Gardens: Former military man digs for victory

When Simon Furness refers to Netherbyres, his Berwickshire garden, as "paradise" it is easy to understand why. Situated on the edge of Eyemouth a short distance from the sea and surrounded by a belt of magnificent beech and oak, this one-and-a-quarter acre, elliptical walled garden is reputed to be the only one of its kind in the world.

It also boasts a striking range of colourful borders with planting schemes including roses, generous herbaceous borders and a vegetable garden.

Built by William Crow, a mathematical engineer in the mid-18th century, the garden is protected from the worst of the winds by 12ft high walls lined with soft red bricks imported as ballast in Dutch grain ships. Explaining that no-one is quite sure why Crow chose this particular shape for his garden, Simon explains that the layout boasts long south and west facing walls. "This would have been important at the time as there were no trees between the garden and the sea," he says.

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Simon, who has gardened here all his life, built a house on the exact footprint of the original conservatory overlooking the garden when he gifted the original mansion house to the gardening charity Perennial in the early 1990s. Leonard Cheshire Disability now owns it and it's currently home to five retired gardeners.

For visitors entering the garden through a central gate, the full impact of the planting is both instant and intense. Laid out in traditional cruciform style of flagstone paths centred on a raised stone urn overflowing with bright red Tomcat pelargonium, the formal design stands in contrast with the rich green of the perfectly tended curved lawn.

The rose beds that extend from the lavender-framed French windows directly in front of the house are echoed by their dramatic cousins that festoon the east-facing walls opposite, while herbaceous borders frame the main horizontal path. Chosen for their scenting qualities and vibrant colours, Simon's beloved roses run in a palate of deep reds to pinks and whites and include Scarlet Rosa "Rob Roy", deep red "Ingrid Bergman", the crimson "Ernest H Morse" and white "National Trust".

Explaining that he retained the original layout of the garden, which includes a semi-circular box parterre close to the east wall and plenty of fruit trees, Simon says: "I enjoy painting with plants. I tend to follow Gertrude Jekyll's design style, planting from hot colours to warm pinks and then on to whites.

"My favourite colours are the deep reds and purples, with rich spring purples and pinks giving way to the more restrained, but deeper colours of the summer."

Keen to follow trends ("You see all you need at Chelsea on the television") he was delighted to note that the silver foliage of Eryngium featured heavily this year – large drifts of this textured plant fill his borders. Although the purple leaves of Cotinus coggygria "Royal Purple" compliments the colour scheme, lifting the eye down the paths, and many of his roses enjoy red-tinged leaves, Simon points out that "flowers, rather than foliage," are his main interest.

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Bright red dahlias, descendants from seed purchased by Simon's brother as a child "for 3p" punctuate corners, while further along height comes from a turquoise-painted, latticework gazebo arching over the path. Turning right, the wide herbaceous borders below the walls are supported by a structure of flowering shrubs set against the background of rambling roses, which include white Kiftsgate and Rambling Rector. When asked about pruning these tall roses – Kiftsgate in particular is known for its vigorous habit – Simon says he "let's the wind do most of the work. It is only when Kiftsgate starts attacking me that I lose my temper and go for it."

The turquoise theme is continued in the wooden pyramids that flank the arch in the ancient yew hedge that leads to the vegetable garden. Here, the original box-edged beds outline a central path lined with pink and sliver plants and backed with parallel rows of established apple trees set against a backdrop of espaliered apples – plum trees grow on the west-facing wall of the main garden. Fan-shaped vegetable beds include asparagus – Cito is the recommended variety. Here tall, beds of delphiniums ("The secret is to support them with two layers of netting") bring colour to the scheme.

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It took time to achieve these glorious results, nourished annually by 12 tons of mushroom compost. For Simon, a former army officer, learning about the garden when he left the forces was top priority. "I tended it by myself for the first two years," he says. "It had formerly been filled with bedding plants, but this old-fashioned way of gardening proved too labour intensive. Honing his propagating skills, he changed the scheme to feature longer lasting perennials but, despite this, help was still needed. Appointed chairman of the National Trust for Scotland's Gardens Committee, a post he held for eight years, he learned that one gardener per acre of garden is the best ratio. At Netherbyres he has the skilled assistance of gardener Ian Jeffries.

Wandering past a patch of self-seeded purple violas and Echium vulgare, Simon comments that his style of gardening has changed over the years. "When I first came out of the army, my planting style was much more regimented," he says. "Now I am much less strict and more relaxed with my plants, I have learnt Mother Nature is much the best plantswoman, when things happen by chance they always work best."

Netherbyres is open under Scotland's Gardens Scheme on Sunday 4 July, 2pm- 5pm and by appointment, for groups of ten or more, until September, tel: 01890 750337. The garden is half a mile south of Eyemouth on the A1107 to Berwick.

• This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday, June 26, 2010