When our friend Ben Pentreath, a London architect and interior designer whose clients include Liv Tyler and Sarah Jessica Parker, turned his classicist’s eye on a Dorset garden that had gone to ruin, the result was …. well, see for yourself.
Two years ago, Pentreath took a long lease on a house in the far west of Dorset, in southwest England. “This is the second summer of my herbaceous borders at The Old Parsonage,” says Pentreath. “When I first saw the house, it was deserted—the garden completely overgrown.” No more.
(N.B.: For another romantic English garden, see “A Gothic Garden Visit: Courtesy of the Mitfords.”
Photography by Ben Pentreath, for Gardenista.
Above: Gardening, says Pentreath, is about looking forward. “As I am enjoying the garden one minute, I am in the back of my mind considering—what would I be doing differently? What new planting do I need to consider? What’s working, and what’s not?” he says. (N.B.: To see what Pentreath’s garden looks like on a sunny summer day, go to “A Garden in Dorset, in Full Bloom.”
Above: “All these plans are subject to the usual vagaries—I’m away at the crucial moment when it’s time to plant up wallflowers; or the frost takes something,” says Pentreath. “In part, these things could be solved if one was in the garden all the time. But if you are a part-time country dweller, spending weeks in the city and weekends in the flower beds, the consequences of timing don’t always work out for nursing a garden with quite the degree of care that it requires.”
Above: “The gaps are filling fast – to the extent that I realize that I never, ever, give plants enough room to grow – I think I’m too impatient for that,” Penreath says.
Above: Two years in, and things are beginning to come full, he says. Plants that struggled a little in year one have found their way.
Above: When Pentreath first saw the house, “One or two rather special plants hinted of previous glories, but the whole was overwhelmed with bindweed and ground elder, and shrubs that were on the way to becoming trees.” A year of clearing followed, to bring the ground back to clean soil; digging and filtering, and removing every last scrap of ground elder root (which if left in the soil will create a completely new plant).
Above: “At last it was time to plant up—with some trepidation, as I had never made a border before,” Pentreath says. “All the reading in the world only gets you so far—trial and error takes you a lot further, I think.”
Above: “If, like me, you are a compulsive planner, you will have a small notebook on hand most of the time, to jot down thoughts as they occur in time to reconsider, and remember, in the months to come,” Pentreath says.
Above: “Last evening, after a day of completely drenching rain, the downpour ceased, a stillness set upon the valley and a gentle mist spread down,” Pentreath says. That’s when he shot these photos.
Above: The border took on the tones of the softest gray, white, and lilac.
Above: “I went for a walk around the garden, completely quiet save for birdsong, and thought of the past,” Pentreath says.
Above: Alliums, irises, foxglove, lady’s mantle, and yellow lupines.
Above: The house at twilight.
Above: “And I dreamt of the future,” Pentreath says.
For more of Ben Pentreath, see “A Garden in Dorset, In Full Bloom.”