What does a manic gardener do with himself when the year draws towards its end and the demands on your time diminish a bit? Having planted my bulbs and tidied the shed, I decided to have a go at making a video telling the story so far.
After working for many years with a hugely talented video producer (I wrote the words), you don’t put your amateur filming capabilities on the line very readily. But I put my pride behind me, and you can take a look at the outcome in ‘A garden re-born’.
In planning it, I was constantly reminded of the huge debt that I owe to the lady who created the Flintstones garden, the late Dorothy Hewitt MBE. Having enjoyed a long and successful career as a foreign diplomat working in British embassies including those in Peking, Accra, Sofia, Malawi and Lagos, Dorothy retired to Colyton in about 2006.
She was a passionate gardener and a knowledgeable plantswoman, and saw the potential in a steep and rather bland garden that had once been an orchard. It had grass and mature trees, but wasn’t going to win any awards for imagination.
With help on the heavier stuff, Dorothy broke the slope with a series of terraces, using railway sleepers and wooden poles plus some hidden concrete for strength. Several mature trees were removed as a necessity because she wanted plenty of light for the plants she had in mind.
As I look around the place now, I recognise her great skill. First in a design that employs winding paths that draw you up the garden and make it seem much larger than it really is. She put in raised decking and a summer house at the very top of the hill to capture views over the rooftops to the hills beyond that the garden would not otherwise enjoy.
Dorothy’s last big construction project was a curving waterfall that empties via a series of rocky pools to an ornamental pond beside the house.
The planting was in itself a masterpiece of planning that I have been able to understand because Dorothy kept every plant label in a large envelope. She loved clematis in particular and used them to clad the boundaries. Roses were another passion, as were grasses. Amongst the more unusual specimens we enjoy today are a himalayan honeysuckle and a beautiful yellow tree peony.
Sadly, Dorothy died in 2013 and that is how we came to take over her home and her garden paradise. The property stayed empty until we came along in May last year, by which time the garden was seriously overgrown, with some of the terraces in an advanced state of collapse.
Clawing back the structure and beauty has been, for me, an awesome adventure and a great privilege. I have even dared to change it a bit here and there. But I am very conscious that Dorothy did the difficult stuff … and that I’m really just the current caretaker.