For this seasoned Blenheim gardener, a brand-new patch was an opportunity to create a potager garden that nourishes the body and delights the eye
Dianne Croad loves her outdoor pots, furniture, topiary and artworks, and has used them to great effect in all her gardens. During her latest move, in August 2016, to a house in the Wither Hills area of Blenheim, Dianne’s family couldn’t help but comment that it took more time to move the outdoor things than it did all her household possessions combined. “At one stage they labelled me ‘The Mad Pot Lady’, but I think they also enjoy the results of my hard work,” she laughs.
Dianne’s 720-square-metre, rectangular section is part of a five-year-old housing development to the south of Blenheim. The Wither Hills Farm Park on its east and northern boundaries provides a peaceful, pastoral outlook for Dianne. “Sheep and cattle are frequently grazed and there is lovely birdsong from the bush at the foot of the hills,” she says.
Another big attraction was the flatness of the site. Dianne’s previous garden was on a very steep section with lots of steps and changes of level. “I thought I should move while still fit and able to create a new garden,” she says. “The house, which is all on one level, was about two years old when I moved in and very sunny. There was a lawn and two terrace areas to the north and east, but apart from that, the garden was a blank canvas.”
Dianne knew exactly what she wanted to achieve with the garden and immediately started work once she had settled in. “My first job was staining all the fences black which helps make the green foliage pop. The soil was very stony but the drainage was good so I removed a lot of the horrible soil and brought in good topsoil and lots of compost.
“I’ve continued to do this on a regular basis to build up the gardens, and spend a lot of time feeding plants during the growing season. Marlborough’s prevailing wind is northwest but, with the use of various hedging, I have created some sheltered areas.”
As the northern and eastern boundary fences were both slightly angled Dianne decided to ask local landscaper Tusha Midgley for advice. “She guided me on how to make the best of these, including planting some of the trees offset from, rather than in line with, the fences. From past experience I knew I had to create interest with different levels on a flat section and this helped with disguising some of the boundary angles.”
A potager garden with raised beds was another must-have for Dianne and was constructed close to the eastern edge so it receives virtually all-day sun. Four large (1100mm x 1600mm), black-painted timber planters sit on a bed of pea gravel with various pots and topiary adding further interest. “The raised beds have been a great success, but they do have to be regularly fed and watered.”
In her previous garden, hot northwesterlies and poor soil meant Dianne was limited in the variety of plants she could grow. With this one, she was determined to grow her favourites such as the roses ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ and ‘Perle d’Or’. Along with Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’, the climbers wreath around a beautiful square arch on the northern boundary. Dianne bought the handsome, white-painted seat below the arch on her 40th wedding anniversary at an auction during the 2007 Garden Marlborough Festival. “It has become quite a special place in the garden for me. I enjoy looking at it from the kitchen window.”
Continuing the green and white planting theme, Dianne has also planted a row of Michelia ‘Lemon Fragrant’ to screen the boundary. Other trees include an ornamental silver pear in the entrance garden and two fruiting pears, ‘D’Anjou’ and ‘Taylor’s Gold’, either side of the archway leading to the potager. Across the tiny lawn, closer to her east-facing terrace, Dianne has planted a trio of hornbeam trees around a giant rusted steel sphere (made by Wire Art in Tekapo) which she brought from her previous garden. Star jasmine winds through the sphere and is also trained to grow up the eastern fence.
In the potager Dianne grows a large variety of vegetables. “Especially greens, although beetroot and carrots do reasonably well. At the time of the photos I had one potager planted with early Jersey Benne potatoes which had a marvellous crop, and also some huge red onions which I had planted in early August. One box I use for a range of herbs.”
While the potager is indeed an outstanding feature, the recent addition of three corten-steel planters along the southern boundary also makes a bold statement. “They only arrived last September,” says Dianne, “and I needed to have them looking good quickly as my garden was part of the Garden Marlborough Festival in early November. I planted them with Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ and white deutzia, and have the rose ‘Crépuscule’ on the frames behind.” The results speak for themselves with all the plants flourishing, as they do everywhere in this small but perfectly formed Blenheim garden.
Tip: If boundaries are at odd angles, use planting to disguise the awkward shapes. Square up hedges, trees or the edges of garden beds with the lines of the house rather than the boundaries.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Juliet Nicholas.