Church View

 Church View, Appleby-in-Westmorland

 As Featured in:  Cumbria Life Magazine, July 2012
Garden News, July 2013
Lancashire Life, September 2013
Cumbria Life, October 2013
Period Homes and Interiors September 2016

and others!
 Church View Garden has been re-designed,re-planted and developed by English Country Gardens during the past nine years.

It has opened to the public under the National Gardens scheme for a number of years and will be opening again in 2017 and in 2018.

Please come and visit:

Opening dates and times: the garden will be open on Sunday 20th May 2018 and Sunday 30th. September 2018.  

12 Noon till 4.30 p.m.  Admission: Adult £4.00, child free.                       Listed in the Yellow book and on the N.G.S. website.

  Visitors also very welcome by appointment.                                                                                                                                              Contact:  

Mrs H Holmes   Telephone: 017683 51397 or

Ian Huckson e-mail:

Admission: Adult £4.00, child free

Disability information: Sloping gravel paths in main garden, flat surface to front and side.

Postcode: CA16 6UN
Location:  Westbound on A66 take B6542 to Appleby. After 2m St Michael’s Church on left,the garden is  opposite.

Eastbound on A66 take Appleby slip road, B6542 under railway bridge, pass River Eden on your right and continue up hill to Royal Oak Inn. Garden next door, opposite the Church.

* Next open day   Sunday 20th. May 2018*


  Description: Developed  since the Winter 2007 – 2008 on a sloping site. Roses and some shrubs for structure, but relying heavily on grasses and herbaceous plants to create textures, colour combinations and contrasts in a modern way. Mixed beds at front with ‘woodland corner’. A small self-contained cottage garden to get lost in!



  Church view is a garden for all seasons


 Further details:Although Church View is a fine old sandstone cottage, it has a more recently developed garden. Planting was carried out Autumn 2007-Spring 2008. The Front Garden has Roses, Geraniums, and Lavenders amongst other plants, plus a woodland corner with an oriental feel. Also it really does have a view of the Church! The ‘Circle Garden’ at the side has three distinctly different small beds around an old church font base which acts as a ‘roundabout’ to access the remainder of the garden. The main part of the garden is at the back of the property. Taking into account this is a sloping site we have tried to lay out the pathways to give reasonably easy access to the entire garden. The pathways are integral to the way this garden works. As it has little in the way of great outward views, it is necessarily self-contained. The textures, colour harmonies, and contrasts, become evident as one moves around the paths. The intensive planting creates the depth to hold ones attention and gaze within its boundaries. There are Roses and some shrubs, but we rely heavily on herbaceous perennials and grasses to try to achieve this.


A modern cottage garden with coherent layers of colour, texture and interest.
 Experience the lushness in June with herbaceous plants and roses.
Special attention is paid to maintaining a good display of flowering plants well into late Summer/Autumn.
                                             August 2010                                                                                                                                                                                      September 2010
             The richness of late perennials and graceful grasses continues well into Autumn


    Bishop of Llandaff 
Rear Gardens 19th. February 2014

Rear Gardens 26th April 2014

28th August 2013 
For many,many more photos of Church View Garden throughout the seasons click here:
 Here is a link to many splendid photos of Church View by photographer Fiona Lea
The 'New' Productive Garden



Tour of Church View Gardens

Welcome to Church View gardens. We have a little less than half an acre footprint here including the house that is circa 18th century. Originally a row of cottages, in the more recent past it has been converted into one dwelling, was then divided into 2 and now once again it is a single property. Most of the garden pathways are narrow necessitating single file traffic at times!

The gardens are all relatively new; apart from a few mature trees around the perimeter and a couple of old apple trees, all the planting has been carried out since 2008.

