Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Garden Visit: 9 Ideas to Steal from the Bravura Planting at Gravetye Manor in Sussex


Garden Visit: 9 Ideas to Steal from the Bravura Planting at Gravetye Manor in Sussex

May 11, 2023

During a cold and extremely wet English spring, we revisited Gravetye Manor. The bucolic Sussex estate—with 36 acres of flower gardens, meadows, mixed borders, lawns, and a vast one and a half acre elliptical walled kitchen garden—surrounds a country house hotel that is set in a wider 1,000-acre estate. All of it was once owned and nurtured by the prolific Victorian writer and garden maker William Robinson, whose books espoused naturalistic planting and gardening in tune with nature.

For the past 13 years, the prodigiously talented Tom Coward has overseen a team of six other gardeners to restore and reimagine this heritage garden. The Great Dixter alumnus has reinvigorated the kitchen garden, which was covered in brambles and weeds by the time he arrived here in 2010, and injected vigor and bravura planting into vibrant borders and electrifying meadows. Even on a damp, cool spring day there were fresh ideas in all directions.

Photography by Clare Coulson.

1. Use bulbs as your paintbox.

Above: Tom’s choreography of the garden ensures that at any given time there is something to marvel at. In May it’s the sea of camassias that light up the orchard. Under heritage fruit trees, thousands of C. leichtlinii caerulea rise up, creating a vivid blue understory just as the pink-tinged blossom of the apple trees unfurls. This is high impact, low maintenance gardening—the camassia bulbs will naturalize over time and require little care. Their foliage is left to die back amongst the long orchard grasses.

2. Create structures with waste materials.

Above: Successional planting on a grand scale means that the flower borders closest to the hotel are constantly changing. Natural plant supports, woven with pruned birch or hazel clippings, keep the largest perennials fully supported as they grow. But until then their nest like structures bring some sculptural shape and height to the borders.

3. Place an eye-catcher to create a vista.

Above: The view as guests step out into the lawn and flower borders is breath-taking, whatever the season. Pots are clustered around the old oak door with a color-themed display of seasonal bulbs, annuals, or perennials but a central sundial ensures that eyes are pulled out to the longer view—in this case, a pergola with a white wisteria , ‘Shiro Noda’, yet to bloom.

4. Plan for statement-making plantings.

Above: Plants can act as eye-catchers, too. Amongst the spring bulbs and emerging foliage, the lime zing of Euphorbia characias wulfenii stands out. Its enormous chartreuse flower heads bring a much needed color pop in spring. Once these stems are cut back in late June or July, only a dome of glaucous foliage remains. They prefer free-draining soil and a sunny position.

5. Marry plants with objects.

Above: Punctuate key elements in the garden with more plants. At Gravetye, the gardeners are lucky to work with many stone features that have been in the garden for more than a century. Here Clematis armandii, with its beautiful emerging bronze foliage, wraps around an elaborate stone finial.
Above: The towering brick wall that edges the long border can also be seen, as pictured, from the lawns that sit at a much higher level too. A sprawling rose, trained along the top of the wall, gently embellishes the mellow old stone from it’s first flush of foliage through to its summer blooms.

6. Weave in flowers.

Above: A patchwork of spring bulbs gives a lighter effect than big clumps. Here Tom has dotted jewel toned tulips—including ‘Bleu Amiable’ and the two-toned ‘Slawa’—throughout herbaceous borders. As the foliage of other plants rises up, they provide a lush green backdrop before finally enveloping the tulips as they fade.

7. Go for height.

Above: Structural forms are useful in spring. Here Angelica is dotted throughout the flower garden bringing much needed height at the start of the season and visual interest with its beautiful stems and otherworldly flower heads.

8. Know your plants—like, really know them.

Above: Who would have thought that a cherry could be treated as a low growing flowering shrub? Tom uses Prunus glandulosa ‘Alba Plena’ as a repeated plant through the steep banks outside the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. It is smothered with white blossom in spring and then cut back to the ground after which it will produce new foliage over summer followed by autumn color.

9. Don’t forget about the crevices.

Above: Use every planting opportunity. The Long Border’s stone wall backdrop is dotted with tiny plants including Erigeron karvinskianus, ferns, Forget-Me-Not, and wild strawberries. (See The Garden Decoder: What Is ‘Crevice Gardening’?)

See also:

(Visited 9,590 times, 1 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation