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Visit the woodland gardens at Walton Poor House in Ranmore

PUBLISHED: 09:28 06 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:28 06 November 2013

Autumn colour

Autumn colour

Archant

Wind your way through the lovely woodland gardens at Walton Poor House in Ranmore and you’ll discover a spectacular autumnal scene of turning foliage surrounding you...

Along with her late husband Nick, Prue Calvert has been developing their four-acres of informal garden at Walton Poor House in Ranmore for the past 40 years.

Originally comprising of lawns with woodland surroundings, the garden was created by the couple virtually from scratch, adding greatly to the range of plants and opening up the spaces with a layout of meandering grass paths.

“The route of the paths was decided one Sunday morning by a Mountfield mower, which seemed to know where it wanted to go,” recalls Prue.

The garden lies at 600 feet on a sloping site tilted slightly north and has a light top soil over acid heathland with some underlying flinty red clay. This has resulted in a challenging site with low fertility that has needed improving with organic matter and a considered plant palette. However, it’s not all been an uphill struggle.

“Some trees in particular really like the conditions and do well, including beech and sweet chestnuts as the area was, for a time, a chestnut coppice,” says Prue. “Also, where the clay is nearer the surface in damp hollows, it is more fertile.”

Autumn colours
To give shelter from wind and create favourable microclimates, laurel has been used extensively in the garden, while colourful shrubs contrast against the mature trees. Canopies of golden Nyssa sylvatica, burnished Parrotia persica and fiery maples underplanted with the multi-toned leaves of dogwoods draw the eye in autumn, along with deep red rosehips and bright purple callicarpa berries; all set against a foil of conifers.

“This is not a formal garden,” says Prue. “We tried to create a garden that complements the area as it borders woodland in the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

In addition to the interwoven trees and shrubs, there are splashes of colour from perennials, such as crimson sedums, and texture from strappy grasses and feathery ferns. Keen plantswoman Prue has a particular passion for aromatic shrubs, such as philadelphus, lonicera, roses and lavender, and has built up a herb nursery adjacent to the house as well as giving talks on herbs to local groups.

“My grandmother was also a very keen gardener and even had a fuchsia named after her, ‘Mrs Popple’,” adds Prue.

Two existing ponds, originally made for sheep, have also been incorporated into the garden. One has been cleared out and extended and is now home to wildlife, complete with little duck houses, and is edged in architectural gunnera. The other has been transformed into a sunken dell, planted with foliage in varying shades of tranquil greens and adorned with a humorous sculpture of a meerkat, The Lookout, by Bushra Fakhoury.

An ongoing project
As with all gardens, the process is never complete and there are always changes to be made or tasks to be done, such as mulching, pruning 
and thinning out or replacing trees and shrubs.

“The recent dry spells, coupled with the soil, have meant planting an increasing number of drought- resistant shrubs just lately,” continues Prue. “The garden is far from finished – but what garden ever is?”

Sharing the garden with others is important to Prue and she enjoys opening through the National Gardens Scheme each year, offering teas on the terrace and chatting with fellow garden lovers as they stroll the paths.

“The garden has a tranquil rather secretive feel to it,” adds Prue, “and our visitors can amble amongst the different sections absorbing the atmosphere and enjoying the wonderful autumn colour.”

***

Get the look...

Use a palette of interwoven shrubs and trees to give substance to a garden

Careful planning is needed though when it comes to the positioning of shrubs and trees

Don’t just think about late season flowers, but factor in the colours and shapes of foliage too

Choose shrubs with glorious autumn foliage such as cornus, cotinus, disanthus, euonymus, fothergilla and hamamelis 
The best trees for autumn foliage include acer, amelanchier, crataegus, fagus, fraxinus, liquidambar, malus, nyssa, sorbus and tilia

For autumn berries, go for callicarpa, cotoneaster, nandina, pyracantha, sorbus, symphoricarpos, viburnum

Very acid soil is good for acers, rhododendrons and hostas

If there’s the space, think about a pond area too

***

Need to know:

Walton Poor House, Ranmore RH5 6SX.

See ngs.org.uk

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