The Stuart-Smith trilogy

Thursday 13th June was an exceedingly wet day. This neither deterred nor detracted from a delightful day tour of three gardens in the village of Bedmond in Hertfordshire, owned by various members of the Stuart-Smith family and organised by James Bolton of Border Lines http://border-lines.co.uk/

We began the day at The Barn, Serge Hill, the home of the famous designer Tom Stuart-Smith and his wife Sue. Renowned for his landscape artistry with a fresh mix of naturalism, together with contemporary, I had for some time been interested in seeing his own private garden. In the pouring rain we first of all admired the courtyard garden in front of the Barn, richly planted, there was plenty of colour.

Tom’s landscape design practice has won eight gold medals at Chelsea with three winning ‘Best in Show’. Some of the materials here are recycled from the 2005 Daily Telegraph show garden; you may remember the rust coloured corten steel water tanks surrounded by the red coloured Astrantia major, euphorbias and other perennials.

The fresh new growth of Hakonechloa macra softens the steel and cascades in front of the tank and wall. You can perhaps appreciate how very wet it was from the surface of the water.

Taking cover under the tree I view the native meadow in the foreground. Sown some 25 years ago it is cut for hay in the late summer. Although the sound of the M25 can be heard in the distance, the countryside is green and gently rolling.

Before taking one of the mown paths through the long grass I explore the west side of the Barn where the patio is a delightful area with table and chairs,

and leads onto a verdant lawn with floriferous borders either side. It is hard to imagine that twenty years ago this richly planted area was once an empty wheat field.

Looking back you can see that it is in fact a series of enclosed spaces divided by hedges. These spaces are either packed with plants,

or simply empty, compelling you to walk on through to the path beyond.

Following the path there is mature woodland on one side and meadow on the other. Today I can only imagine that the swimming pond must be enticing on a hot summer’s day.

Turning back towards the Barn and walking across the meadow there is a slight touch of ‘Out of Africa’, well, perhaps if the sun was shining.

The exotic meadow created in 2011 is not yet in flower; the exquisite pink flower heads of Dianthus cruentas are just a taster of what is to come.

I do find a splash of colour by following the mown path away through to the left where a little wooden gate opens up to a display of white iris, foxglove and cornus.

There is sadly no time to linger in the greenhouse, so, a little wet from our ramblings we leave the Barn to walk over the road to Serge Hill.

This is the family home where two generations of Stuart-Smiths have gardened. Roses adorn the pillars of the elegant Edwardian veranda. Tom’s sister is now in charge and explains that she is assisted by a team of Wwoofers; for those not familiar with these guys I suggest you take a look at the website https://wwoof.org.uk/. Kate provides a potted history of the garden and explains how her mother was an avid gardener.

Through the relentless rain we turn our backs on the white Regency house and look out over lawn and parkland beyond.

I follow the meandering gravel path alongside the border brightly billowing with June colour,

and enter the walled garden through the gate curiously positioned at the far corner.

Here too is sumptuous planting; climbers cover the walls, roses and clematis vigorously clamber over arches. Hardly an inch of ground is bare, covered with an enviable assortment of perennials.

Even the paths are sometimes difficult to detect.

This half-acre walled garden is fully working with an abundance of first class vegetables.

It is a relief to shelter in the greenhouse for a while, a hive of industry and fully operational with old fashioned handles still in use.

There is a splendid display of ‘down tools’. I imagined the Wwoofers must be at lunch,

and that is exactly where we head off to, mounting the steps through the climbing rose and crossing the courtyard to the backdoor where we are pleased to shed some of our wet clothes.

Lunch, delicious and most welcome is served in the dining room where it transpires the Wwoofers have left off work to serve us.

After lunch we drive the short distance taking the foxglove-lined track to Pie Corner, the home of Tom and Kate’s brother Jeremy and Bella Stuart-Smith. Bella is also a garden designer and plantswoman and has created the house and garden.

We park in the field below this interesting recently-built house.

Gathering near the tulip tree liriodendron tulipifera we hear about its creation from Bella.

Around the corner the deer appears to be galloping towards us,

viewed from the house she appears to be just passing through.

The swimming pool is situated so close to the house and, hidden from the windows by the clipped box and santolina is very much part of the garden.

Moving round to the side of the house it is a wonderful vista from the terrace through the valley.

On the other side of the house from the swimming pool side stands another pool, not for swimming it dominates the dry garden planted with a mix of herbs and summer flowering perennials. An archway in the hedge invites us through to a less formal area

where we find the pretty vegetable garden.

Another gate leads out into woodland.

This wooded area which rises up behind the house has recently been cleared and replanted, the foxgloves have sprung to life. I follow the paths and

return to this light, contemporary and comfortable house where we enjoy tea and a glorious piece of coffee cake.

These three gardens are open for the National Garden Scheme; The Barn and Serge Hill which open together have already opened this year so make a note not to miss them next year when hopefully the rain will have stopped. Pie Corner is open “By Arrangement” through July, August and September. Visit the website https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/

7 thoughts on “The Stuart-Smith trilogy

  1. What a joy Julia! Sorry it was so wet for you! We visited two fantastic Tom Stuart Smith gardens in Herefordshire, one owned by the founder of Crocus – this was fabulous!

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  2. Great gardens and wonderful supporters of the National Garden Scheme. When looking at Tom SS’s garden at Chelsea Flower Show this year, a friend remarked, ‘looking at one of Tom’s gardens reminds me of watching a expert veteran skier gliding down the slope, it’s all so effortless!’

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