 One of the newest areas is at the front in what we think of as a traditional small cottage garden. Here we take a multi - layered approach, bulbs, herbaceous plants, grasses, shrubs, trees and climbers. The bulbs range from tiny blue Scilla siberica through Narcissi such as ‘Jetfire’ and ‘Rippling Waters’, to Nerine Bowdenii and tall scented lilies ‘Casa Blanca’ and Regale. Much of the herbaceous planting is chosen to withstand some shade from the walls and trees; Pulmonaria argentea, Hellebourus orientalis, and Artemisia latifolia Guizhou all do well here. Shrubs include: Rhododendron lutea (deciduous Azalea) Philadelphus coronarius aureus and several Acers. The large specimen tree with striking red leaves is Prunus cerasifera pissardii, (Purple leaved Plum) it has white/pink flowers in Spring and produces some red fruits in Autumn. Throughout the gardens we strive to have colour and interest all year round. Follow the grass path that snakes through the planting and across the driveway is our only other patch of grass, a narrow lawn that divides the tarmac turning circle from the ‘woodland’ area.

Passing through the black wooden ‘oriental’ portal, on which climbs Jasminum ‘Clotted Cream’, takes one into a contrastingly cool atmosphere. A chipped bark pathway takes you through a piece of ground heavily shaded with trees and large shrubs.

The woodland not only gives us a chance to grow more shade loving plants such as ferns and Acers but also provides an essential screen to the road and the public house next door. The Bamboos, (Arundinaria nitida) do a particularly good and elegant job of this.

As we emerge from the shade out into the light one can appreciate the warm red sandstone facade of the cottage with its Wisteria and Golden showers climbing roses.

Looking towards the greenhouse that stands to the northern end of the house, you are looking through the side garden that acts as a roundabout to access the remaining gardens. The boundary Beech hedge on the left here was planted in the Spring of 2008.

The circle garden centrepiece is a marble font base that was removed from St Lawrence’s church during restoration work and has found a home here. The 3 beds are each distinctive from one another. Against the garage we have the shade tolerant climbing Rose Mme Alfred with drifts of Primulas, Pulmonarias and Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ at her feet. Opposite on the sunnier side we have Geranium psilostemon, Lilium martagon and Stachys macrantha that reach their peak in mid summer after the Dicentras, spectabile and formosa have passed their best. To break up the harsher lines of the green house, a bamboo Arundinaria ‘jumbo’ is used with Potentilla ‘Primrose Beauty’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ to good effect. The right hand path would take you past the greenhouse and the water feature, to the back yard with steps to the rest of the garden. We though will take the left hand path passing under the wooden arch, which supports aromatic Musk Roses and Clematis grandiflora, into the lower reaches of the main body of the garden. Scented plants are important to generate a complete garden experience and we strive to include many which produce scent either from flowers or foliage in all parts of the garden.

There are rivulets of Geraniums edging the path as you head up the gentle slope. But you can take a 90% turn to the right between the dark leaved pair of shrubs, Sambucus ‘black lace’ and Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ into the rose garden. We allow the planting to ‘bleed’ into the pathways and many take the opportunity to seed themselves into the gravel. Generally we do not attempt to stop plants from flopping onto the paths; those that do have to take their chance, so don’t be too afraid of stepping on them!

Past the ‘Wildeve’ Shrub roses, Iris germanica and Geranium ‘Philippe Vapelle’ you reach the old apple tree which has a wooden seat curving around it’s lower side, a perfect place to sit with a book on a sunny Summers day! Please mind the step here, the wooden edge can be slippery! More Shrub Roses, ‘Tuscany superba’ and ‘Teasing Georgia’, under planted with Viola Cornuta alba, Campanula cochlearifolia, and the black lily turf, Ophiopogon nigrescens, occupy the other side of the narrow path here.

The planting directly in the lee of the apple tree is very much planted with Spring in mind, the Pulmonarias, Geum Borisii and Symphytum ‘goldsmith’, are all well into their flowering stride before the tree is anywhere near in full leaf, so it is the perfect spot for them. The variegated leaves of the Brunnera Hasdspen Cream, and Symphytum combined with the plum purple foliage of Heuchera Rachael and golden blades of Millium Effusum aurea, do though give the planting here a very long colourful season. Turning left at the main path takes you back along the topside of the bed of roses and Irises, which also contains phlox Little Laura, and Astrantia major, to the small Irish Yew standing point duty at the path junction. Uphill takes you past the compost bins on the left. Essential as they undoubtedly are we like to try and hide them with planting! Look out for Butterflies and Bees on the Buddleia ‘Lochinch’. We purposely attempt to include many nectar rich flowers in all the plantings; the insects that are attracted are an important additional feature of the gardens. On your right you can gaze across the central perennial beds as you make your way to the topmost corner where there is seating. From here you can enjoy the view and take in the whole of the back garden. Looking along the top path through to the vegetable garden provides a grand vista for a relatively modest sized garden!

