Two years ago when we dug the pond, the soil from the excavation was trundled up the hill and used to extend the level beyond the barns, where I’ve been gardening with self-seeders in the rubbly ground. The new soil pushed the landform out towards the plum orchard where, in the back of my mind, I’d always seen an extension to the garden. The subsoil from the base of the pond was capped with the topsoil strip and in the first autumn the banks were seeded with a wildflower mix from our neighbouring valley, to hold the slopes. We over-sowed the topsoil with a green manure crop of winter rye and clover to protect it over winter. Then last spring, after rotovating in the green manure, I sowed an annual pictorial meadow mix to buy myself a summer of additional thinking time.
My mother, who is quite rightly concerned about us overreaching our energies, loved the riot of colour that flooded the new garden last summer. “Could you not simply repeat the annuals rather than give yourselves yet more responsibility?”. Of course, it was a good question, but the germ of an idea had already sprouted. I mowed a curving path into the annual meadow of cosmos, cornflowers and fluttering poppies to play with the idea of a movement across the site and so began the shaping of the place in my mind. We would keep a working track to the barns that would divide the flatter ground from the gentle rise above to make two new environments. The upper area, beneath the grown out hedgerow on the bank above, would provide the opportunity for a shade garden, while the lower area would offer a place to experiment with a plant palette that will cope with our increasingly dry summers.
Over the winter, I started a plant list. One for the dry garden, which will be this year’s project, and one for the shade garden, which will be planted next year. In March we started on part one with the apparently simple act of scoring a line through the space. The mown path from last year became a brick path, a line of conviction that takes us through the space and allow immersion in the planting. We upcycled local bricks from a demolished Victorian factory in Bristol, which matched the brick in our milking barn. To accentuate perspective and lengthen the space the path becomes narrower at its end, where it will eventually lead to a break in a new low wall that will hold the sloping ground of the shade garden above. Steps in the wall up into the shade garden will lead through the area where we now have a topsoil pile, and lead to a gate into the plum orchard. From there we will be able to turn and look over the new spaces and the pull of the valley below us.
A number of contributing factors have been the drive for the planting to either side of the brick path. Until recently our West Country climate and the springs which run through our ground have allowed us to grow the hearty perennials that have thrived here, but the last two summers have called into question how we garden here on our open, free-draining slopes.
The commission to redesign the Delos garden at Sissinghurst also allowed me the opportunity to get to know a Mediterranean palette with more conviction. I spent time with Olivier Filippi at his incredible nursery in Southern France for my research into plants for a dry climate. A palette which will not need any additional water once established and be happy here as long as it has free-draining ground in the winter. The learning of one project naturally fed into the thinking for the other.
The third factor which influenced how we approached the garden was hearing Peter Korn speak at the Beth Chatto conference in 2018. He described his experiments planting into sand, which he used as a deep mulch to improve drainage in the crown of the plant, while encouraging the roots to go deep into the existing soil beneath. A 15cm layer of sharp sand also inhibits seeding, which in my case will help keep down the maintenance.
The sand mulch will help improve winter drainage, because we are quickly learning that the effects of climate change are not as straightforward as simply planting for drought. The possibility that we might not have water or be able to irrigate in summer is a real consideration, but more rain in winter is not ideal for many Mediterranean plants, which tend to have respite from rain in their winter, not the continual wet, which, from recent years, seems to be becoming the pattern here.
Making your own garden where you are prepared to push the boundaries of your own comfort zone is also important to grow as a designer and as a gardener. It is also good to be able to take your time and to grow slowly into a garden and so I have raised a large proportion of the plants from seed or cuttings so that I really understand their life cycles from the beginning.
I have started with a few key moves to provide structure. Four yew domes, which I will grow out into soft mounds to echo the horse chestnut and old Luccombe oaks in the distance, enabling your eye to make connections beyond the garden. The path in turn encourages your eye to travel to the surrounding hedgerows, so that the planted garden doesn’t sit in isolation. The reclaimed stone mortars that I’ve worked into the planting will provide anchor points for smaller combinations. A tree broom over one with a pool of pale mauve Phlomis italica and the lime green form of Bupleurum longifolium. Near another, white Vitex agnus-castus with Salvia sclarea ‘Vatican White’ and silvery verbascum for vertical tapers. The planting will mostly be low with wisps of feathery stipa to catch the evening light that sets behind it.
I have an order for drought-loving plants placed with Beth Chatto’s Nursery that have been proven in her gravel garden. Californian fuchsia, asphodeline and Baptisia alba, which so far I have failed with where our ground lies too wet in winter. There will be special umbellifers and other treasures noted on last year’s trip to the remarkable De Hessenhoff Nursery in Holland and I have plans to re-visit Olivier Filippi’s nursery to try and secure some special phlomis and the olive-leaved convolvulus. My aim is to complete the planting over the course of the summer and early autumn to settle the plants in before the winter.
