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Visit Monksfield garden in Tilford

PUBLISHED: 13:34 10 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:34 10 August 2015

The old walls protect the fruit trees

The old walls protect the fruit trees

Leigh Clapp

Open to visitors for one day this month, the gardens of Monksfield in Tilford include a range of different features within a parkland setting – and have the added attraction of a show garden that came straight from the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2015

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Need to know

Monksfield, Tilford GU10 2AL

Visitors also welcome by arrangement from May to August for groups of 15+

See ngs.org.uk

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When Mark and Kerry Reynolds moved to Monksfield in Tilford in 2008, they were coming from a garden of around half an acre to one of 10.5 acres – and, what is more, one that was badly in need of some TLC.

“If it wasn’t for our naïve enthusiasm, we would never have started the project,” laughs Mark, recalling that neither of them had much gardening experience at the time. Initially attracted to the property due to its wealth of mature specimen trees, planted in the 1880s and 1930s, they were faced with an estate that was just a shadow of its former glory. “The site had become rather neglected over time,” continues Mark. “And by the time we bought it, the house, cottage and outbuildings were virtually derelict.”

Initially, the aim was to replace the property with a new Queen Ann style house; however, while the plans were at the council gaining permission, they changed their minds and decided instead to restore the house, a classic Surrey Hills example from between the wars. Then, in 2011, their attention turned to the garden.

Taming the landscape
With a plot that was an irregular shape, sloping in a north-east to south-west direction and with sandy soil needing plenty of organic matter, not to mention an area of walled garden, it was not without its challenges. Taming the landscape was the first priority, including removing self-seeded trees and brambles from acres of rhododendrons, followed by adding 1,100 metres of fencing to keep the rabbits and deer out while also providing a wooden boundary. Then, over time, a series of projects has seen a range of areas developed to reshape the land and add interest.

“The garden has evolved organically, as time, money and enthusiasm allowed,” says Mark. “Lots of scribbling on tracing paper over a site plan, combined with string, posts and marker paint, to see what different ideas would look like, in position, before starting work.

“The garden style developed as we travelled around the world and took photos of what we liked. We also visited dozens of NGS gardens looking for inspiration. To copy from one is plagiarism, to copy from many is research. Anything Lutyens inspired the building work.”

At the base of the garden, a half-acre pond was dug out and a stepped earth bank built, as were terraced walls with deep flowerbeds, to deal with the slope in an effective way. The overall style is of different areas within a parkland setting, including a formal section with herbaceous beds, an orchard of apple and other fruit trees within the protection of the old walls, cottage planting by the guest cottage, a woodland walk and a vegetable plot. Interesting contemporary sculptures add focal points, such as an oxidising curvaceous cut-out tree and a simple circle placed at the end of an avenue of Amelanchier ‘Robin Hill’ trees, both made by local craftsmen to Mark’s requirements. A sinuous stream, surrounded by a ribbon of daisies and grasses, seems to form the spine of the garden. Perhaps the biggest talking point, however, is their very own gardening ‘claim to fame’.

RHS show garden

“As part of the landscaping, we built a large paved seating area, but as the 
ground dropped away, it felt more like a stage than somewhere cosy to sit,” continues Mark. “So it was a happy coincidence that at the 2011 RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had built a show garden that needed a home afterwards and we wanted a unique way of wrapping a garden around the seating area. So at the end of the show, we bought, transported and installed the WWF Stream Garden, along with its 3ft-wide plughole. We stretched the garden out to fit our site, but it’s been a real success.”

The overall success of their garden as a whole, and the maintenance of it, is undoubtedly down to good teamwork. “Gardeners Matt and Steph work tirelessly three days a week,” says Mark. “Kerry and her mum work all day Mondays, and Kerry and I do Fridays. So about 10 man/person days a week. But it’s becoming less as we are running out of new projects.” Knowledge has been gained and enthusiasm remains from the process of creating the garden. 
“I would recommend that one works with nature, as fighting nature is just hard work,” adds Mark, “and to visit gardens local to you to see what grows well in your area.”

Paying a visit

Every year, Mark and Kerry enjoy opening their grounds to visitors through the National Gardens Scheme, meeting new people while raising money for charity, and sharing any new developments. The latest projects are to add more companion planting to protect the crops and expand the vegetable plot, as well as learning how best to use their new greenhouse.

“In 2014, we raised over £14,000 through various garden events with 100% of the money raised going to charity,” says Mark. “With 13 events booked in for this summer, we look to be even busier. We are looking forward to welcoming visitors once again and to sharing our garden with them.”

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Get the look...

• Existing trees have been added to with thousands of trees and shrubs giving a parkland feel

• Different areas draw the eye creating a journey of discovery

• The style is formal by the house with paved and gravel surfaces

• A focal point is the brick-edged circle with its central, oscillating, sycamore seed sculpture by David Watkinson

• Terraced beds of flowers and shrubs create bursts of colour

• A large wildlife pond edged in marginal planting and framed with stepped grass terraces gives an amphitheatre effect

• Grasses, perennials and daisies are planted naturally around a small stream water feature

• Neat rows of fruit trees underplanted with nepeta draw on Italian references

• A path meanders through existing woodland with ferns and coppiced trees

• Timber-edged beds of produce and companion planting can be found in the vegetable garden

• Organic principles are adopted whenever possible and there is a desire to work with nature

• Large-scale sculptural pieces give the garden a contemporary touch

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