The bank border against the boundary stone wall contains several shrubs, such as Philadelphus ‘Belle E’toile’, Hydrangea aspera villosa, Caryopteris ‘Heavenly Blue’ and Lavenders. Early in the season the Ceanothus ‘Skylark’ ‘trained on the wall, sings out with a rich blue velvet drapery effect before the herbaceous plants shoot up and conceal it’s fading flowers. Alliums, Delphiniums and Iris germanica ‘Jane Phillips’ also supply some of the early season colour here. They are followed by several Hemerocallis, Ligularia ‘The Rocket’ and Lythrum ‘Firecandle’. Added interest in foliage texture and colour comes from the smokey bronze Fennel and the almost black leaves of Heuchera ‘Obsidian’. Dark Leaved Dahlias, flanked by Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, can continue flowering until the first real frosts of Winter. We make an effort to maintain a good display of flowering plants well into late Summer/Autumn but of course the weather, particularly frosts dictate this somewhat. By gardening as if there will always be a magnificent ‘Indian Summer’, keeping on top of the dead-heading, cutting some plants back in early Summer to delay flowering and introducing a few late sown annuals we can have colour well into November and later.

On the lower side of this path the central perennial bed cascades down the slope. Follow the path down keeping this bed close to your right hand side and you will find the narrower path that snakes up diagonally through the main planting. Ornamental grasses play an important supporting role here, the three most noticeable varieties being the large oat grass, Stipa gigantea, the variegated upright Calamagrostis acutifolia ‘Overdam’, and the smaller loose feathery Stipa arundinacea. Their structure, movement and texture combine perfectly with the perennials. The pathways are designed to give easy access to all parts of the garden in a way that negates somewhat the fairly steep slope. They also allow one to pass close to the plants and gain an intimate feeling of envelopment. Midway the narrow path widens a little to accommodate the planting of a new specimen of the 19th.Century, dual-purpose apple,’ James Grieve’, in homage to the elderly apple-trees surviving from the garden’s past. All the structure, colour and texture in the central perennial bed is formed with robust herbaceous plants and grasses underplanted with bulbs. Many ‘prairie’ type plants such as Rudbeckia Goldsturm, Echinacea Rubinstern and Aconitum Barkers Variety are the mainstay as Autumn closes in. Beforehand the flowering baton will have been passed from the Tulip, Allium and Camassia bulbs to the Campanulas, Astrantias, Veronicastrum, Achilleas, Hemerocallis, Monardas, Phlox and several Sedums, the brightest of which is Sedum ‘Red Cauli’, a spectacular sight in full bloom. The important maintenance task in this bed, apart from weeding in spring, some dead heading and cutting back as things go over early in the summer, entails everything being cut down in February just as new growth starts. Leaving the dead stems standing and intact over winter provides great protection for the crowns of the plants from the worst of the cold weather, and creates a wonderful well used refuge for hibernating insects particularly ladybirds, the gardeners great friend! Birds forage for food among the stems and seed heads, it becomes their Winter larder. This regime means we have some quite magnificent, if ephemeral, structure throughout the shortest days. The sight of a hoar frost coating each browned leaf; blade and seed head on a sharp sunny December morning is a sculptural delight. Turn left at the top of the narrow path. This takes you back down to the Yew sentinel. Turning left again enables you to walk along the level lower path with the perennials above you on your left. Notice the run of prostrate golden grass, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ beside a downward path as you pass the Damson tree on the right hand side as you head towards the bed that divides the purely ornamental garden from the vegetable area.