It is good to be able take the time to make a place and feel your way with a garden and whilst I am planting up the new sand garden, we have wallers working away on a drystone wall, which will hold back the bank behind the shade garden. The new wall will be a line in the landscape that makes this place feel intended and settled and provide a backdrop against which we can foreground winter-flowering shrubs and autumn-fruiting spindle that will offer shade. Meanwhile, my woodland list grows and seedlings of plants that are hard to find begin their journey to next year’s shady sequel.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 26 May 2023
I have been called away for a week of work in the States. One longstanding project on the west coast where we are already in summer and a new landscape on the east coast where I will be stepping back into earlier spring. Work is not a word that suits an exciting few days of making things happen, but even so, it is a small torture to leave in this week that sits so very definitely between spring and summer. A time marked in our landscape by lanes narrowed with cow parsley and creamy clouds of hawthorn stepping through the woods and marching down the hedgerows.
In Japan the year is divided into 72 seasons each lasting about five days and the principle applies here too, if you make the time to look and take in the many shifts and changes. Five days for the buds to suddenly be in evidence on the Malus hupehensis, five days for the buds to break and the tree to cover itself in five more days of the purest white blossom. In that time the blue Iris hollandica planted alongside them have been joined by a sea of yellow catsear. Standing under the trees this morning I drank in the spectacle and noted the first petals falling. It will be five more days, the time I am away, for the blossom to drop and dim into the burgeoning green of summer.
Before leaving I walked the garden to take in the energy that is now. This handover of seasons. The first of our Benton iris opening in sequence and with such anticipation. First ‘Opal’, then ‘Strathmore’, ‘Susan’, ’Olive’ and this morning ‘Lorna’. Buds for tomorrow and the days yet to come that I will not witness breaking, but will return to see at their peak. An energy so very different from today’s, which is of arrival and togetherness.
Moving on, I spent time with the tree peonies and their zesty perfume which catches along the path. It will be gone by the time I return, the bronze in the new foliage flattening to green. The Paeonia x emodii ‘Late Windflower’ are at their height right now, the first flowers just starting to fade, but the first shiny flowers on the Paeonia peregrina and buds to come should hold enough for me to witness the full blaze when I return.
A red not unlike the first flash of Tulipa sprengeri. The intensity of looking making me wonder should the two be paired. I have seedlings of both waiting up by the frames. A handful of young peonies to make a colony around the mother plant and the 2019 sowing of the tulip, which are now ready to go out into the garden. I sow a batch every year for exactly these revelations and five years from seed should see the first in flower. Next year should see the two combined if I’m lucky.
Looking hard, to take things in for time spent away is a concentrated exercise. The fringe catching the light on the Silene fimbriata and noting that, yes, one day, when the Clerodendrum is bigger, they will be good with the darkness of its unfurling foliage. Beneath the mulberry, epimediums under the racing away Polygonatum verticillatum, which this week are at their most shun, the Japanese term for something at its peak and full of life force. They will pass full reach by the time I return, the tips arching as they put energy into flower.
The Camassia leichtlinii ‘Amethyst Strain’, which I grew here when the main garden was trial and stock beds, have returned to confirm my suspicions that they would seed in the open ground of the garden and become a menace. I love this strain of in-between colours – grey pinks, slate blues, smoky mauves, ivory whites and creams. I have a row of seed-raised plants against the barn, which I’m growing specifically in order to harvest the seed and throw it onto the bulb banks. I’m hoping the yellow rattle should diminish the strength of the grass to allow them to live in balance.
In a week I will return to the gaps in the beds having grown in and the weeds we haven’t found left behind to falter or get a grip under cover. The most ephemeral plants like Lathyrus aureus are over almost as soon as they have started and the glimpse I had this morning will have been my last until next year. It has been a rush to stake and get the last planting in before I go. Gapping up where the winter has done for the salvias. I leave Huw and John with a job list to keep things moving where they need to be and to try to hold things back in the polytunnel where the cobaea, ipomaea and tomatoes are already straining to go in the ground. Next week, the tipping point will have been reached for sure. The start of summer and the first week here in which we can turn our backs on the fear of frost and look to the garden rushing with the lengthening days towards dog roses and tall meadows and the cow parsley at its fullest and most voluminous reach.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 20 May 2023
The beds in the vegetable garden are bare. Although the garlic and onions are making their presence felt, after the long, cold spring our winter sown broad beans have only just started flowering and the first spring crops of beetroots, carrots and peas have a long way to go before we get to taste them. We still have a good supply of winter lettuce, sown last September and planted out on our return from holiday in October, and a somewhat meagre asparagus harvest has provided for a couple of meals so far, but otherwise – and as usual in the hungry gap – home grown produce is pretty thin on the ground.
