Garden of delights
Thursday, 19 September 2013

Garden of delights

For some peace and quiet, our columnist set off to an enchanting oasis, away from the late summer din

Written by Sarah Langton-Lockton
Three families with school-age children have moved into my London street, just a few houses away on either side. All three have filled their small gardens with bulky trampolines, from which, in the balmy last days of the school holidays, has issued a day-long chorus of shouts, shrieks and the bass thud of bouncing feet.

There are times when this has been the last straw for a writer struggling to string together a coherent sentence amid the constant din.

In search of peace and quiet, I set off for Fenton House, a warm brick merchant’s house in Hampstead, built in 1693 and now meticulously cared for by the National Trust. The garden, one-anda- half acres of lawns, formal walks, an orchard and well-stocked kitchen garden, has retained roughly the same structure for 300 years. It is a terraced garden on a hilly site, the different levels providing drama and formality, but also places offering protection and enclosure. On a sunny day it exudes a hazy tranquillity.

The house is approached through an ornate, early 18th-century wrought-iron gate opening on to a narrow walk lined with false acacias, Robinia pseudoacacia. The bulk of the garden lies behind the house. Box hedges and a yew arbour direct visitors along gravel paths to a series of terraces and a large lawn, with pyramids of variegated holly and columns of Irish yew along its western edge. Above the lawn, the eastern terrace is lined with tubs of agapanthus set among a narrow edging of catmint.

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On the other side of this walk, a deep border behind a low box hedge was still in good shape despite the lateness of the season. Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ was flowering energetically, and so were rudbeckias, cardoons, the Russian sage, Perovskia, and great stands of Verbena bonariensis. Fuchsia magellanica was in full flower in several borders, but the great flower balls of Crambe cordifolia were papery skeletons, and huge plants of Verbascum bombyciferum, the lofty mullein, had collapsed under their own weight.

At the far end of the garden, the terrace walk takes a left turn, past espaliered pears laden with fruit against a mellow brick wall and the great plumes of a green-leaved cotinus. At the terrace’s conclusion, I sat for a while on a white whitepainted bench in a wisteria-covered arbour. It was very quiet, with just a low hum of reverent voices from the orchard below, the whistling of a sharp breeze in tall plane trees in an adjacent garden and the occasional crunch of shoes on gravel.

Returning along the terrace, I looked down on what looked like a country orchard, with deckchairs in the dappled shade and people absorbed in their books. Thirty apple trees stood covered in fruit, while windfalls lay delicately in the grass. In spring, this lawn becomes a meadow of dwarf narcissi, snakeshead fritillaries, scillas and muscari. Espaliered apple trees surround the vegetable and cut-flower end of the orchard. Healthy vegetables – leeks, beetroot, perpetual spinach, strawberries and carrots – were growing in conventional rows in broad beds surrounded by grass paths. There were also the purple cabbages, ‘Kalibos’ I think, that looked so exotic planted with ballota and clary sage in huge terracotta pots at the foot of the steps to the sunken rose garden. Among the flowers were sweet peas and deep crimson gladioli for the house. It is a garden of many delights and surprises and exudes the order and serenity I had come to find.

The National Trust is holding an Apple Weekend at Fenton House, on 28 and 29 September, from 11am to 5pm each day, with apple tasting and pressing, classes in botanical drawing, tours of the garden and lots of other activities for adults and children. For details: 020-7435 3471, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fentonhouse


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Jobs to do this week

Cast a critical eye at the garden and assess its successes and failures. Identify gaps, areas that need replanting and plants that have grown congested and need lifting and dividing.

Prune English lavender varieties (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Imperial Gem’) by cutting into old wood, almost back to the base, so they can regenerate before winter. Lavandula x intermedia varieties should be trimmed lightly – if you cut into old wood you’ll kill them.

Do some tidying in the garden and clear away dead leaves. Collect meticulously the leaves of roses with black spot and destroy. Do not add them to the compost heap.


In the vegetable garden: order garlic bulbs for planting in October. ‘Early Purple Wight’ can be lifted in May in the south and early June in more northern parts of the country. Onion and shallot sets suitable for overwintering can also go in this month or next.

Order your spring bulbs and prepare ground for planting. Plant some in containers for brightening up the house in winter and early spring.


Plant of the week

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Gladiolus grandi ora ‘Oscar’ has glowing red Œflowers to light up a fading garden. Buy in January and plant in late spring for summer and autumn Œ owers. Height 100cm. Pack of 10 corms £4: www.rosecottageplants.co.uk


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