This end bed contains some small shrubs, Spirea ‘Candlelight’, Weigela ‘Monet’ and Potentilla ‘Hopley's Orange’. In the herbaceous layer there is the dusky pink flowered Geranium ‘Joy’, thistle like Cirsium rivale atropurpureum, and Knautia Macedonica amongst others. Larger shrubs include an arching species rose, Rosa glauca, which has perfect, simple, small cerise pink single flowers followed by rich red hips augmented by unusual grey-green foliage and purplish-red stems, a flower arrangers dream! A series of Photinia ‘Red Robin’ create the evergreen backbone and towards the top a Cercidiphyllum japonicum with heart-shaped leaves, bronze-tinted when young, turning yellow, orange and pink in autumn, when they smell of burnt sugar! Turn right here to enter into the new productive garden where we are endeavouring to grow vegetables, herbs and some fruit, as well as flowers for cutting. For ease of maintenance and to make best use of the space the area is divided into several raised beds with a dipping pond as a practical centrepiece. This 50 gallon water feature is handy when watering in young plants as well as being decorative. The idea is to present an attractive space as well as a productive one. From here one can reach the yard near the house by taking the steps with handrails.

Walk through the green double gates towards the greenhouse and on the right hand side, at head height, is a gravel patio area. This can be accessed via the stone ‘dog leg’ stairway. Here there is a place to sit a while and appreciate the plants such Armeria maritima, Centranthus ruber and the silvery Anaphalis triplinervis that are allowed to grow and self-seed in the gravel surface. The little ‘fairy flax’ Erinus alpinus is particularly happy here along with Aubrietia deltoidea and Leptinella squalida.

Back down at the bottom of the stone steps is a raised water feature that holds a Water lily and other aquatic plants. The spouting lion mask is fed with a small pump that recirculates the water keeping it oxygenated and the gentle sound of flowing water energises a corner that could otherwise be quite dead.

Next to the water feature is a plant bench where there are usually some plants for sale.

These are grown from cuttings or seed from the garden, started off in the greenhouse. Here the young plants are grown in pots on capillary matting or in the soil borders until they are ready to go out. The Grape vines do produce fruit, although their main function is to provide natural shading for the seedlings and prevent over heating on sunny days.

From here please wander at will!

Thank you for visiting.

All entrance money goes to the National Garden Scheme who raise money mainly for cancer and nursing charities.

Church View Gardens: designed, built and maintained by:

English Country Gardens Cumbria.

Ian Huckson



Media Coverage.

The text from a feature in Cumbria Life magazine July 2012.


Text: Tim Longville.

Sometimes downsizing can be painful. Sometimes it can be a positive relief. Sometimes it can even produce its own new and quite different kinds of pleasure.

Helen Holmes’ previous Appleby house, for example, was Castle Bank, whose garden was the subject of a Cumbria Life article some years ago. That was a big house with a big garden. And its three acres were so densely planted and so oddly shaped that when she had the local band playing in the garden on Open Days, ‘Visitors only knew they were there because they could hear them!’ In 2006, however, she decided that both house and garden were simply too big for her to cope with any longer. So she swapped imposing Castle Bank for a pretty but modest eighteenth century stone cottage, Church View, opposite the church in Bongate, and three acres of garden for a quarter of an acre, ‘at most.’

There is a small front garden but most of the land rises steeply behind the house to the boundary stone wall running along Back Lane. There were some good perimeter trees including a pair of purple leaved Prunus, a variegated Norway Maple and a dawn redwood, planted by Beechcroft Nurseries, which specialises in trees and shrubs. But those apart the rest was just, says Helen, ‘rough grass and a large patch of rhubarb’

There was terracing behind the house, ‘but not a plant in it,’ and along the right-hand boundary was a huge overgrown Leylandii hedge.‘Everything felt enclosed and airless,’ she remembers. ‘Looking out of the kitchen window you felt as though you were in a prison.’ And originally the grassy slope was so steep and slippery that she couldn’t walk down it without serious danger to life and limb!