Until, that is, you enter the polytunnel, where a green tidal wave of kale threatens to engulf all around it. These too were sown in September in plugs and planted out in early October once the tomatoes and peppers were cleared. The variety – ‘Hungry Gap’ – is extremely well named, as they bided their time over the winter, slowly gathering energy to provide for us right now, when most needed. Due to the failure of some other brassicas intended for the polytunnel I ended up planting out twelve plants of this kale, and they have been producing an almost endless supply of leaves since early March.
I blanched and froze around two kilos in early April, which I will use over the next month, while right now, as they are starting to flower and lose their energy, we are eating kale at every opportunity; kale soup, kale salads, kale and cheese pies, kale stuffed pancakes, steamed kale flower sprouts with tahini dressing, the list goes on. ‘Hungry Gap’ is a soft and sweet variety of kale, not like the tougher curly varieties you see more commonly. Polytunnel growth also means that the leaves are particularly tender, so it is best treated gently, lightly boiled or steamed. It is extremely good raw in a chopped salad with some combination of nuts, seeds, olives, hard cheese, anchovies and capers.
Growing alongside the kale, and also now starting to come up to flower, are the soft green herbs that do so well under cover in winter. Although the coriander is over, there are still armfuls of dill and parsley to be eaten, while in the garden the herb fennel is pushing out its frothy foliage and in the woods the last tender leaves of wild garlic are still to be found.
This seasonal crossover time in the garden also makes us more reliant on the contents of the pantry and, in particular, the beans that we harvested and dried at the end of last summer. Over the years we have found that we can not keep up with the amount of fresh climbing beans that we produce and although many of them end up in the freezer I have gradually been replacing some with varieties selected specifically for drying. Last year these were limited to dwarf borlotti bean ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ and a favourite for eating fresh or dried, ‘Coco Sophie’, a pure white bean that sits somewhere between cannellini and haricot, which is what I used here. This year I am looking forward to adding the beautiful white and tan mottled bean ‘Jacob’s Cattle Gold’ and ‘Greek Gigantes’, the traditional fat, white butterbeans served everywhere in Greece, which I imagine would also work well in this dish.
350g tender young kale (250g if your kale is more robust)
300g cooked white beans, such as cannellini or haricot
1 large red onion
A handful of wild garlic leaves, about 40g
Dill, about 30g picked leaves
Herb fennel, about 20g picked leaves
Nutmeg, to taste
75g plain flour
250ml single cream
125g freshly grated pecorino or parmesan, finely grated
300g fresh breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons olive oil
75g walnuts, coarsely chopped
A handful of fresh parsley, about 25g
Zest of one large lemon
You will need a 30-36cm diameter cast iron skillet, heavy casserole or ceramic gratin dish.
Set the oven to 200°C.
Put the breadcrumbs and walnuts in a bowl, add four tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Use your hands to mix well, ensuring the breadcrumbs are coated with oil.
Remove the midribs from the kale. Retain for another recipe or for stock. Coarsely tear the leaves.
Finely chop the dill, fennel and wild garlic.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Finely chop the onion, add to the pan and sweat with the lid on for ten minutes until soft and translucent. Check them from time to time, stir and do not allow to brown.
Add the flour and continue to cook for a minute or two, stirring all the time. Take off the heat and gradually add the milk, stirring well between each addition. Return the pan to a medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens and is smooth and glossy. Add the cream and 75g of the grated cheese and bring back to a simmer. Take off the heat. Add the herbs and stir well. Season generously with salt, black pepper and a grating of fresh nutmeg.
Add the kale and the beans to the sauce and stir well to coat thoroughly. The kale will start to wilt in the heat of the sauce.
Pour the mixture into your dish. Smooth the surface and cover the surface with the breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
Finely chop the parsley and mix with the lemon zest. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the gratin and put the remainder in a small bowl for the table.
Serve with something fresh, sharp and contrasting. A plate of crisp lettuce hearts with an anchovy dressing or celeriac remoulade would work well. We had ours with a grated beetroot and carrot salad with a dressing of orange juice and kefir.
Recipe and photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 13 May 2023
The Lunaria ‘Chedglow’ are having their moment and offering the garden its first flare of colour. Welcome this early, their licorice foliage has an iridescent sheen, which adds depth to the surge of spring green as the flowering spikes rise to bloom. A darkness that this selection is famed for and why we keep them in a separate area of the garden from the paler Lunaria annua ‘Corfu Blue’, which would sully their richness if they crossed. First vibrancy, a dark, rich violet, less violent than the more usual mauve of green-leaved honesty. It is this depth of colour, both in flower and leaf, that I love here for not eclipsing the soft, primrose yellow of Molly-the-Witch, but highlighting its paleness. Over time, and as the refining process continues, I have added darkest indigo Camassia leichtlinii to the partnership, which puts a quiet sting into the palette.
