Take a virtual tour of this beautiful summer garden in Chelsworth
PUBLISHED: 16:14 24 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:50 24 June 2020
Sarah Lucy Brown
Sarah Buckeridge can’t open her gorgeous Chelsworth garden to visitors this year, but you can take a look here – and find out how to take a virtual tour
Picking the yellow blooms off the evening primrose so it doesn’t throw seed everywhere is just one of the little details that Sarah Buckeridge finds so absorbing in her garden. Once she saw a Hummingbird hawkmoth alight on it.
“A once in a blue moon occurrence,” she says.
As we stroll through heavily fragrant roses, daphnes and old fashioned pinks, to the sound of gently splashing water in the pond, we decide that those of us with gardens in this lockdown summer are the lucky ones.
Sarah’s garden features annually in Chelsworth’s famous Open Gardens weekend, now in its 53rd year, but the pandemic has reduced it to a virtual event. She shows me a tray of tiny plants that would normally be destined for the plant stall.
“When you’re weeding, don’t be vain, wear your glasses,” she laughs. “I’ve been weeding out baby peonies for I don’t know how many years!”
In fact, Sarah is continuing a tradition started by her late father, Richard Britten, who came to live in the village in the mid-1960s. He was one of the first to open his garden and it was his cousin, Diana Grimwade, who came up with the idea of opening the village gardens in 1967 when the practice was virtually unheard of. He later moved to the Summer House near the Peacock Inn where Sarah and husband David have lived for more than 20 years.
“This lay-out is all his,” says Sarah, with a wave at the wide grassy path winding through an abundance of planting to a tranquil seating area and a mellow brick wall beyond. Sarah is modest about her own gardening skills.
“I put this in the wrong place two years ago,” she says of a bright yellow acer. Why? “Because now that it’s larger it will shade this rose.” She is speaking of the ‘Perle D’or’ with its perfect little tea rose buds, otherwise known as ‘the Buttonhole Rose’. “I’m one of those people that if it’s in the wrong place, I’ll dig it up and move it.”
The front of the house is especially beautiful, as so many houses in Chelsworth are. The blue clematis ‘Perle d’azur’ is at its best and the apricot rose ‘Schoolgirl’ climbs the warm terracotta plaster with vivid orange alstromeria around a sturdy trough of sedums at the foot of it. As we speak, the Star Jasmine Trachleospermum jasminoides throws its intoxicating scent towards us.
Through the house into the back garden, the variegated layers of the wedding cake tree Cornus controversa is a real eye-catcher. “But look behind you. Lettuce, lettuce, lettuce! This is the veg man,” Sarah says warmly. And sure enough David is busy planting yet more lettuces in hanging baskets.
An enormous yellow fremontodendron draws you towards the ancient brick wall beyond. This is meant to be a wall climber but here it has taken off beyond the wall to form a large tree. “We’ve already taken eight foot off it,” laughs Sarah.
As we wander through the exuberant planting, we both agree there is nothing quite like the triumph of roses in full bloom. They grow well in this rich, loamy soil near the river, greatly improved by Sarah’s father and the vegetable growers before him. With all-season planting covering every inch, there’s now little chance of adding bulky organic matter.
“For example, I’ve got cyclamen just here”, she explains, “and you can’t actually cover them because these little corms need the sun. So I’m a great slinger of seaweed pellets or chicken pellets or whatever is on offer at the time.”
She doesn’t know the names of all the roses but says her father had some old French roses. “This is a deep pink, repeat flowering and a wonderful scent,” she says. “Prone to black spot, north facing, but it just keeps going. And that other pink one is the Macmillan rose.”
The severe late frosts took their toll on some of the plants. “Some of the roses got badly frosted and when we were down to -3 degrees but some have grown on and some have gone mad shooting from the bottom.” A well-chosen lavender-blue clematis ‘Mrs Cholmondeley’, happy in shade, climbs through the tranquil sitting area with the warm apricot rambling rose ‘Ghislaine de Féligonde’ nearby.
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The garden is full of inventive combinations. Roses and peonies are interspersed with shrubs such as the intensely fragrant sweet box Sarcococca confusa and long-flowering Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ while, marching through, is a gallant little army of pure white alliums. The garden wall has mellowed beautifully and is a deserving backdrop to yet more roses in every hue of pink and apricot including another David Austin introduction, the musky-scented climbing rose ‘Wollerton Hall’.
Earlier in the season, a tribe of ice blue bearded irises are a highlight and almost glow in the evening, says Sarah. Foxgloves and hollyhocks are left to appear randomly, and self-seeders like the pale blue nigella are welcomed until they begin to take over. “I thinned them out this year as I lost track of what was in the flower bed last year,” she says.
As we stand surrounded by the fruity colours of cottage favourites, pink cistus, blue delphiniums and the perennial wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, the scent of old-fashioned pinks drifts up. Scent is a definite theme here and Sarah directs me to the magnolia ‘Jane’ with large, red-purple, cupped flowers as we reach the rose-covered side of the house.
“Pop your nose in that,” she invites. “Lemon sherbert dip?” This was one of the first plants her father introduced to the garden around 1982.
Turning back, the splash of the fish in the classic square pond draws us on. Sarah is keen for me to meet the ghost koi carp but nothing would entice him to appear. “Awkward fish. He came over to us in a bucket when he was about that big,” she says fondly, opening her palm.
Above us is a handsome dovecote and Sarah explains she has always kept doves in Chelsworth. They have even extended the dovecote to accommodate them
As I leave, Sarah shows me a peculiar nut within a fringed husk. It’s from the Turkish hazel Corylus colurna with a striking bark soaring up by the back door. The Summer House garden is full of delightful surprises and it’s sad the Buckeridges can’t welcome visitors this year in aid of the parish church. Do check out the website for a virtual tour.
Click here to take a virtual tour of Chelsworth’s beautiful gardens