Fortunately, help was at hand. Plantsman and landscape gardener Ian Huckson, of English Country Gardens Cumbria, who had previously worked to rescue the garden the garden at Castle Bank, took on the complete re-design of her new garden at Church View. She jokes that in fact, ‘He’s sort of adopted it or at least taken it under his wing!’

It was only in 2007, though, that work could begin. Then, out went all the grass and weeds, the slope was regraded, the Leylandii hedge reduced to a sensible size, a new sandstone wall, 22 metres long, was built by Andy Nelson, and finally roughly diagonal gravelled paths were constructed across the regraded slope, running in effect from bottom left towards top right, in order to make going up and coming down much easier. So much for the‘bones’ of the re-designed back garden. But if Helen was pleased with those bones, and she was, she was even more pleased with the ‘flesh’ Ian has since put on them. ‘He’s a good designer anyway,’ she says, ‘but above all I like the fact that he designs with the plants in mind, and chooses places for them that they will enjoy and in which they will flourish.’

The whole idea of the garden, she says, was that it should feel like ‘a cottage garden’but ‘a modern cottage garden.’ So it is clearly ‘designed,’ which a traditional cottage garden wasn’t. On the other hand, its dense and layered planting-style (‘There are just so many plants here now,’ was Helen’s delighted comment) is in effect a sophisticated form of cottage garden planting.

And, as in a traditional cottage garden, there are no big gestures, such as formal hedges or ‘single colour’ borders. Instead, there is an almost endless series of intricately designed ‘little episodes,’ not of a single colour but of related colours and tones, or involving different interestingly varied foliage-forms, all of which knit together into a colourful and intriguing patchwork. The idea, as Ian himself puts it, was to create‘coherent layers of colour, texture and interest.’

But at the same time he has also managed to create views and vistas, despite the small enclosed space he had to deal with. The secret, he insists, is that ‘the planting must be bold!’ That means not being afraid to use sizeable plants, repeating key plants in different parts of the garden, and sometimes using smaller plants in sizeable blocks.

So bold grasses, such as Stipa gigantea and the variegated reed grass, Calamagrostis ‘Overdam,’ are used to tie together parts of the main central bed. That, incidentally, is given added interest by being divided in two by a ‘river-like’ gravel path, which widens mid-way to allow the planting of a new specimen of the 19th.Century, dual-purpose apple,’ James Grieve’, in homage to the elderly apple-trees surviving from the garden’s past as a traditional cottage garden.

For the same ‘tying-together’ purpose, that fine old bearded iris, ‘Jane Phillips,’ pops up here and there in several of the borders, while at lower levels there are multi-coloured pools of astrantias, from white to deep red, and rivulets of small geraniums, in pink and red. Even at the lowest level, there are bold little splashes of colour and texture to catch the eye. Beside a left-hand path from the central bed, for instance, is a run of the prostrate golden grass, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ while beside the right-hand path from the same bed is a similar run of the equally prostrate black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens.’

If all this sounds as though the garden is ‘all Ian’s creation - a perception Helen sometimes seems positively anxious to encourage - he has, on the other hand carefully catered to her own particular plant passions, which is why the garden has what she gleefully describes as ‘whole piles’ of daylilies and poppies. And just as certainly the garden now provides what she initially asked for. That is, ‘Colour and interest all the year round.’ In fact, she adds, ‘When visitors come round the corner into the back garden, they just can’t believe it.’

Soon they’ll have even more to be astonished by, since Helen has decided that down-sizing can go too far! So she’s bought the cottage next door and by the time you read this Ian will be hard at work not only transforming that garden but also joining it to the one at Church View. Definitely a case of ‘watch that space’ – which, knowing Ian, won’t be ‘just a space’ for very long!