I sowed my first plants from seed, which comes as easily as mustard and cress, raising a dozen that I worked into the gaps in the newly planted garden. Biennials and annuals are useful in a new planting to add a lived-in feeling and for filling space whilst slower growing perennials find their feet. I hadn’t bargained on the profligacy of the lunaria on our rich hearty soil.
In the winter months the silver penny seedheads of honesty are easily as wonderful as the flowers, catching the light and living up to their lunar imagery and so it is tempting to leave the adults standing. My first plants – which flowered in their second year – were allowed to run their course, because I needed the next generation, but the rain of seed has been exponential. There were enough to replace the parents and move on pleasantly to naturalise amongst my perennials and then suddenly the balance tipped as they do what good pioneers do and found a gap in the system to dominate.
Five years in and I am happy to admit that the ‘Chedglow’ are running amok. We have an uncountable number of seedlings and quite a task in April to thin them down to a manageable number. Always fewer than you think you might need and spaced further apart and only in the gaps where you can see they will not overwhelm a neighbour with spring stealth and dominance. This year we are thinning the seedlings harder and will cut ninety percent of the adults out as soon as they have gone over to leave just enough for their winter skeletons. Even now I know I know I will be tempted to leave too many, but I am prepared to put in the effort next spring for what they give in return.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 6 May 2023
Every year in August I sit down with a number of bulb suppliers’ website pages open and start to formulate a selection of tulips for the coming spring. This has customarily been an enjoyable process, with little more on my mind than assembling a good colour selection alongside consideration of a range of flowering heights and times to ensure a longlasting display. I must admit to never having given the means of production of the bulbs much thought, although in recent years there has been a growing niggling doubt, which I have shamefully chosen not to examine too closely.
In 2021 approximately 14,400 hectares of Dutch farmland was dedicated to the production of tulip bulbs. This is where almost all commercially grown tulip bulbs come from and the majority of them are treated with a range of phosphate fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides. All of these chemicals persist in soil and water and have a seriously damaging effects on soil-living creatures and mycorrhiza. In the case of systemic insecticides(although the use of three key neonicotinoids has been banned in the Netherlands since 2021) these can persist in the bulbs after lifting, so that bees visiting your tulip display will be directly affected and transport poisoned pollen back to the hive. Dutch studies have also shown that people living in the vicinity of commercial bulb growers have higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies with as yet unknown effects on biology and health, although in animals they are known to affect reproductive health and the respiratory system. The more you look into it the reasons to only grow organic bulbs are legion.
As we are still learning with food production, if things come cheap there is always a hidden cost, whether human or environmental. So last August I made a commitment to buy organic bulbs, something I wouldn’t think twice about with groceries, but which I had chosen to bury my head in the sand over in regard to bulbs. I ordered from Organic Bulbs, a company started by Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt of Urquhart & Hunt.
Although the bulbs are twice the price of those from non-organic suppliers, they are certified 100% organic, come in paper packaging not plastic nets and are shipped by a courier company whose fleet runs on biomethane compressed natural gas, a by-product of the decomposition of food and animal waste. To reduce costs I simply placed a smaller order than usual.
Of course, I was interested to see whether there was any noticeable difference between the organic and non-organic bulbs, and have been pleasantly surprised to see that the plants are just as strong and healthy, with vigorous, disease free foliage and large, lustrous flowers. Many of them have also produced smaller flowering offsets, producing diminutive versions of the mother plant, which I have not seen before.
Even with Dutch grown organic bulbs there are still the issues of water use and fossil fuel usage for overseas transport. Since Brexit many Dutch suppliers have stopped shipping to the UK and there do not yet appear to be any British organic bulb growers who are filling the gap. The good news is that there is a growing number of organic growers in the Netherlands and consequently more British suppliers each year stocking their bulbs including The Organic Gardener and Peter Nyssen’s Bee Friendly range.
This year’s display may be a bit smaller, but it’s still sumptuous and has provided a colourful kickstart to spring. However, I am now aware that, as we have learned with single use plastics and disposable fashion, we may soon see that the resources which go into the production of single use bulbs are no longer worth the price, financially or environmentally.
The varieties we grew this year were:
A classic. Tall. Large flowers of a strong candy pink. The inner petals are glossy with a distinct black base. 55-60cm
At first glance very similar to Pink Impression. However, it is a little shorter and the outer petals are flushed apricot when they first open. The inner petals are a bright coral. 50cm.
