A report by Paul Ingleton on our garden visit in July to The Ridings in Chestfield.
It was a lovely summer day, perfect for looking around a garden full of interest. Sylvie Buat-Menard and David Sayer’s garden is small and it speaks volumes that we were all kept totally engrossed, and were still finding something new even as we left a good two hours later! In the usual Hardy Planter style, everyone started wandering around the front garden as soon as they arrived, already spotting unusual plants, with some of us trying to guess what they were. The meeting was called to order without two members who were late, revealing, when they arrived, that they had been having lunch at The Sportsman, no less – shocking decadence!
We were finally divided into two groups so that Sylvie could do a detailed tour with each group while the other half had tea and cakes. That worked well except that the ones having tea soon started wandering independently because there was so much irresistible planting to look at. David said that there were 2,500 different plants in their patch and suggested we could try finding them all! He also proudly displayed their certificate to show that they were the winners of the Kent Best Amateur Garden competition for 2018. It just shows that you don’t need rolling acres to make a fabulous place.
The back garden could be described as multum in parvo (literally: ‘much in little’). A pollarded Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ provides height without dominating (take note, all owners of pocket-handkerchiefs – you can have at least one tree). There was a Fremontodendron californicum in full flight against the house wall and a purple sambucus on the corner. Another good idea found here was the use of ‘bog-pots’ as I like to call them. These nonholed pots allow David and Sylvie to grow some wonderful sarracenias. No finesse with watering here – just fill it up. Good old Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’ was also thriving in the shade of a pergola. Sylvie said she loved clematis and the huge variety showed this. There were beautiful, gobletflowered C. texensis hybrids, lots of delicate viticellas including what looked like C. ‘Minuet’, and C. x durandii. Purple-leaved Plantago major ‘Rubrifolia’ and the curious P. m. ’Rosularis’ made an appearance, with their profuse offspring, as did arisaema.
Artistic features were all around – I adored the fruit-bat hanging from the catalpa. The water feature, with its ethereal dragonfly sculpture, sounded exactly the right, restful musical note. It’s surprising how often you get a discord, but not here. (It’s interesting to note that the Getty Center in California has a series of waterfalls, all with their own note, and orchestrated to create the right sound-scape; the sound a fountain makes is important.) One other lovely touch was David’s prize specimen of the gorgeous pink Zephyranthes robusta displayed in a carved, classic gilt frame like a living picture. A collection of auriculas suggested this frame was often the display case for other seasonal prizes too.
Along the conservatory wall was a raised scree bed full of alpines including the dainty white Acis autumnalis (formerly Leucojum autumnale) and Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’.
In the conservatory itself was David’s ‘weird plant collection’ of (mainly) cacti and succulents. Group two was finally gathered together by Sylvie so that she could guide us around the front garden. Fences or hedges are not allowed on what is supposed to be an open-plan frontage, but that doesn’t mean filling the place with boring lawn. Sylvie explained that the soil is naturally acid clay but that, initially, they incorporated lots of gravel, and mulched with it every year. When I first walked in, my impression was of a Beth Chatto-style gravel garden, so it came as no surprise when Sylvie said they paid regular visits to the Beth Chatto Garden, buying choice plants from the nursery. One plant that took my eye (among others) in the shady part was Deinanthe bifida, evidently a hydrangea relative – Google it! Other plants included Buddleja loricata, x Alcalthaea suffrutescens ‘Parkallee’ in two-toned delicate pink, an enormous grevillea (clearly untouched by anything the ‘beast from the east’ could throw at it last year), a nicely variegated eryngium with electric-blue flowers and stems , Rosa ’Hot Chocolate’, and some striking dahlias including D. ’Twyning’s After Eight’ and D. ‘Totally Tangerine’. A large collection of more alpines in pots and troughs separated their garden from the neighbours, all very low maintenance and extending to the pavement edge with a tufa border.
Sylvie and David very generously allowed us to take any cuttings we liked, and the trowel even came out! They also recommended Meadow Grange Nursery, Blean; East Northdown Farm near Cliftonville; and Maytree Nurseries, Courtney Road, Dunkirk – should you find yourself in the vicinity and needing plant retail therapy.
Finally, to the delight of us Hardy Planters, there was a selection of yummy plants to buy. My ‘do-not-buy-on-impulse’ resolution dissolved faster than a snow-flake in boiling water!