A news article from the NGS website 2010


Helen moved to Church View 4 years ago and, with pride and respect, says that her Landscape Gardener, Ian Huckson is a very talented and knowledgeable plantsman. Ian has transformed the half-acre garden in just 3 years. Ian said, “It took one year of clearance and hard-landscaping followed by two years of planting and cultivation”. The garden belies its youth in providing fullness, variety and an abundance of floral display. Ian takes particular pride in the design and quality of his plantings. Church View garden provides lovely views from meandering gravel paths as well as from within the house. Helen and Ian have worked together for many years and as Ian says, “we have similar garden tastes, which is great.

This garden demonstrates what can be done in a very short time and it does so delightfully. There are lots of plants in flower but evidence of many more to come throughout the summer. Indeed Ian adds,” visit us on 20th June but return when we open on 12th September to enjoy a riot of late summer colour”.




Appleby Garden Open for the NGS: Sunday September 11 th. 2011

The latest NGS private garden opening in Cumbria this year.

The Gardens at Church View, Bongate, Appleby in Westmorland, home of Mrs. Helen Holmes, will be open to the public on Sunday 11th. September 2011.

This will be a chance to see a Cottage Garden in which special attention is paid to providing and maintaining a grand display of flowering plants well into late Summer/Autumn. Hardy herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses form the core of this array of colour, texture and interest, augmented by a few select half-hardy annuals/perennials. Here we believe the colourful exuberance of late flowering plants to be immensely valuable and the excitement generated to be solace for the soul as the Summer season moves on and the nights begin to draw in. The vibrancy and joy gladdens the heart, and for a time, defies the dreary winter time that lies ahead! Come along and meet the gardener, experience the plants bees and butterflies, enjoy a cup of tea and cake, or maybe relax with a Pimms and luxuriate in a late summer glow!

The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) raises money for charity each year. In 2010,thanks to garden owners and visitors, the NGS was able to make a record annual distribution of £2.6m to its beneficiary charities, which are predominantly in the nursing and caring sector.

The text from the article in Cumbria Life magazine October 2013 

The Long Goodbye

Text: Janet Queen

October 2013     Late season colour from perennials


“Always garden as if there is going to be a magnificent Indian summer.” These words come from Ian Huckson, garden designer and landscaper based at Kirkby Stephen in south-east Cumbria. Having gardened in Cumbria for over 30 years, he knows well the vagaries of our climate, but such unpredictability only toughens his stance. “Keep tending; keep dead-heading and watering if necessary. When the Indian summer arrives, the results will be sensational; in the years when it doesn’t, you will still be surprised how valuable late colour can be. A combination of forward planning and low, soft, autumn light can provide a joyous, winter-defying scene in the garden.”


Ian’s garden design and landscaping business, English Country Gardens, is responsible for the planning, construction and planting of several gardens throughout Cumbria. One garden in particular, Church View in the Bongate area of Appleby, is a showcase for his planting schemes in the ‘new European style’ - a modern approach where the garden becomes easily maintained and largely self-sustaining.

Church View is owned by Helen Holmes, and Ian had already created a three-acre garden for Helen before she decided to move to her present, smaller house in Appleby. Church View garden was planted by Ian in 2008, and he points out that existing mature trees in and around the garden, and views towards St. Michael’s church, were the key starting points and influences in the early days of preparing plans. Most of the garden lies to the rear of Helen’s 18th century house; the land is sloping, terraced in places, and gravel paths meander between densely planted beds. There is no neatly cut grass here; every space is filled with carefully chosen plants – a dense array of colour and texture throughout the year.


“Late flower colour certainly rivals early spring blossom in its ability to gladden my heart,” says Ian. “Generally, garden interest can be maintained into winter with variegated foliage and evergreens, all built around good planting structure. But there are techniques I use with perennials, ensuring colour and flowers continue into winter to help to shorten this darkest season. These techniques are simple, although they do require some forward thinking.”


Ian continues, “The first step is to choose perennials that naturally flower late in the year such as Aster, Helenium, Sedum, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Japanese anemones. Many of those perennials can be manipulated into flowering even later by cutting them back to around half their height in early June before they flower. You can reduce the height of whole clumps, or you can select around half of the stems to cut back. The latter method ensures blossom is spread over a longer period.


