: the late Peter Chappell’s wonderful Spinners Nursery of woodland plants was right next door, and round the corner the village school that was started by William Gilpin, Vicar of Boldre and apostle of the Picturesque.
It is a total contrast to our old Essex garden. This is essentially old oak woodland on a slope down to the little Lymington River. The soil is mildly acid; the default plant in the whole district is the rhododendron. The house looks down on a broad meadow and a population of roe deer, a joy to watch but a menace to a gardener. They browse without discrimination. Lists of plants deer don’t eat are chimerical.
Our answer is walls. We have cut back into the slope by the house to build a walled garden on two levels, following the slope and facing south and west. The upper level has borders and a long central pool; the lower is a lawn for games. The two are divided by a pleached row of hornbeams above a stone wall, and the main terrace along the south wall of the house is defined by brick pillars supporting oak beams to make a two-dimensional pergola.
I’ve been looking for mop-head trees to form a group at the far end from the house; ideally that miniature sport of the field maple, Acer campestre Nanum. Grafted at just the right height, I found it perfect for the village hall at Great Saling, but sadly I can only find it grafted at two metres, which is too high for the scale of the garden. Its small leaves and guaranteed autumn yellow would make it ideal. What else might do the job? Such evergreens as Quercus ilex or bay would be too emphatic and formal; my ideal is trim but green-leafy, bright in spring, soft in summer and glowing in autumn. On the shorter trunk that we need (1.75 m is ideal) the choice is limited. Planting the mop-head robinia is asking for sucker problems; once they start they never go away. Liquidambar and parrotia, to my surprise, can both be bought top-grafted; I fear their leaves are too big, though. But there is a dwarf pin oak, Quercus phellos ‘Green Dwarf’, that seems to answer. We shall see – and meanwhile wire the walls for the roses. It’s still a building site now, but hornbeam, yews and box are in and spring is getting close.