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Bayntun Flowers: Florist Polly Nicholson’s Walled Garden in Wiltshire

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Bayntun Flowers: Florist Polly Nicholson’s Walled Garden in Wiltshire

May 21, 2017

Polly Nicholson’s walled garden in Wiltshire is a balance of form and function. There are rows of vegetables and flower-filled cutting beds for her business Bayntun Flowers, with room for topiaries, a pond, and free-ranging plants in the gravel paths. Polly is a grower and a florist (who studied medieval art) so it seems right that the scene hints not only at the industry of Brueghel, but the flowery allure of Botticelli.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.

A Magnolia grandiflora adorns the dovecote in the walled garden at Bayntun Flowers. It was taken from a cutting of an older specimen that grew against the house.
Above: A Magnolia grandiflora adorns the dovecote in the walled garden at Bayntun Flowers. It was taken from a cutting of an older specimen that grew against the house.

Before being restored, as the center of operations for Bayntun Flowers, the walled garden housed a tennis court. Now, stepover apples and herbs line rectangular beds, while cold frames (and a serious glass house) were commissioned from Foster and Pearson, a familiar name in productive old gardens.

Polly describes her style of growing as “polycultural,” in reference to the variety of crops that are grown in a limited space. The walled garden is a giant potager, with flower and vegetable crops grown in rows for ease of planting and picking. It is a fully-functioning space, and Polly cuts food and flowers from it every day of the year.

Cornflower (Centaurea ‘Jordy’) grows through peas sticks: twigs are bent over in winter when they are malleable.
Above: Cornflower (Centaurea ‘Jordy’) grows through peas sticks: twigs are bent over in winter when they are malleable.

Polly Nicholson herself retrained in horticulture at the English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden, having had a career at Sotheby’s. On moving from London with her family, Polly knew that she wanted to grow flowers for cutting, without predicting the extent to which her ambitions would take over.

Roses, tulips, and herbs growing in a parterre lined with germander and daphne.
Above: Roses, tulips, and herbs growing in a parterre lined with germander and daphne.

A small-ish parterre between the house and the walled garden was Polly’s original cutting garden (shown here). She still cuts roses from it. With clients like Florist by Royal Appointment Shane Connolly seeking unusual and beautifully grown cut flowers, Polly has extended her growing area to a fenced off flower field, with tulips and fritillaries in spring standing up to the elements out in the open.

A row of magenta lunaria, between a row of hellebore and a row of Thalictrum ‘Elin’. In the foreground, seed heads of pulsatilla are dotted through the gravel.
Above: A row of magenta lunaria, between a row of hellebore and a row of Thalictrum ‘Elin’. In the foreground, seed heads of pulsatilla are dotted through the gravel.

Polly is assisted in the gardens by an all-female garden team headed by the formidable Hannah Gardner, “plantswoman extraordinaire.” Ed is the exception; he has his work cut out for him keeping on top of the many topiaries, espaliers, and clouds of box and yew, installed by designer Arne Maynard.

Mint, allowed to romp through an old galvanized animal trough.
Above: Mint, allowed to romp through an old galvanized animal trough.

Polly is a collector of vintage equipment: the walled garden is freshly stocked with old gardenalia. Favorite haunts are: Emma Leschallas in Tetbury, Crowman in Devizes, Old Bank Antiques on the London Road, Bath.

Polly Nicholson sorting through a sea of sweet peas in the walled garden.
Above: Polly Nicholson sorting through a sea of sweet peas in the walled garden.

Bayntun Flowers supplies wholesale to local florists as well as bigger names, and as a florist Polly is on hand for small parties, charity dinners, funerals etc. (not weddings). Her ideal client will say: “Can I have three bouquets,” trusting Polly to find what is looking at its very peak at that moment.

Strawberries growing on an antique wirework stand against one of the restored walls.
Above: Strawberries growing on an antique wirework stand against one of the restored walls.
Borage is good for diversity in a walled garden, encouraging pollinators around flowers as well as vegetables.
Above: Borage is good for diversity in a walled garden, encouraging pollinators around flowers as well as vegetables.

Bayntun Flowers is run organically, while being irrigated with the help of a bore hole. A river flows through the garden with bee hives, situated idyllically, on the far bank, among wild flowers and shrubs that provide early pollen.

Erigeron makes a romantic froth around the steps by the main house.
Above: Erigeron makes a romantic froth around the steps by the main house.

With a background in rare books and antiquity, Polly is equally fulfilled in the business of flowers. Everything is under control, except nature itself. This is strangely liberating for somebody as organized as Polly: “It’s like therapy,” she says. For her, the business feeds the senses, being active, artistic and academic, while sharpening skills in sourcing, picking, bucketing, bunching, not to mention marketing and selling.

Freshly cut anemones rest in the cool interior of Polly’s stables.
Above: Freshly cut anemones rest in the cool interior of Polly’s stables.

For more on the Bayntun Flowers HQ, see Outbuilding of the Week: A Stable for Horses and Flowers in Wiltshire.

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