Pratsham Grange garden in Holmbury St Mary
PUBLISHED: 14:27 03 September 2013 | UPDATED: 17:44 17 March 2015
Enjoy a visit to this elegant garden in Holmbury St Mary, created with a geometrical undertone and currently brimming with late season interest
Holmbury St Mary RH5 6LZ.
Groups are also welcome by appointment from June to August. Admission £4, children free. See ngs.org.uk
When Alan and Felicity Comber moved to Pratsham Grange in the delightful village of Holmbury St Mary in 2000, the late Victorian house and grounds were in a sorry state. So while Felicity took charge of the house, Alan set his sights on the outdoors. “The garden was my problem,” he says. “We had no cultivated areas, the grounds were hip-high with nettles and thistles, while on the north side we had disused cowsheds.”
Initially, the priority was just to remove the outbuildings and run the mower over the grass. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 when Alan, a former accountant, decided to reduce his working time that the transformation of the four-acre garden began – firstly with the south garden, then over subsequent years, the north and east aspects. Finally, more features were added and the areas linked with paths and steps.
Today, each section has its own flavour yet feels very much part of a whole design with a continued foil of evergreens, from hedges to shrubs, creating a unified flow.
“When the children came along, we decided we needed a garden for them to run around in and that got me in the habit of mowing and maintenance, which I found I quite enjoyed,” says Alan. “But it wasn’t until I was contemplating retirement that I realised I wanted the opportunity to design, plan and create a large garden.”
Sum of the parts
The garden has a definite mathematical order to it, reflecting Alan’s accountancy background. The south is set out in geometric shapes with a long central gravel path dividing rectangular herbaceous borders, while sentinels of neatly clipped yews delineate the avenue. “I have added triangular, square, pentagonal, hexagonal, heptagonal and octagonal beds recently,” says Alan. Softening the design is a plethora of plants; in August, it is crocosmia, phlox, kniphofias and asters that draw the eye.
In the north section, you wander past a spiralling buxus knot garden interspersed with herbs, the last flush of scented roses filling the air, to a fruit tree area and then on to the productive kitchen garden and exuberant cut-flower beds. Alan’s interest in gardening started when he helped out as a child on his father’s allotment and here, in the working section of the garden, you get an echo of that past, with the orderly compost bins, billowing jostle of staked flowers and the abundant crops. “It’s always fun to choose flower combinations from the picking garden and no visitor leaves us from June to October without a bunch of flowers,” he adds.
In contrast to the more formal areas of the garden, to the east there is a stream waterfall flowing to a series of naturalistic ponds, the largest complete with a small rowing boat. Mature woodland backs the tranquil scene and colour splashes are provided by beds dedicated to a collection of fuchsias and massed hydrangeas in blue, mauve and white tones.
It’s clear that Alan has fulfilled his aim for a garden full of interest with new projects materialising all the time for further planting or new beds. “I was hoping for colour all year round and I was not entirely unsuccessful, as it turns out,” he says. “However, mid-August does produce the best colour of the year – the roses produce their second blooming, the fuchsias are spectacular, the hydrangea in vivid hues, the flower picking garden is plentiful, the herbaceous borders are full of flowering plants and there may even be an autumn raspberry or two to taste.”
Opening the gates
The National Gardens Scheme visitors clearly agree, with the couple welcoming their 1,000th visitor in just their second year of opening in 2012.
“What the NGS officials don’t realise is that the visitors come mainly to consume tea and home-made cake in tranquil surroundings rather than appreciate the subtle colour combinations of Eupatorium purpureum and Persicaria amplexicaullis,” laughs Alan.
“But the visitors are the kindest, gentlest people you could imagine; unfailingly polite and complimentary about the cake and the garden, so it’s no surprise we come through unscathed.
“The only real dilemma is how many visitors there will be over the course of the weekend and therefore how many cakes to be baked!”
Get the look:
To improve the heavy clay soil found in this area, consider using top soil
Protect new areas to be cultivated from deer and rabbits by erecting temporary fencing
Adopt a linear geometric theme all through the garden with shaped flowerbeds
Choose an eclectic colour palette
Line paths and lawns with massed hydrangeas
Add clipped topiary to contrast with the softness of herbaceous plants
Use late-season perennials, such as crocosmia, kniphofia, eupatorium, to continue interest throughout the year