What makes a garden magical….?

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: June 23rd, 2014 In: Garden style & living

‘The best gardens look as if the owner had died three weeks previously’, according to one garden expert. A tangle of weeds and brambles doesn’t flatter any garden, but a sense of shaggy – and shabby – abundance concealing secrets is irresistible. It’s not about being perfect – a meticulously cared-for garden may be beautiful, but not necessarily magical. And it’s not about size – many walled gardens have a sense of magic, and they are usually an acre or less (thoroughly middle-sized in gardening terms!).

Glass-houses at Little Bredy

The ruined glass-houses at Littlebredy Walled Garden.

The magic of Littlebredy Walled Garden in Dorset starts with the fact that it is not very easy to find. Once you’ve done lots of three point turns up hill and down dale, you eventually find its weathered walls at the bottom of a twisty lane. Even its own website refers to it as a ‘poorly signposted road.’ Well, all the best adventures require a bit of perseverance.

Littlebredy gate

The door to the one-acre Littlebredy Walled Garden – anyone who has read The Secret Garden can’t resist a door in a wall…

The appeal of a garden door….

Garden doors suggest that something special and enticing lies behind. Litttlebredy Walled Garden dates back to the Georgian era , but was at its peak in Victorian times when it grew flowers and veg for the ‘big house’ Bridehead and the estate workers in the village. But, like many vegetable gardens, it fell into disrepair in the 20th century. Now it’s run by a not-for-profit community group, who are restoring it bit by bit, as funds become available. The glorious old glass-houses are still crumbling, but the beds have been re-planted by volunteers with a wonderful mix of flowers and veg.

Twigs tied up to support beans

Twigs tied up to support beans, in a mixed flower and veg bed.

It’s about people not money

Even if you love ‘the owner died three weeks ago’ look, there’s no doubt that a magical garden is the result of the passion of individuals. A garden can be the vision of one person or two people (as in Sissinghurst under Harold and Vita, and then subsequently, with Pamela Schwerdt and Sybille Kreutzberger). But there can also be magic when a group of people work together.  I think there’s something very exciting happening with community gardens at the moment – we have a Memorial Garden here in Faversham. It became overgrown with dark evergreens – massive laurels and holly – not somewhere anyone would want to sit. The council began to consider re-vamping it, but the costs were too high. So a group of volunteers took it over. They pruned and shaped the shrubs, dug out beds, and created something quite special on a budget of almost nothing.

Stone Street Memorial Garden

Not Littlebredy this time – but another community garden in Stone Street, Faversham. It was rescued from a tangle of over-grown shrubs.

Steps and pathways tempt you on

Steps and pathways are more than just a way of getting somewhere. It’s only recently that I’ve understood their importance in the structure of a garden. These ones at Littlebredy must have been trodded by thousands of feet over hundreds of years.

weathered steps at Littlebredy

Weathered steps at Littlebredy Walled Garden lead the eye up to an adventure

And pathways don’t have to be paved – they can be barely-there tracks that whisper secrets:

Mown path at Littlebredy Walled Garden

Mown path at Littlebredy Walled Garden

Unusual plants and flowers can add to the mystery…

Unusual plant at Littlebredy

Unusual plants can be magical – anyone know what this one at Littlebredy Walled Garden is?

Or common flowers can be magical when mixed together…

Roses, salvia and foxgloves at Littlebredy

Roses, salvia and foxgloves at Littlebredy

Quirky sign-posting is one of my favourites…

I love being told what things are. Too many notices could be intrusive, but the occasional explanation is great. Here a bed of ground elder and bindweed has been ‘cleared’ by spraying. It reminded me of my own garden, where spraying is often appreciated by those it is intended to kill. I envisage the bindweed saying ‘Oh, good, more glyphosate…yum, yum.’

Sprayed bed

This delightful mound of bindweed and ground elder has been sprayed. Apparently it was ‘much worse before.’

 But your magic may not be my magic…

I thought Littlebredy Walled Gardens was delightful (visit it here). But maybe you know a garden you think is just as magical. What makes a garden magical for you? I’d love to hear about it. I’m starting a Pinterest board called Magical Gardens, so you could leave a photo there, or a comment here on this blog, on Twitter or on Google+. Let me know why you’ve chosen that garden and what it means to you. Thank you!

And please do share this using the buttons below, so we can all find more magical gardens…..

7 Comments

  • Love a wild garden! Slight elements of structure that encompass overgrown flowering beds. Old outhouses like the one at Littlebredy should be left too – they just add more rustic charm!

  • Jean Jackman says:

    I love your blog and your appreciation of shaggy, magical gardens! A garden for me is about a sense of place not just about the plants. I so agree that you generally find a magical garden is one created and maintained by someone with a passion.

  • Did the link not work? The post is called ‘a hidden gem’ The garden is in Appledore, N. Devon. Not normally open, was open for charity one day

  • I love gardens that surprise you, by being bigger than you expected or by having hidden areas, features which take your breath away and make you want to stay there for ever. RHS Harlow Carr and RHS Rosemore are two big gardens which I love. But some of the best are the small gardens which make good use of space like the one we visited a couple of years ago in Devon and which I often still think about. I blogged about it here http://margaretspatch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/hidden-gem.html

    • I couldn’t find the garden on your blog – which post was it? But I liked the sound of your garden does – a bit like mine – things getting out of control. And I see you have twins too, so do I, though boy-girl, not girl-girl. But would love to know which Devon garden it was.

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