How to Create a Real Southwest Garden with Marcia Willet
There are an abundance of gardens to visit in the Southwest, each with its own slice of paradise, each neatly arranged, as nature is shaped to entice and lead the eye. However, interestingly when those born in the South West try to recapture their memories of their childhood in their London gardens, these stately homes and popular tourist spots are ignored as a source of inspiration.
I caught up with one of our most loved authors, the writer the South West is proud to call our own, and the woman behind the words. I was keen to discover how the South West outdoors provided inspiration for her many novels.
If you’ve ever read a Marcia Willet novel, you will not have only been transported often into another era, you would have found yourself at home, and surrounded by the local scenery and architecture you know and love. Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Bristol provide the perfect locations for the homes of many of Marcia’s protagonists and each explores their relationship with their surroundings as well as the people within them.
Marcia grew up in a small village in Somerset. Her success lead her to the city life once however she swiftly returned home, as she admits the Southwest is more than a backdrop for her novels, it defines them.
When I asked if Marcia if there were any particular gardens that she admired, she replied with quite an interesting quote, telling me that gardeners bring order out of chaos, and she loves spaces were the landscape has grown just as it should.
Marcia admits that she hasn’t travelled to every part of the UK so can’t profess that the Southwest is better than anywhere else, however, she prolifically mused that she adores the combination of high moorland and dramatic coastlines, secret lanes and quiet villages, peaceful pastureland and river estuaries, add up to making it the most magical place on earth.
Marcia particularly adores the river Tamar at Weir Quay at the turn of the tide.
Our chat made me realise that when Londoner’s try to recreate a Southwest garden, they embrace the wilderness, the moors, the natural flowers and the changing seasons. The Southwest is famed for the quintessential English country garden that may look like chaos but takes a lot of strategic planning!
How to Create the Chaos
The beauty of this chaotic style is that it translates to any sized garden from a few pots on a patio to a hanging basket to acres of borders and water features. If you would like to emulate the Southwest in your own garden, here’s how to do it.
Forget straight lines and topiary, you are preparing a garden that overflows with scent and texture, with deep borders of abundance and high perennials that self-seed. This romantic garden naturally promotes hideaways, and is actually very cost effective as it rejuvenates old fashioned favourites bringing them back into the gardening trend.
The Southwest is ideal for this form of controlled chaos as the plants you will use need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. As Marcia reminded us, there’s something for every season, as when I asked about her favourite plants she replied, “I love the Snowdrop Valley in February and the banks of rosebay willow herb that grow in July on Exmoor. Challacombe Down on Dartmoor in the bluebell season, and the primroses, violets and celandine that grow in the deep sunken Cornish lanes in early spring around Bodmin Moor.”
These can all be incorporated into the cottage garden, however for small spaces a variety of climbers may be used.
- Clematis – With broad forked spearmint leaves and a variety of colours and shapes to choose from the clematis has something for everyone. There are both annual and perennial clematis, hardy and non-hardy, so you can easily choose one that is bespoke to your lifestyle. Even if you only have a wall, you can train clematis and enjoy an abundance of flowers through May – August depending on the variety.
- Morning Glory – Morning glory is a wonder in itself as its rapid growth is extraordinary. It can be sown direct in spring and by summer you will have a rainbow of colour as it twines around trees, arbours, fences or any other structure.
- The Climbing Rose – When we picture a cottage garden or the ultimate chocolate box image we see a climbing rose and no garden would be complete without it. There are so many varieties now each with different scents and appearances, so you can choose what matters to you most.
Although there are many annuals that will live happily in a chaotic garden they do actually reveal the order behind the chaos, unless you choose ones which will self-seed and replenish themselves the year after. These include Hollyhocks, snap dragons, nicotina and daisies. These are great as gap fillers, as to create the look you need to cover bare soil and these will do just that.
- Campanula – these bell shaped flowers come in white or purple, they will self-seed and they will create an outstanding display, yet you will be comforted by the abundance as they look amazing in a vase.
- Lupins – Lupins are the epitome of low maintenance plants. They will multiply, give height and also create colour. All they need is a semi sunny spot and some well-draining soil.
- Echinacea – Echinacea is tall, looks wild from a distance but on closer inspection is perfectly formed. It is also growing in popularity with the modern gardener now.
One of the biggest appeals of the Southwest garden is the sensory overload. ; The scents, the textures and the feast for the eyes that combine to overwhelm the visitor (in a good way). Scent is important, as every corner should produce more floral fragrances that will invoke memories of happy times.
The ideal way to do this is to not restrict herbs to a herb garden. Line the path to the door with lavender, use sage as a decorative plant too (few people realise that it actually flowers if left alone), use chives as mini alliums, let them create stunning features with their mini purple pom poms, and incorporate trailing rosemary into hanging baskets so with every accidental brush a new fragrance is released.
Shrubs and Trees
There are many shrubs and trees that can be used as hardy additions to the cottage garden, some of which are evergreen and capable of retaining interest throughout the seasons.
These include lilacs, again a wonderful cut flower for vases and a fragrant delight.
Hydrangeas – this shrub dropped out of fashion for a while as it became an integral part of any garden and people began to take it for granted, however now gardeners once again appreciate the large beautiful blooms in pastel shades of blue and pink which are relied upon every summer.
Dog Wood – Dog Wood adds a stark contrast even in winter, as its bright red bark makes it a focal point of the garden.
Many of the plants can be taken as cuttings or seeds and the beauty is that your friends or family will have at least one of these recommendations in their own garden.
There’s no hard and fast rule to planting either, although taller plants will thrive at the back of a border, you can create any look you want- ideal for the amateur gardener.
I’d like to thank Marcia Willet for being our inspiration for creating the ideal Southwest garden!