BEFORE PHOTOS, AUTUMN 2017
My largest garden project yet - Maplestone Farm, East Sussex
A south-facing 10 acre farm consisting of garden, pasture and woodland situated in Broad Oak, Brede near Rye and Northiam in Sussex's High Weald AONB.
The soil is Wealden clay, similar to Great Dixter just 3 miles up the road. According to Cranfield University's Soilscapes website it's 'slightly acid loamy and clayey with impeded drainage' but pretty fertile.
The oldest part of the property dates from around the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, but it has been regularly added to over its 350 year history.
With views west up the Tillingham Valley the garden (currently 1/3 acre) wraps around the house on all sides - and is a vacant expanse of lawn - peppered with violets, woodrush and moss to the east with primroses and toe-deep winter wet to the north.
There are some choice shrubs and beautiful mature oak, hazel and alder trees here and on the adjoining farmland.
Poor drainage and honey fungus are two challenges new to me. As is the hungry wildlife. Bullfinches strip the cherry trees of their flower buds - though only the top half. The mole seems not to be a natural snorkler and has vacated the boggy garden for the big field over the winter. There's a cute, baby rabbit getting through the fence somewhere, somehow,. Thankfully he prefers to eat the lush lawn grass - at the moment anyway - although he has sampled the chives and a sanguisorba.
There's a pair of golden Leylandii trees looming into every front window and obscuring the sunrises over Rye, but most challenging of all there's a solid, unnatural tower block of 28 mature 50ft tall Leylandii forming an ugly, barren barrier to the south which is neither useful nor beautiful. Its only saving grace has been the tumultuous curtain of green it becomes during a storm.
To augment the topiary for a La Louve-style area around the back door, the planting progressively becoming more informal, with a meadow-like expanse of perennials, grasses and shrubs making up the lions share of the garden, until grasses take over and the simplicity of a mown lawn reappears, melting into the sheep pasture beyond.
Supplement the fruit orchard and introduce more hedges and young trees elsewhere on the property for future generations of birds and people to enjoy.
"Apparently it's safe to grow a pampas grass in Broad Oak without fear of an invitation to swap car keys at the Christmas party!"