There are also many perennials with an early-summer flowering period that can be encouraged to produce a second flush of blossom in late summer by cutting the whole plant, including foliage, right back to ground level after the first flush of blossom. Geranium, Nepeta and Campanula are good candidates for this course of action.


When concentrating on late colour, hardy or half-hardy annuals can be sown later than usual and then transplanted into gaps (perhaps spaces left by faded tulips or alliums) in July. For this method, I suggest using Antirrhinum, Cosmos, Nicotiana, and annual Rudbeckia. Half-hardy perennials, including Dahlia, Heliotrope and Salvia also work well for filling spaces to provide late colour.”


When visiting Church View in late summer, it is difficult for the eye not to be drawn to bold clumps of Stipa gigantea. The arching, harvest-golden stems of these dramatic grasses move gently in the wind, towering over the tallest person, creating a veil through which you can view other areas of Church View garden. The use of Stipa gigantea in a small garden, deployed so effectively, is indeed inspiring.


This plant is also used to great effect in Brockhole garden at the Lake District Visitor Centre which overlooks Windermere. Herbaceous borders here are long and extensive, set in a garden landscape that was originally designed around 1899 by Thomas Mawson, responsible for the design of so many other notable gardens, not only in Cumbria but also in Europe and Canada.


Brockhole head gardener, Sue Preston-Jones, explains how Stipa gigantea came to play such an important and large-scale part in a border which many of the 200,000 annual visitors to the Visitor Centre admire as part of their exploration of the property. “Stipa is perfect for large borders like ours, and it has been a record season for the effectiveness and growth of this hardy grass. The plants were selected, brought here and planted two years ago by Tom Attwood who, along with his wife, runs Abi and Tom’s Garden Plants at Halecat, near Grange-over-Sands. The effect, in such a short space of time, is amazing, but I am now a little concerned that Stipa may take over this border because they are growing so vigorously!” But to the outside eye, it is this vigour and density that works so well in late summer. Tall stems and oat-style seed heads combine to form a loose, hazy informality, even though the border is formal in layout.


Other perennials at Brockhole that help to extend the flowering season include Aconitum carmichaelii, Chelone oblique, Kniphofia caulescens and Sisyrinchium striatum. “This species of Sisyrinchium may lose its pale yellow blossom by the end of August,” says Sue, “but the flowers are followed by little, dark, shiny seeds which are clearly visible on the evergreen upright stems for a couple of months, making it an ideal choice for planting at the front of borders. I am often asked for the name of this plant – it seems to attract a lot of attention from visitors.”


One of Sue’s favourite perennials for late blossom is Verbena bonariensis. “This is one plant that is granted a free rein at Brockhole, mainly because it is so attractive to butterflies. I let self-sown seedlings grow wherever they choose to appear. Tall, wispy stems with small purple flowers are self-supporting and don’t require staking. From one year to the next, I never quite know where it will next arise.”


Large herbaceous borders, such as those at Brockhole, require upkeep that soaks up man-hours. Sue has the help of a few volunteers and freelance gardeners, and depending on available time during the winter months, borders will be spread with a thick mulch of compost that is made on site. Four heaps, worked in rotation, ensure there is a supply of organic mulching material available for use every other year. Soil fertility in the borders is also enhanced in spring with an application of pelleted chicken manure.


As autumn turns to winter, there is often a temptation amongst gardeners to cut down herbaceous borders, but Sue tries to avoid this where possible. She says, “Stipa gigantea, for example, will remain untouched at Brockhole until spring when the old growth will then be trimmed back, just before new growth appears.”


Back at Church View garden in Appleby, Ian Huckson is in agreement with this. He concludes, “You will be surprised how many of our early autumn days are mild and benign, and it is then that late colour is so valuable. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to cut and clear. In fact, leave it until February. Enjoy the intricacies of the drying, dying plant material.”

Photo by Janet Queen.



Visit for details about the National Gardens Scheme open day (12am – 4pm) at Church View garden, Bongate, Appleby, on 16th October. Visit for details of opening times for Brockhole garden, Windermere.


Subpages (2): Media Coverage Plant List