A handsome, tall double. Flame red petals which grade through orange and gold towards the edges. 50cm.
An everlasting favourite. Boxy, upright blood red flowers with distinct gold shading to the edges. 45cm
A striking crimson fringed tulip, with a strong black and yellow blotch to the base. Very upright. 50cm.
A shorter tulip of a dull, matt scarlet. The petals of the boxy flowers are pointed. The flowers are sweetly scented. 40-45cm
A single, small-flowered late tulip of a rich burgundy with a lilac bloom. 40cm
Burnt orange with slightly paler picotee edges. A good strong tulip for cutting. 50cm
A modern classic lily-flowered tulip of a very similar colouring to Orange Cassini, burnt orange with paler edges. Has the scent of orange sherbet.
Upright and tall this elegant and well-named tulip has flowers the size of a duck egg which remain closed in the first weeks of flowering. 60-65cm
Words & photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 29 April 2023
We are taking a break for the next two weeks and look forward to catching up when we get back.
Flowers and Photograph: Huw Morgan
Published 8 April 2023
This, the last week of March, I have been away for work. The work is exciting, but leaving at this moment of awakening is always hard. To miss what you have been waiting all winter for. First green in the hawthorn hedges, the wild narcissus at their peak, epimediums unfurling and the deepest crimson of peony foliage.
There was one bud open on the Yoshino cherry (main image) when I left, but the tree had been gradually transforming over the weekend. Not fast enough to visibly see the flush of sugary pink intensifying, but enough to feel it gathering in the toing and froing as we walked under its branches in the yard. Winter to spring and a moment I find most wonderful in the early stages of blossom gathering pace. I will not miss the spectacle of the tree in full flower, but in the five days away I will miss the moment. The alchemy of energy moving after the last dark months of slumber.
Before I left we went for a walk in the first extra hour of evening light on Sunday. Won with the clock change and long-awaited, the time between the end of a gardening day and having to go in to prepare supper is the very best time for looking. We walked through the garden, where the mulching is all but finished, making a mental inventory of what has already pushed through the dark eiderdown and what is yet to come. It is still too early to tell if the damage from the hard winter has killed and not simply razed the Euphorbia ceratocarpa to the ground. This is the first winter we have seen such damage from the freeze, but by the time the cherry is over, we should know whether we have to reconsider their replacement.
Walking out through the gate toward the ditch, I made a note to prune the willows that have already flowered, but to stand beneath the branches of the Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’ and soak in their shimmer of tiny catkin whilst they are still with us. The relay from one variety to another has kept us moving between the willows as the pussies silver to break winter and then flower to welcome spring and the drone of early bees. As soon as the catkins are over we will coppice them along the garden boundary, where they have been providing much needed shelter. The fast growth of the shrubby willows has been perfect as the garden has been establishing, but they can now go onto a three-year coppicing rotation. A third will be coppiced every year, so that it feels like there are generations in the group and the balance remains comfortable in the planting. Not too much shade, but enough to make a little microclimate and whip in the wands to catch the breeze.
Down through the second gate where the Tenby daffodils are handing over in a perfectly timed dance to the marsh marigold. For the weeks that they have been in flower, the narcissus have claimed the gold in the spectrum of spring yellows, but the marigolds are king when you see them together. Petals with a sheen to reflect the light and complete saturation.
We unwittingly planted two varieties of Caltha palustris from different sources in the wet mud of the ditch. A small-flowered form and its large, more exuberant cousin, which is double the size in all its parts. For the first time this year, eight years after planting, we are beginning to see self-sown seedlings, which let us know they are happy there. It must be a question of quantum mass, the parents reaching a certain size and perhaps providing the optimum conditions in their shadow. The next generation, and what I always hope for in terms of pattern-making, is now extending their range. The gardener’s hand overwritten by the spontaneity of plants showing you where they truly want to be.
Walking now into the gloaming to follow the primroses, because it always takes longer to look when the looking takes over. Perhaps at their very peak this week and shining like nightlights in the gloaming, they dance the length of the ditch. When we first cleared this watery ooze of brambles and discovered the mother colony sitting quietly in their shadow, there were just a handful, but over the years we have been splitting the plants that are dividable and moving them into new territories. There is a perfect moment to lift and split as they begin to go over in a week or so’s time and just before the rush of spring eclipses them. A mature plant can divide into ten or so new plants which, if pushed into damp ground, will be the start of a new colony. They too take time and the mature plants can reach a considerable age. After a year or two to settle in they then start seeding. The sticky seed moves quite some distance when carried by ants and other insects. We follow the water as it descends to the stream and try to spot the plants we moved and the new offspring finding the places that they really like to be.
