Reflections from Skye

I write from my office on Skye where, not unusually, a keen wind with attendant light rain falls on the verdant landscape. I long to immerse myself in my own garden here but since my return from Childerley Hall I have had to be satisfied with some Bracken bashing in my meadow, however I note with some excitement my orchids are emerging….

I return to Skye having completed a very busy and incredibly productive period in the garden at Childerley with Simon & Ben. This culminated in a series of events including a number of weddings, the Siesta Fiesta on the 17th May and our garden open day on the 7th June. We achieved all we could to bring the garden to a level of presentation to which we could be proud.

We have continued to balance the presentation needs, alongside careful and measured development works and continued repair to flood damage from last August and some damaging late spring winds.

The image shoes the herbaceous border which we meticulously worked through in very early spring, including re-wiring the wall and pruning and tying in the climbers. This year we are delighted with the outcome, with very full planting and much promise. We have done some re planting within the border – including the addition of groups of Lilies, Dahlias, Salvia uliginosa, Phlox, Penstemon, Nicotiana sylvestris and Thalictrum.

The roses, for which Childerley is well known, were perhaps somewhat later this year due to cold nights and at times unsettled weather. However the Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ of which there is a magnificent specimen on the south wall was covered in bloom and much enjoyed by visitors to the Siesta Fiesta.


Pruning Climbing Roses

Roses play a significant role in the garden at Childerley with around 500 species and cultivars. This central element of the planting is also a central part of our ongoing restoration work, the majority of this work being undertaken in the dormant season.

The rose illustrated here is Rosa brunonii ‘La Mortola’ which is growing on a lovely warm red brick south facing wall. It is a rampant rose with lovely greyish foliage and large white flowers in clusters, fragrant. It is quite beautiful when in flower.

As with many roses care is paramount to performance and for us ‘La Mortola’ was requiring some restoration. An early judgement is made to understand what we are trying to achieve and then we work through the process. In this case it involved totally removing the rose off of the wall and holding it back whilst we put new fixings, wires and strainers to support the growth and enable us to tie in selected stems. I then select material to be eventually tied back in and prune away accordingly whilst the rose is more easily handled at ground level. I make ongoing judgements retaining more than enough material therefore leaving me with options once the rose is pushed back to the wall.

The task of then taking the pruned rose back to the wall is undertaken and the tying in and fine tuning of pruning takes place. The finished result being shown here. Into the coming growing season care is taken to either tie in or prune away resulting growth trying to retain the desired outcome.





Childerley Hall

Childerley HallChilderley Hall (1520) lies a few miles west of Cambridge on fertile heavy clay. It is a farming estate, primarily arable, that contains the Hall and a wonderful romantic five acre garden.

The Jenkins came to Childerley in 1957 and since then have created a real plantsmans garden which includes a wonderful collection of roses.

Elements of the current garden include a walled kitchen garden which is productive. Formal terraces run East to West along the south elevation leading to the private Chapel (1580).  A formal croquet lawn sits below the terrace with a White Garden on the west side and shrubberies on the East. Beyond this is the ‘Rose Jungle’ which also contains a Victorian rock garden.

Surrounding all of this on three sides is a moat, the banks of which are densely planted with trees and shrubs. Contained within this is a small orchard and meadow. A lake and spinney lie to the west of the main garden area.

I first came to work at Childerley in December 2013 although I knew of the garden from my childhood days. My role here is to help Mrs Jenkins renovate, maintain and develop the garden and manage two full time gardeners, Simon and Ben. We are working through a restoration programme and I hope here to bring news of this to the reader.

Plant association

On a recent delve into my client archive I came across this image of a ‘Welcome Garden’ created for a Garden Centre, it many respects it epitomises a style of planting which I use and enjoy to this day, although this project was undertaken over 10 years ago.

The underlying plant choice hinges on the geology and climate of a given location – in this case the relative dryness of western East Anglia on a free draining sandy soil.  This fact forms the underlying sustainability of plant selection. Then factors such as impact, year round interest and scent for example can follow, along with how the plants are put together.

In this image the association includes Stipa gigantea, Lavandula ‘Munstead’, Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’ and amongst others Alchemilla mollis.  A meandering gravel path gives access to the planting scheme and reinforces the feeling of a ‘dry’ climate plant association. The scheme includes repetition and natural drifts, very much part of a style I adopt which of course can relate to any given location.


‘Magnet’ – the cultivar of Snowdrop that I so enjoy. It is nestled by my front steps which lead from the house into the garden and out into the meadow, soon making it’s way down to the rocky shore of the bay. Of course it’s easy to love Snowdrops – what grace and poise at the very point when you start to long for the tiniest suggestion of spring.

Actually it’s the stories attached to plants which I love. My two now quite robust clumps of G. ‘Magnet’ were given to me by the owner of the village Manor House where I gardened as a teenager in Cambridgeshire, I treasure them for the attached memories to the village of my birth and the joy of working in that garden. I recently walked by the Manor House and the woodland floor was alive with snowdrops and aconites with stately Hellebore’s nodding in around them which I see now are gaining a strong foothold, self seeding themselves around.

It is really warming to view my snowdrops – now on the Isle of Skye, and make that strong connection with the people and places that have so enriched my life connected with plants and my career in horticulture.