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Garden Visit: A Wildflower Meadow at the Edge of an English Cottage Garden


Garden Visit: A Wildflower Meadow at the Edge of an English Cottage Garden

August 17, 2016

Sally French-Greenslade clearly remembers her daughter, as a small child, standing next to a willow sapling in the middle of her beautiful Cheshire garden 48 years ago. Today, along with silver birches, Scots pines, and copper beeches, the same willow towers over a magical space that shimmers with dappled shade.

When she started to map out the grounds of her Well House, there was nothing here—except the brook that babbles across the center of the garden—and she hadn’t yet bought the wildflower meadow that makes up the rest of the two-acre plot. What she has created is an inspiring, transportive garden that is packed with perfect planting combinations and laced with an easy naturalism.

Photography by Clare Coulson for Gardenista.


Above: Sally, an antiques dealer and expert speaker, originally studied interior design at the Inchbald School of Design in London and she thinks the early training help enormously when she came to design her outdoor spaces. The brook makes a stunning feature across the center of the garden and the perfect spot for water-loving plants including ligularia, gunnera, ferns, and filipendula.


Above: The cottage garden close to the house has gradually become less and less defined and it evolves spectacularly through late spring and summer. The contrast of many shades of green provides a stunning backdrop, with birch and sorbus trees towering above neatly clipped Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’.

3 Sally's restrained but brilliant plant combinations

Above: Sally’s plant palette is restrained, with harmonious combinations such as this Astrantia major ‘Rubra’ with Phlox paniculata ‘Hot September Pink’.

3b same plant different colours

Above: She also often uses the same plant in contrasting colors, as with these clematis vines.

4 clipped weeping pears not only create some sturcture in a shady corner but also a wonderful contrast of greens

Above: The clipped pear trees create a shady corner in a calming patio area with hostas, thalictrums, ferns, and hellebores.


Above: Pots are placed at eye level on brick pedestals and filled with Erigeron karvinskianthus (Mexican fleabane) and a nemesia with a rich vanilla scent that wafts as you walk past.


Above: Even in the far reaches of the garden there are spectacular moments. Here an enormous gunnera grows out from the brook.


Above: Meanwhile hostas and hellebores thrive in the damp semi-shaded conditions.


Above: In the meadow everything is allowed to run rampant, from wildflowers such as evening primrose and wild geraniums to nettles, which make a wonderful wildlife habitat. The meadow is defined with wide mown paths and occasional trees. Many of the cultivated plants self-seed here from the garden too including fuchsias and geraniums such as G. ‘Ann Folkard’.


Above: A wild clematis winds through the hedgerow.


Above: An aerial view of the garden. Sally is a voracious collector of seeds and cuttings on her travels so she often ends up with unnamed varieties. Roses do not thrive in the conditions here—the sole exception is ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (pictured bottom right) that was a gift from Sally’s daughter, who lives in nearby Shropshire, on the birth of her son.

N.B.: The Well House garden in Cheshire is open to visitors by appointment from February to September. For details, see the National Garden Scheme.

For more of our favorite romantic gardens, see Wild Child: An Intoxicating English Garden at Tattenhall Hall and Lessons Learned: From Neglected Slope to Charming Garden, in South London.

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