Up the hill again from the dark water of the pond and towards the bright clouds of plum blossom. I planted the plums up the slopes to deliberately avoid the frosts which loiter in the hollows. Last year we had a week of frost which coincided with the plums flowering and left us with just three of the dozen varieties forming fruit. We were unable to protect the plums, but netted the pears trained on the walls and won a bumper crop of fruit there for our labours. A close inspection at the pears on the house, the last look before heading in to make a late supper, revealed a week to wait in the buds. My last task of the day had been to clear the spent stems of the fennel that suddenly felt redundant alongside their returning promise. March to April and spring well and truly sprung.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 1 April 2023
Down by the stream at the bottom of the hill the wild garlic has appeared. It has been visible for a couple of weeks, but more ground than leaf, so that it took some time and judgement to find enough to pick for a meal. This week, after the equinox and in common with the first trees that are breaking bud and the sheets of daffodils and primroses which have suddenly eclipsed the snowdrops, the leafmouldy woodland floor has disappeared under a green, allium blanket.
This first spring flush is magical. A resurrection and clarion call for the coming wave of growth. A signifier of ancient woodland the wild garlic also connects us to the past inhabitants of this site. Imagining the people who have lived here before us, seeking sustenance from the woods and hedgerows, you feel reconnected to their longstanding and hard-earned accrued knowledge. What is good, what can heal and even what can kill.
Although growing your own food can’t be beaten, nothing compares to finding your food growing wild. The act of harvesting the first leaves and shoots, filled with spring energy and the promise of new life, is a ritual that binds us to the land and makes us aware of the natural cycle of life and our part in the wider ecosystem.
As a town boy, although I picked blackberries as a child and knew that maiden great aunts brewed elderflower and blackberry wine, this was my only contact with food that had not been grown by someone. I didn’t really experience a breadth of wild food until I was in my twenties at university, when I moved from Manchester to the Peak District and met people with connections to the land who made elderflower champagne and cordial, hedgerow jelly or went looking for puffball, parasol and field mushrooms.
One of my strongest memories of eating foraged food was thirty years ago at Ivy House Farm, the Hampshire home of Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio, where Dan created a garden in the early 1990’s. Antonio was a great forager, having grown up with it as a child in Italy and, where the resurgence of foraging has been a fairly recent development in Britain, in Italy there is a long, unbroken tradition of using nature’s larder on a regular basis. Most times we visited there was something foraged served. A cake made from cobnuts, a simple salad of dandelion and hawthorn leaves and, of course, mushrooms. For him finding and eating wild food was second nature.
The day I recall was a cold, sunny spring Saturday. We were talking with Priscilla at the table in the cottage’s frugal kitchen while Antonio busied himself at the stove. Moments earlier he had come in from the garden with a bunch of shoots in his hands, which he held up in front of me and asked if I knew what they were. I hadn’t known Dan for long at that point and was unversed in all but the most basic of plants and said I didn’t have a clue. “Hop shoots! Bruscandoli! We are going to have a frittata for lunch.’ In a matter of moments it arrived at the table, served straight from the pan, with a loaf of delicious bread and salted butter. Nothing else. It was, naturally, delicious.
Hops do grow wild in Britain as they have been cultivated since the middle ages for medicinal purposes and to brew beer, but to meet Antonio’s demand for shoots and for ease of harvest Dan had planted them up arches in the kitchen garden. They grow to a huge height and can, like Old Man’s Beard, swamp a hedgerow, so when we were creating the vegetable garden here and wanting to replicate some of the abundance of Ivy House Farm, Dan planted a shorter growing variety, Humulus lupulus ‘Primadonna’, a dwarf variety which grows to 3 metres. We support these with twiggy hazel branches which they rapidly ascend to reach the roof of the barn before flowering in late summer. The distinctive pale green cones, as the flowers are known, can be dried and used in a sleep-inducing tea or to stuff a pillow to help with insomnia.
Pick only the first 15cm of young, emerging shoots, as they become tough and fibrous with length and age. However, due to the fact that cutting stimulates new growth they do have a relatively long season and will continue to produce edible growth into April. The common name of Poor Man’s Asparagus is somewhat misleading, but not if you think of the string thin wild asparagus that you also find in the vegetable markets of Italy to which it bears a resemblance. The flavour is nothing like asparagus, but green, nutty and with the slightly metallic edge of nettles. When picking in the wild do not mistake for the shoots of white bryony (Bryonia dioica), another twining hedgerow climber, which is poisonous and causes bad stomach upset. The potato farls are the perfect vehicle for a strong wild garlic hit. You could add or substitute with any other wild green herbs of the moment including nettle, sorrel, wild (or cultivated) chervil, bittercress and cleavers.
