We recently visited the wilder corners of Tattenhall Hall, a Jacobean manor house in Cheshire owned and gardened by two couples—Jannie Hollins and Chris Evered, and Jen and Nick Benefield. Now we are taking a closer look at the rich borders of the formal gardens, which are just as multi-layered as the wilder acres and a lot more colorful.
Photography by Clare Coulson for Gardenista.
Above: A truly great garden works in harmony with a house and the landscape beyond, and Tattenhall Hall is a master class in creating a sense of place. The imposing house, built in 1610, demands generous borders and grand gestures; the rear façade faces a vast circular lawn flanked by curved, sweeping borders packed with lush planting including many English garden favorites—hardy geraniums, roses, phlox, bearded iris, campanulas, and poppies. Both Jannie and Jen were hard-wired for horticulture; their mothers were very keen gardeners and Jannie’s great-grandmother had a house and garden in nearby Alderley Edge, designed by Arts and Crafts-era architect and designer Charles Voysey.
Above: The main borders are designed to look good from any angle and are layered with wonderful views beyond. In early summer the view is luminous with bearded iris backlit by the setting sun. Here the deep maroon Iris ‘Indian Chief’ shimmers in the soft light.
Above: This is not a fanatically neat garden but a rambling feel to many of the borders adds romance. Seed pods and fading heads of alliums are welcome as yet another layer of form and interest, while spiky eryngiums contrast with the softer planting.
Above: Only the mature trees existed in the garden when the couples arrived here just over two decades ago, enabling them to create their garden from scratch. One of the early lessons learnt, says Chris, was the importance of changing levels. The circular lawn sits above a cobbled path that flows around it several feet below. A couple of steps down from the lawn is Jen’s lush border, which in early summer has a zingy mix of bupleurum, foxgloves, aquilegias, astrantias, and hardy geraniums.
Above: In early summer, Jannie’s Gothic border, which is planted successionally, has a decadent mix of carmine roses ‘Danse de Feu’ and ‘William Lobb’; painterly bearded iris and the dark-stemmed Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. They were not deeply knowledgeable gardeners when they started out, says Jannie—once, when the head gardener from Wollerton Old Hall visited he was aghast that the peonies had been mulched with a rich compost. But many years on it’s clear that there’s an incredible depth of horticultural knowledge and experience here.
Above: The borders in early evening are dramatically backlit by the setting sun. This double border with a central gravel path is a case in point, with richly contrasting foliage. Later in the season this border is packed with silver, white, and yellow flowers.
Above: Phlomis and campanula are happy companions.
Both Jannie and Jen keep copious notes on plants in the garden listing what plants they have, where they were bought, and how each grows and flowers. This is crucial in a garden that is not only multi-layered but is also planted to have continually changing tableaux.
For more classic English-garden inspiration, see Wild Child: An Intoxicating English Garden at Tattenhall Hall and An Insider’s 9 Favorite English Gardens to Visit.