ANTON’S Hill, Freddie and Cilla Wills’s Berwickshire garden, boasts a rare combination of skilled, yet practical, planting to deliver an intensely satisfactory result.
From drifts of spring and early summer bulbs in the surprise-packed woodlands, the primula-edged ponds, or the elegant, colour-filled herbaceous and shrub borders, the design relies on plants and use of space for structure, shape and continuity.
This, as Cilla explains, is the result of 13 years’ work. “When we arrived here the walled garden did not belong to the house, however, the prospect of making a garden in front of the house was exciting mainly because of the wonderful, protective belt of mature beech, copper, oak and lime that enclose the main lawn.” She also liked the fact that the garden sloped away from the house, a feature that might have daunted some.
The scene is set immediately on arrival. Here, Cilla recalls, the east-facing façade “looked very austere and badly needed softening.” The solution was found in the use of “mainly evergreen shrubs and climbers” including grey-leaved Brachyglotis greyi, domes of Hebe, white-flowering Vibernum davidii and sprays of maroon-leaved Berberis “Rose Glow”. Climbers such as Hydrangea petiolaris and Pyracantha, the latter chosen for its red and orange autumn berries, frame a large window and the front door is highlighted by a pair of striking topiary holly bushes in containers.
The same, semi-formal theme continues in the south-facing terrace, created out of existing flags covered in grass. Here variegated Weigela, Choysia, and fragrant, white-flowering, Carpenteria californica mingle with roses, peonies and Alstroemeria to create an old-fashioned palette that has withstood the test of time with flying colours. The result is a wonderful, sunny space for entertaining.
Turn the corner towards the west and the heat and brilliance of the hot border stops you dead in your tracks. A wide ribbon of brightly coloured plants runs the full length of the wall. Flame-coloured Euphorbia “Fireglow” stands out along with repeat plantings of alstroemeria, red Monada “Squaw”, hostas, creamy, upright Phygelius, yellow Hemorcalis and Knipofia, scarlet Crocosmia “Lucifer” and orange Geum “Mrs Bradshaw”. “The hot border is really fun and because it is on the west it doesn’t clash with anything. It brightens up a dull day,” Cilla says.
The generous, curved beds that frame the lawn, she insists, evolved like everything else with “no real plan”. The east border features mainly shrub roses of apricot shades including three pink Shropshire Lads, underplanted with geranium. Lower varieties include Hemerocallis, Heuchera, more alstroemeria – a key linking plant – and hostas.
The maroon leaves of Cotinus coggygria, sedum and penstemon form the basis of the burgundy-tinged planting scheme in the west border, inspired by an old copper beech tree, which sadly died three years ago. On either side of Eleagnus “Quick Silver” height comes from obelisks covered with clematis and roses and other shrub roses, including favourite Rosa “Buff Beauty”.
From the terrace your eye is drawn to the first pond at the foot of the slope, close to the damp spot supporting a willow tree, dug soon after the couple arrived at Anton’s Hill. It is now planted with darmera, gunnera, bamboo, ligularia, arching Poygonum superbum and primula, lightened by sprays of Alchemilla mollis.
This project followed the regeneration of the lower pond, the original drainage pond, which now boasts a wild, informal feel to attract wildlife. “We dug it out and landscaped planted areas with gunnera, bamboo, irises, grasses, and astilbe. There is a little island planted with hostas and alchemilla, together with an arched oak bridge, made from a fallen tree in the drive.”
In spring the paths that lead through the woodland garden are fragrant with the scent of azaleas while native daffodils followed by bluebells stretch back under the trees. “In summer the Martigan lilies will be out; they have seeded and spread very well together with foxgloves and a few, small single pink native peonies.”
Here and there you come across surprises such as the stumpery, inspired by a similar one created by Prince Charles at Highgrove, which Cilla admired while working there as a guide. Recently lifted – “after a while the trunk starts to sink,” with the addition of five “colossal new stumps delivered by JCB from a neighbouring farm,” the stumpery is now planted with a succession of plants ranging from primroses to hostas and ferns. Behind it, in a shady corner, is a gigantic Cardiocrinum, the Himalayan lily which self-seeds to flower every seven years.
Other surprises include the charming trio of elephants, mother and two young, inspired by the Summer Palace Gardens at Bang Pa-In, north of Bangkok where a large family of box elephants stride across an open lawn. “I was determined to make a yew elephant here,” says Cilla. Future plans are for a late-flowering hydrangea bed.
Surprises such as these add to this garden’s magical quality and voyage of discovery. Key to remember is that this is essentially a family garden and that children are encouraged to tumble and toboggan down the central lawn. Keen gardeners will want to take a note book for there is much to record and remember.
Anton’s Hill, Leitholm, Berwickshire is open on Sunday 1 July from 2pm to 5:30pm in conjunction with the Walled Garden, next door, owned by Alec West and Pat Watson. Admissions: £4, children under 14 go free. There will be a large, well-stocked plant sale.
The garden is signed off the B6461 west of Leitholm.
Anton’s Hill is also open by arrangement, email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.scotlandsgardens.org
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east