250g floury potatoes
50g plain flour
About 10 leaves of wild garlic
Salt and black pepper
4 fresh eggs
A handful of hop shoots, about 100g
A large knob of butter
First make the farls. Put the whole potatoes into a pan of hot water. Cover the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the point of a knife easily pierces them to the centre. 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
Being careful not to burn your fingers (use a tea towel to hold them, if necessary) quickly remove the peel from the potatoes using a sharp knife.
Either put the hot potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill, or mash with the butter until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Sift over the flour. Chop the wild garlic leaves into fine ribbons and add to the bowl. Stir the mixture until it starts to come together. Then use your hands to bring the dough into a ball.
Heat a 24cm diameter cast iron skillet, griddle or heavy-bottomed frying pan on a fairly high heat.
Lightly flour the worktop and use the palm of your hand or a floured rolling pin to shape and press the dough into a circle about 22cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Cut the circle into quarters.
Place the four quarters into the hot skillet and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, or until a rich, golden brown with darker spots.
Transfer to a plate and put into a warm oven while you cook tthe frittata.
First boil a kettle. Put the hop shoots into a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave to stand for 1 minute then drain.
Melt the butter in a frying pan about 16cm in diameter. Gently fry the hop shoots for a minute or two, while you whisk the eggs with a large pinch of salt. Add the eggs to the pan and shake to cover the base. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the eggs are just set.
Serve immediately with the farls.
Recipe & photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 25 March 2023
In the twelve years we have been at Hillside, I have deepened the gardener’s journey of learning. The process of trial and error that can only strengthen your knowledge in the doing. My mind’s eye vision of how I’d imagined the narcissus here is a good example of why time is so important in the equation. It takes time to understand where a plant wants to be and time for it then to create its own domain.
Meeting established colonies of plants that have found their niche allows you to see them in all their true character, with mother colonies raining younger generations that have found their way. Pattern making which, when you see it playing out on the ground, is distinct to the plant. This vision of self-determined purpose brings its own kind of joy.
The colonies of wild Narcissus pseudonarcissus growing in ancient hazel coppice in my home county of Hampshire have most likely evolved there over centuries. Gathering in the open clearings and flourishing with the rhythm of light and shadow as it comes and goes in the cycle of the coppice. I had these colonies in mind for the new coppice that we planted on the slopes above the stream. Introducing five hundred bulbs at a time over a wide area is just a drop in the ocean if you are looking for immediate effect but, if you are prepared to be part of the process, the wait becomes something quite beautiful. It has taken five years to be aware of the first seedlings and perhaps it will be another five before they flower and seed, but the process has begun. The hop and skip of youngsters is already visible, always seeding downhill and the distance a seedpod leans from its parent.
You always hope for this demonstration of independence when you plant bulbs into grass. For the easy association of spring celandines and primroses and then the softening sward as it rises to first nestle the flowers and then obscure their foliage as it feeds and then fades under cover into dormancy. But the bulb banks behind the house have proved problematic and over the years I have begun to see a pattern. Despite introducing new bulbs every autumn, the narcissus have repeatedly retreated to the shade of the young crab apples. I had my suspicions, but am now sure that Narcissus fly must be the culprit, for it favours a sunny site and will only lay its eggs in the cleft of narcissus foliage if it can do so in the open. Without you knowing it the grubs hollow out the bulb underground, so that the following year you have nothing but blind offsets. But, as the crab apples and their shadow have grown, so has the safe place for the narcissus and we are beginning to see which ones like it here on the free-draining banks and which don’t.
Shade or no shade, my repeated attempts to introduce the hoop petticoat narcissus (Narcissus bulbocodium) have failed here, so I have been growing them in pots with a number of other small-flowered treasures such as the true form of Narcissus cyclamineus. I lived with colonies of both when I was a student at Wisley, where the hoop petticoats were naturalised in the Alpine Meadow and the miniature Narcissus cyclamineus most appropriately cast its reflection in the dark waters of the Ditch Garden nearby. Thinking back (and this is where time once again comes into play) both the meadow and the ditch at Wisley were not so dissimilar to our own ditch here with its cool slopes and damp ground. So I will only replant the narcissus where the shadow extends its reach on the banks behind the house and, in the spirit of experimentation, start a new colony of moisture-loving narcissus in the dappled light of the willow on the ditch. Perhaps one day they will find their niche here too and I will be able to write with the balance of success and failure tilting in the right direction.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 18 March 2023
At the beginning of the pandemic and locked down in the isolation that was forced upon us all, I began to post daily moments of that incredible spring on Instagram. It was a counterpoint to the fear we were living with on a daily basis. The reassuring surety of the unfurling season and its life force.
