Visit Hill Farm garden in Westcott, near Dorking
PUBLISHED: 12:31 13 September 2015 | UPDATED: 12:45 05 October 2015
Visit the lovely garden at Hill Farm in Westcott, near Dorking, where flowing borders of grasses and perennials meld into a wealth of different wildlife habitats
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2015
Need to know:
Where: Hill Farm, Westcott, Dorking RH4 3JY
See: ngs.org.uk / helenthomasdesign.co.uk
Share your Surrey gardens photography @ www.surreylife.co.uk/photos
While many gardens are beginning to dwindle at this time of year, at Hill Farm in Westcott, the scene is one of colour and texture. So, whether you are looking for ideas to create longer interest in your own garden, or just after a lovely day out in the Surrey Hills, this one is a must-see in the annual garden diary.
“Our late grasses and perennials, such as calamagrostis, sedums, persicaria and echinacea, are at their best right now,” says owner, Helen Thomas. “In fact, this garden goes whoosh from August right through autumn, and even by late- December it still holds appeal.”
Off the hoof
The view there today, however, is a very different one from when Helen and husband Martin bought the Edwardian property back in 1997. Looking for somewhere in a picturesque location to keep horses, Martin, who is a keen eventer, had previously rented fields at Polesden Lacey while they were living at Weybridge. At Hill Farm, they found the perfect opportunity to have the horses onsite, and a house and land with potential for a family home – albeit requiring some work. Not only was the property in need of updating, aside from some mature trees and boundary hedges, the 11 acres of grounds were pretty much a blank canvas.
Renovation of the house was carried out over the first few years, which revealed that it was originally two little workers’ cottages for the neighbouring Hill Farm House, and next they set to with the garden.
“Wildlife is important to us and we have tried to keep everything pretty simple with natural habitats, such as a pond, woodland and wildflower meadow, as well as allowing the grass to grow longer in spots,” says Helen.
The more intensive planting you see today began about six years ago, as the children got older and went off to school, leaving Helen time to pursue her passion for gardening and turn it into a part-time career by completing a diploma at the Garden Design School at Painshill Park in Cobham.
While she designs many different styles for clients, her love of the natural landscape has melded into taming nature in a very gentle way in her own garden, with some clipped form and structure from topiary accents set against the billowing free-flow of wide beds brimming with texture and harmonious colours.
“The grasses and late-season perennials planted through the garden are a haven for wildlife at this time of the year,” continues Helen. “On a sunny day, the sedums throughout the garden are covered with honeybees from our neighbour’s hives, bumble bees and butterflies. We have everything possible coming into our garden, from woodpeckers and a wide range of birds to a badger nursery in a wild corner of the garden.”
Another standout feature in the garden is Helen’s inventive use of heathers that carpet a contoured backdrop to a circular alfresco dining area. “I wanted to create a larva flow of heathers to drip down the garden around the patio, which looks at its best at this time of the year,” she says. “In the winter, they provide a welcome splash of colour and are a vital source of nectar for the bees. Our acid sandy loam is a perfect medium for heathers and it also reminds me of my roots by the Yorkshire Moors.”
Other areas of the garden to enjoy include a wildlife pond full of dragonflies, newts and frogs, and a woodland walk under some towering oaks. “I’ve planted cornus here as their fiery stems catch the winter sun and glow like fireworks,” Helen adds. At the working end of the garden, there are sheds, a greenhouse and compost bins along with a vegetable plot that is shared with their neighbour and watered from an underground storage tank. New projects being considered include having their own beehives and excavating an old lime kiln on the property.
Opening through the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday September 13, this will be the second time Hill Farm has opened to the public, with visitors particularly enjoying the planting in the different areas.
What is more, when it comes to ideas for creating a natural-looking landscape, as seen at both RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, this garden is right on-trend. Both aesthetically and as a series of wildlife havens, there are ideas aplenty to take home to your own garden. “And it’s a beautiful spot for a day out,” adds Helen, with a smile.
Get the look...
• Go for a naturalistic look with your planting choices
• Don’t be too structured but add punctuation from clipped buxus spheres, hedging and shrubs
• Follow existing sloping contours rather than levelling with terracing
• Plant en masse with repeated plants such as ornamental grasses
• Choose perennial plants for a long season of interest, such as echinacea and sedums
• Include wildlife areas with water, longer grass and meadows
• Plant with a wide diversity for food sources and habitats
• Leave grasses and other plants in the border with seed heads for wildlife and winter interest
• Reinforce the shaping of the garden with the layout of the beds and hedging
• To have lush planting, ensure your preparation of beds is thorough by clearing weeds and getting the soil in a fit state
• Mulch every spring to keep the weeds down and retain moisture in the soil
• Allow self-seeding but remove if plants pop up in the wrong place