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A garden visit to Chinthurst Lodge in Wonersh

PUBLISHED: 19:51 12 July 2016 | UPDATED: 20:33 12 July 2016

The glorious laburnum tunnel is a highlight

The glorious laburnum tunnel is a highlight

Leigh Clapp

For Surrey Life’s gorgeous gardens series this month, Leigh Clapp enjoys the atmospheric garden at Chinthurst Lodge in Wonersh

Michael and Hilary enjoy opening their lovely Wonersh garden Michael and Hilary enjoy opening their lovely Wonersh garden

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2016

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Need to know:

Chinthurst Lodge, Wonersh, Surrey GU5 0PR.

Visitors welcome by arrangement until July.

Admission, £5; children free. See ngs.org.uk

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Chinthurst Lodge dates back to 1745, with major additions between 1840 and 1895 giving the Edwardian façade, and is part of a larger country house that was divided in 1952. When Hilary and Michael Goodridge bought the property in 1988, they were already familiar with the area as both were from Surrey and had lived in Wonersh before.

“We spent a long time searching for a suitable house and suddenly this one came up in the Sunday Times,” says Hilary. “I came and had a look and just fell in love with it; it had character. Then I looked around the garden and it was quite big but I wasn’t too daunted by that. Michael saw it in the dark and put in an offer, as it was fairly urgent to do so. I said ‘don’t worry, I’ll look after the garden’, as I knew he wasn’t too keen on gardening. Luckily, when he did see it in the daylight, he wasn’t too daunted either!”

The garden is just over one-acre, faces south and stretches out from the back of the house. Beyond the garden is a five-acre field, where Hilary, who is also a keen rider, keeps her horses, and on either side of the property are farms, giving a peaceful rural location. The soil is sandy with undulating clay underneath, which can cause waterlogging in winter and drought in the summer. “It’s also a bit of a frost pocket and we’re exposed to winds because of all the fields around us,” says Hilary. “But we have improved the soil over many years having a good supply of horse manure and my six compost heaps!”

On the plus side, when the couple moved to the property, the garden had much of the structure already in place, including a produce area with a large vegetable plot, espaliered apples and fruit cage. There was also a ‘White Garden’ by the house, which had just been started before they arrived, and pergolas already in place. The rest of the garden had a few shrubs, mostly hebes, but was generally overgrown with stinging nettles and mare’s tails.

Enhancing what was there and adding new areas as they went along were Hilary’s aims: “Our plan was to restore the garden in stages to emphasise different rooms with different characteristics,” she continues. “I would say my style is part formal, part cottage garden, with many rooms to create surprises and interest.”

Labour of love

The process involved a great deal of hard work to produce the garden that you see today with its rich planting palette and range of areas as you journey through the landscape, which include verdant lawns cut in a chequerboard design by Michael, curving densely-planted borders, water features, pergola walkways and productive plots. Looking around at the sheer variety of areas and wealth of plants, there is no wonder that Hilary freely admits with a smile that her garden is “definitely high-maintenance.”

Visiting gardens is a favourite pastime and, in particular, Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House has been a major influence for Hilary, resulting in a striking box parterre that edges the stone path leading from the White Garden. Formed of neat, geometrical, hedged beds, it is infilled with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and a selection of herbs.

Other projects have included the replacement of a dying pear tree with a laburnum tunnel, resplendent with the gleaming golden racemes in early summer, and the vegetable plot was halved in size to create more herbaceous beds for pollinating the remaining vegetables. “We couldn’t possibly eat all the amount of vegetables with such a large patch so that was one of the first things we did,” says Hilary.

An unexpected feature to discover is a gravel garden, created from scratch as a response to a series of dry summers. Membrane was put down with gravel on top, holes cut out for the plants and weeding is needed to keep it looking neat. Hilary has found the plants that really thrive there are hostas and blue oat grasses.

“Each season has its highlights, whether it’s the spring bulbs, herbaceous plants and roses in summer, autumn colour from the array of trees, or the winter-flowering plants and bright red cornus stems,” adds Hilary. “In June, I have to walk around the garden every evening because I just absolutely adore the whole thing; there’s no specific part of the garden, I just love it all.”

Opening the gates
For 23 years, the couple have shared their garden with visitors through the National Garden Scheme, enjoying the opportunity to chat with like-minded people, many who are return visitors who have followed the progress of the garden. As such, they will be holding two open events this month.

“Visitors say it is a tranquil place and also gives them inspiration for their own gardens,” says Hilary. “And many comment that it is one of their favourite gardens and they can see the passion that goes into it. People are always amazed at my edges, which are perfect on garden opening day – I do them all the day before using a tiny hoe!”

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Get the look

• Go for densely-planted borders with layers from trees through to shrubs, herbaceous plants and ground covers

• Create different themed areas, including a garden dedicated to white flowers and silver foliage, a parterre with seasonal infill, a drought-tolerant gravel garden and vegetable plots

• Orchestrate your colour schemes: white by the house, then yellow and blue borders to pink tones, and finally splashes of blue delphiniums in the vegetable area

• Try to keep the edges formal but with a cottage feel overall

• Contrast neatly-kept lawns with lovely billowing flower beds

• Look out for unusual plants and allow them to drive the decisions, thinking about where to put them later

• Prune plants when needed to keep them looking healthy

• Think carefully about the final size of plants and shrubs to prevent the problem of overcrowding

• Punctuate the views with seasonal containers and sculptural detailing

• Include plenty of seats around the garden to relax and take in the vistas

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