For me, Church farm was love at first sight. What I fell in love with was the sheer untamed brutal wilderness of the place. It was a site on the brink of ruin, brimming with the romance of a history lost and nature’s repossession. One thing was clear: I didn’t want to lose this romance and this marked connection that the site has both to the rural landscape beyond, and also to the spot’s industrial past.
The railway line was the wildest part when we moved here. Pockets of it were beautiful. I remember one heavily ballast-riddled area full of fennel, grasses and buddleia. I wanted to keep that feeling of a space that has been abandoned back to nature and is on the brink of tipping back into a complete wilderness. My first instinct was to have a dry river bed gravel garden sweeping from the old somerset coal canal tunnel (a listed monument!)out and around the house (which was the barn for the farm). This would then somehow ‘flow’ into water at the bottom of the lawned area in the ‘railway ditch’.
South-west entrance to Wellow Tunnel. Circa 1800 for the Somersetshire Coal Canal. The surveyor for the canal was William Smith “the Father of British Geology”, under the supervision of John Rennie. The engineer was William Bennet. Coursed, squared rubble with freestone dressings. Semi-circular arch with keystone. Band. Pilaster strips to either side and high coped parapet. The interior of the tunnel is masonry lined. The southern (Midford-Radstock) branch of the Somersetshire Coal Canal was completed in 1798 but was abandoned in 1815 when a tramway was laid along it.
I always have thought that the planting on and around the farm needs to be naturalistic in style, matrix planting (as Piet Oudolf would call it): perennials and grasses that evoke a piece of derelict land. If I was being pretentious I would say like New York’s “High Line” (Pretentious? Moi?)
What I would like to get to is a space that expounds naturalistic planting and the creation of gardened habitats that in turn flows out into the landscape beyond, but, also holds echoes of the previous industrial scars buried within the site. This should be a land that nature and the garden has reclaimed…. A garden within a ruin.
The most exhilarating aspect about out plot is the view. It is a view across green fields and meadows down into the midford valley and up to the farmland beyond. It is a tapestry of fields and hedgerows, ancient trees, some woodland, and the wellow brook that divides our village from the hills beyond.
This plot is situated right on the edge of the cotswolds, between the lysricism of the Cotswold charm and the hardiness of the rugged mendips. It was really important that the view was incorporated into our garden and that our garden ‘responded’ to the view: that it seemed to extend it rather than ‘react’ to it. – So my preference for native planting and for naturalised styles of gardening would be put to work…..
Gardens within ruins have always been my favourite type/style of garden… Even when they are heavily contrived and gothic… I adore them and their styles have heavily influenced the way I like to garden…NINFA has the be the best most wonderful example of this… A secret garden that gives the visitor the feeling that they have happened upon a hidden world that nature has reclaimed. That they are the only ones that have found this secluded piece of land where nature is eroding away man’s presence….I honestly sometimes look at the pictures of The garden of Heligan before they were restored and find myself preferring the before photo to the after…. Similarly, I really do think that many graveyards are by far the best places to sit and be in.
So before I began planning the garden I (grandly), wrote down the names of gardens that would influence the style and feel of the garden… that would be the building blocks of my ‘inspiration’.
Ninfa – has the rundown romance (on a much much grander scale).
Jardin de Plume – Grasses and the mown pathways. Also love the transmuting ‘lightness’ in the planting.
Holt Farm– Has a brilliant gravel garden and views similar to ours. It also loves gardening for the sake of the moment rather than the after-glow and prestige.
Bury Court – Piet Oudolf’s stylized meadows and herbaceous planting.
Beth Chatto’s gravel garden – Similar soil to mine and the doyenne of ‘right plant, right place.”