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A hidden gem in Bures

PUBLISHED: 16:40 09 July 2014

Macmillans' garden, Bures

Macmillans' garden, Bures

Clare Dawson

Lucy Redman finds a peaceful retreat in the garden of James and Caroline Macmillan. Pictures by Clare Dawson

Macmillans' garden, BuresMacmillans' garden, Bures

James and Caroline Macmillan are a tour de force having lived on a 62ft German warboat, which they had restored on the Blackwater then moved from Maldon to Bures 15 years ago. The previous owners wouldn’t recognise their house.

They have completely transformed this formerly semi-detached, rather stark, crittal windowed house into an elegant home which blends happily with its green surroundings. The small rectangular ugly metal windows have been enlarged with floor to ceiling French-windows, four sourced from France and the others made by James. These, together with their long shutters, give it an elegant Mediterranean feel.

James, who is very practical, has a forge, which he uses to create some of his pieces for the garden. He has made an amazing verandah using what look like Victorian lamposts, where climbers can scramble and give much needed shade to this west facing side of the house. The grape vine, wisteria, roses and clematis provide fruit, scent and colour, but are deciduous so don’t darken the house in the winter.

James does all the heavy work and Caroline is the green fingered gardener. And I see from the minute I step out of the car that she knows her plants, as the Mediterranean Marrubium, Coronilla and Doryncium hirsutum are thriving in her light soil. Purple leaved plantain (Plantago major Rubrifolia) and Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) left to self-seed freely.

Macmillans' garden, BuresMacmillans' garden, Bures

The Verandah looks onto the water lily filled formal pond, which is teaming with fish, but is softened by gentle planting of Almeria and Alchemilla mollis.

As we wander around the garden, Skipio Africanus – the miniature wire haired Dachshund named after the Roman General – is snuffling through the undergrowth. Camassia and cow parsley run underneath some very choice silver birch called Betula Finchams Cream with wonderful creamy white peeling bark. Caroline has also planted some amelanchier in this area to provide not only blossom but firey orange tints through the autumn.

The curvaceous borders are full of some of Caroline’s favorite roses, one being Madame Alfred Carriere with its sweet tea fragrance and large cupped shaped white, tinged pink flowers. A more unusual variety which reliably repeat flowers is Rosa spinosissima Stanwell Pepetual, which has pale pink scented flowers and grows to a height of 5ft and although Caroline explains it is a little untidy she says it flowers very well.

Nearby is a healthy leaved Crambe cordifolia, which will send up its 5ft stems, which I always describe as gypsophilia on a stick! Dainty white flowers which delight, sadly, for only a short time. A plant you don’t see much is Phlomis tuberosa Amazone, which has pale pink flowers in whorls on the stems and is fine in part shade. Often it’s more thuggish relative Phlomis russelliana, with pale yellow flowers and heart shaped leaves is grown, but this plant is less invasive and more subtle. Although I must say I do grow and love P. russelliana especially as it holds onto its chocolate seedheads all winter.

Macmillans' garden, BuresMacmillans' garden, Bures

A superb plant, which Caroline bought from The Place for Plants, is Clematis koreana Broughton Bride, a new variety, whose star shaped flowers consist of long white petals which gently nod in the breeze but look fantastic grown on the obelisk made by James. Opposite the conservatory is an enticing gate covered by an arch dripping with purple scented wisteria flowers. This not only frames the view of an adjioning and inviting wilderness, but provides a soft division between two very different areas.

A huge quince tree provides lots of fruit, which Caroline turns into delicious quince jelly. James, who makes no claim to green fingers, was however ‘allowed’ to create the symmetry of the veg garden, which again is decorative as well as functional. Nepeta (Catmint) lines the paths and asparagus and artichokes provide Caroline with food to capture the Mediterranean spirit of this garden.

This is also echoed by two huge potted olives, which have rooted into the ground from their pots and are doing well. Beyond them is the sweeping view through the valley, which has recently been enhanced as a friendly neighbour allowed some trees to be trimmed opening up the view.

The garden is not only a plantswoman’s haven, but a wildlife magnet with lots of woodpeckers picking grubs out of the lawn, swooping house martins and goldfinch, which feed on the teasel heads, not to mention all the butterflies, moths and bees.

Macmillans' garden, BuresMacmillans' garden, Bures

This is a special house and garden, which feels very much loved with care taken over every detail, whether pretty rusty metal roundels or a gate closing device James has designed and handmade.

His craftsmanship is enhanced and softened by Caroline’s beautiful planting, They were a joy to spend time with and together have created a beautiful home and peaceful retreat.

You can contact Lucy for information on her own garden, courses and design consultation. The Lucy Redman Garden and B&B, Rushbrooke, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP30 OER

07503 633 671 or www.lucyredman.co.uk

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