If you live in a traditional house, can you have a modern country garden?
And what defines modern country garden style?
Here are two gardens that sit side-by-side in the same beautiful Kent landscape. Pheasant Farm is the garden of a traditional farmhouse. Next door is its former ancient barn, now converted to a contemporary home, Pheasant Barn.
Both garden owners have a contemporary style. And both used the history of their houses and the landscape around the garden as the starting approach for their garden design.
And yet, with all this in common, they are two very different gardens – two very different faces of today’s modern country garden style!
Both gardens have some wonderful lessons and inspiration for ‘ordinary gardeners’.
Pheasant Farm – it has been a farmhouse for centuries. It was originally a 15th century hall house, onto which a 17th century farmhouse was attached.
Pheasant Barn’s garden is literally carved out of an old farmyard, while Pheasant Farm has been surrounded by garden for hundreds of years. They both overlook the fields, marshes and creek at Oare (near Faversham), Kent.
Both garden on a mixture of heavy clay and flint – and yet, although they face many similar challenges (heavy, wet soil and wind), and have the same aspect and climate, the garden owners have responded to those challenges in very different ways.
Pheasant Barn was the old tithe barn attached to the farm, and its current garden has been a farmyard for centuries. Now they are two separate properties, each with a very different design approach and feel.
1) Unify your garden with colour.
Violets, tulips and an obelisk painted purple create the colour scheme at Pheasant Farm in spring – later in the year Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, lavender, nepeta and roses pick up the theme of white, purple and blue.
Both gardens have a strong colour theme, and this works extremely well. Lucie and Jonathan Neame live at Pheasant Farm, the traditional farmhouse. They have a theme of purple, white and grey in the garden. It’s large for a middle-sized garden – probably about half an acre, so many people would have divided it into ‘garden rooms’ with different colour themes in various borders.
‘However, the garden is divided up by the house sitting in the middle anyway,’ says Lucie. They removed alot of overgrown hedging to open up the garden to the views of Oare Creek and the delightful Oare Church.
‘Opening up the garden to the views meant it seemed a good idea to take the colour scheme all round.’
Having a colour theme doesn’t mean that everything is purple, blue or white – Lucie experiments with splashes of apricot (to echo the walls of the house), red or other colours, which are used as highlights to the theme.
An imaginative use of colour really draws the house and garden together – the front door and windows match and the garden gate in harmonises beautifully with them and with the ‘dolly tubs’ (old washing tubs) at the front. Really pretty. The tulips are from Sarah Raven’s Tapestry collection, including the apricot Belle Epoque. Other lovely touches include the wide front path, giving a sense of arrival.
The colour theme is blue, purple and white – this wisteria works perfectly with it.
At Pheasant Barn, next door, Su and Paul Vaight also decided to have a fairly strict colour theme: this time of blue and grey. This, once again, reflects the colour of the barn itself, their blue-painted windows and the fact that the garden is in a limited space.
‘This space has been a farmyard for centuries,’ explains Su. ‘We didn’t feel it would be right to turn it into a conventional garden. It’s all about pollinating insects for us, and it’s planted to give the longest possible season of flower.’
Many people think wildlife-friendly gardens must be scruffy and overgrown – Pheasant Barn shows that today’s modern country garden can look stylish and look after the wildlife at the same time.
Consider the materials you use – corten steel is a contemporary sculpture material but rusted metal is a familiar farmyard sight!
2) You don’t have to have a lawn….
Su and Paul originally had lawn in front of the barn, but it never took well, so they replaced it with gravel, a circular pattern of santonlina and a curving lawn path, sharply edged with EverEdge.
A traditional lawn mown in circles at Pheasant Farm, and more circles with gravel and santolina at Pheasant Barn
But if you do want a lawn, you don’t have to have stripes…
WhenLucie and Jonathan had their garden at Pheasant Farm revamped, their daughter was only seven, so space for children to play was important. However they’ve given the lawn a smart contemporary twist by mowing in circles rather than stripes (and there’s an area underneath a tree with the same effect but in a cube).
3) Respect the context and traditions in a modern country garden…
but that doesn’t have to mean copying the past:
The straight rows of planting at Pheasant Barn run diagonally across the garden as an echo of the yard’s agricultural past. ‘Having been a farmyard for centuries, the soil was so impacted that a digger had to be used to create deep channels for planting, which were filled with soil. ‘If we ever want to plant something anywhere out of the channels, we have to use a pickaxe,’ says Su. The wooden walkway is a nod to the moorings of Oare Creek, visible from the other side of the barn.
The wooden ‘walkway’ path at Pheasant Barn closer up – made of a similar timber as that used for the nearby Oare Creek moorings.
The simple but attractive metal gate at the entrance suits Pheasant Farm’s history as a farm house. Lucie and Jonathan had it made, inspired by an old gate of a neighbour’s – so it feels right for the property. ‘We didn’t want to do anything too grand – it wouldn’t be right for the house,’ says Lucie. The gate is painted Farrow & Ball’s Blue Green.
4) Even a ‘difficult’ spot or an awkward space offers an opportunity
Most of the land on the other side of Pheasant Barn drops away into fields and marshes – too steeply for any real gardening. But there is a small ledge before the land drops away. This stylish easy-care parterre fills the gap nicely.
A clever way of dealing with that hard-to-plant (and hard to mow!) area beneath a well-established Kentish cobnut tree at Pheasant Farm. A gravel area hosts violets and thyme. ‘Until last year, the thyme was dominant, but now the violets are well established’ says Lucie. Sarah Morgan Garden Design did the plan for the garden, the heavy landscaping was done by Mill House Landscaping and most of the plants have come from Palmstead Nursery.
5) Think about what you see and what you hide…
When the Vaights first moved into Pheasant Barn, the garden could be seen from the road. They have since planted trees and hedging as a shield. To give them privacy while these grew, their architect had sheets of metal cut and placed in several strategic spots. They look like modern sculpture and have rusted beautifully – ‘and you have to have some rusted metal in a farmyard, don’t you?’says Su.
When Lucie and Jonathan moved into Pheasant Farm, their view of Oare Creek was obscured by a wall. They had the wall removed, and extended the lawn a few feet beyond it. Now the garden seems to go on forever, (athough it actually stops where the two walnut trees seem to form an arch) and they have lovely views of the marshes and the Creek.
6) You can be practical and stylish in a modern country garden..
The best laid plans of all gardeners can go awry. Both the Neames and the Vaights have found that some things didn’t work. They had to seek solutions that were practical but also looked good.
This pathway at Pheasant Farm is what Lucie describes as ‘ a bit of a wind tunnel’. Her lovely stoneware pots were always being blown over, so she began collecting ‘dolly bins’ instead. These are old laundry tubs made of galvanised metal – hard-wearing, rustproof and delightful to look at.
The pebbled area in front of the barn doors was originally a smart pond. But it was difficult to keep it looking clean, so the Vaights filled the water with pebbles. The water is still there, and the birds love the new ‘pond’ much more than the old single-depth one – they can all find the ideal level of bathe in. The Vaights enjoy watching them every evening.
Both gardens have beautiful structure and colour themes.
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