The films were no more than a minute and were made to capture the incremental changes. I’d sit and take in what happened in front of me for a given moment so that the films felt like moving stills. Spring light caught in wood anemones. The sound of the wind in the poplars above and April birdsong. By definition every post was different, because in truth a moment only happens the once. Time slowed and captured.
I felt guilty about sharing these moments to a degree, because we were so very lucky to be locked down in landscape and not within four walls of isolation. But there was such a positive response and a hunger to be part of our fortunate immersion that I continued to communicate the garden and its surroundings. Everyone was yearning for contact and, despite our idyllic lockdown location, we were no different. It was mutually uplifting to share our experience of this place and what is sustaining about the beauty of nature and the activity of gardening.
It was around this time that we got into a conversation (by Zoom, of course) with Create Academy. They wanted to know if I would be interested in creating an online course about naturalistic gardening that would be filmed here at Hillside and which would look at how we have made the garden sit within its setting. I have always enjoyed communicating the process of what it is to garden through the written word, but the opportunity to return to film felt timely. Hillside was moving into its sixth summer in the garden and its tenth in the work we have done in the landscape, so it was ready to share more broadly. The moving image has always felt like the best way to capture a garden or the natural world. Freeze an image in a photograph and the sensual world within it is frozen also.
The team at Create Academy are small and intimately involved with the subject matter they are filming. Between us we developed an informal course outline that used Hillside as the focus for talking about the principles of naturalistic gardening and how I apply them here. It also looked at a complementary project where I have used naturalistic planting as a contrast to formality within a more defined setting. This was The Old Rectory in the Cotswolds. An acre garden with formal bones that I had made almost twenty years ago.
Addressing the principles of naturalistic planting is a huge subject and in the first course we set the scene by illustrating how the context here at Hillside drives all the design choices. How much you impose upon a landscape with a garden and where careful management of the setting can enrich the environment. We looked at how the surrounding meadows, hedgerows and woodland helped drive the decisions within the property boundary and how important it is to really understand your local conditions. By taking time to feel your way, you begin to understand the context and what is the right plant for the right place. I also discussed the blurring of the boundary between the cultivated ground and the landscape beyond as well as the all-important borrowed view.
In the Cotswold garden we looked at how the setting there influenced our decision making. The river that runs along one boundary, the dry stone of the surrounding walls and the formality of the house and its relationship to the church, which drove the layout. I described design solutions such as the garden rooms we created around the buildings, the reveal and change of tempo as you move from one to the other and the mood of each of the spaces. Filming brought a whole new level to revealing how the garden fits into the landscape with drone shots giving a bird’s eye view, showing the ideas on plan borne out from above.
The response to the first course on Naturalistic Garden Design was hearteningly positive. Keen to develop a follow on course the production team contacted subscribers to the first to ask what they would like to learn next. Nearly all of them requested more detail of the process of planting design, as well as the inclusion of a case study of a smaller, more relatable garden. So, for the second course, which was filmed last summer and has just gone live this week, in addition to revisiting Hillside we have looked at two more gardens. A large coastal garden set in an exposed position in Devon and a contrasting terraced London property, with an intimate front and rear garden.
The new course goes deeper into the complexities of planting design. It deals with the scale changes you have to make in your thinking, from the wider context and macro vision (which of course also includes time) right down to the micro decisions. What you see immediately at your feet when you stand and look down. I explain the importance of understanding how your plants cohabit, of layering and planning for seasonal change and the principles of using colour, form and texture in plantings.
To illustrate the process and to take it beyond words and imagery, we filmed the planting of the new pond last May. It was six months since it had been made the previous summer and using it as a focal point in the course reminded me of the BBC series I made about Home Farm in 2000, where the pond was a driving force in the narrative. It allowed us to illustrate ideas through action and show its immediate impact.
The case studies beyond Hillside have allowed me to discuss the importance of understanding the microclimates in a garden. Never more important than in the Devon garden, with its extremes of weather, but just as critical with the London property and its split personality. A bright, south-facing garden to the front and a contrasting garden to the rear in the shadow of the house. The two projects also illustrate what happens to plantings over time. The Devon garden now over a decade old and the London garden just in its second summer. A garden born from the depths of the pandemic, planted in the window after the first lockdown and nurtured into life by our careful clients.
It has been a complete privilege to work with the Creative Academy team. We have learned to trust them entirely in producing beautiful films with excellent content and, in the case of this most recent course, an opportunity to go deeper. That doesn’t happen very often in life, but it is so very good when it does.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Create Academy and Deborah Panes
Published 11 March 2023We are sorry but the page you are looking for does not exist. You could return to the homepage