Worthy of a place at Chelsea
IT'S always lovely when a garden catches you by surprise. Having a National Gardens Scheme label guarantees a certain standard but occasionally a plot surpasses that.
I had expected something of interest at Littlefield but not the touch of Chelsea style that I discovered.
Really I shouldn't have been surprised: the garden was originally laid out by well-known writer and designer Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall with later additions by Cheltenham landscape firm Sherborne Gardens.
Yet calling in the professionals doesn't always result in something memorable.
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Littlefield is a relatively young garden created over the past 12 years and new to the NGS family this season.
Signs of its youth are evident – yew hedges have yet to reach significant bulk – but it has a cohesion that many longer established gardens fail to achieve.
What is remarkable is that beyond a few mature trees, including a beautiful walnut, a small box hedge and the wisteria and 'Bobby James' rose that cloak the house's Cotswold stone walls, there was little in the garden when Federica and George Wilk moved in.
They bought in December and were assured that there was a nice garden.
"I was told this was a beautiful little garden in spring," says Federica looking at what is now known as the 'Old Garden'. "But when spring came there was not much there."
Undeterred Federica, who has gardened since childhood in her native Italy, set about creating a garden with Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's help.
"The footprint is hers," explains Federica. "Once the footprint was here, I got into gardening more and more."
Gradually she has put her own mark on the planting; the lupins that appear throughout were not part of the original scheme.
"I don't think Jane likes lupins," she laughs.
Hostas are another addition, ferns, including some from the couple's London garden, and masses of Japanese anemones.
"Jane introduced me to them and I love them so much I have put them in everywhere."
The garden divides neatly into different areas: a mix of shrubs and perennials in the 'Old Garden'; roses in what was originally a vegetable patch; a long mixed border bordering the main lawn; wild flower areas; and a flower-filled yew walk.
This was designed by Sherborne Gardens and with its predominantly blue, mauve and white colour theme it has more than a hint of the Chelsea show garden about it.
Lavender, geranium and purple-leaved heuchera billow out over the winding gravel path, softening the edges.
There are clumps of thalictrum, philadelphus for scent and height from standard Portuguese laurel and the vertical shoots of Verbena bonariensis.
Here and there, the blooms of Rosa 'De Rescht' add a contrasting note of pink that stops the otherwise restrained colour palette descending into dullness.
Beyond an intersection with a second path the scheme turns more white with stately iris and lilies under a series of Malus 'coccinella' trained over arches.
Box balls set into a mass of blue and yellow violas give a sense of rhythm and a painted seat flanked by terracotta pots is the perfect focal point.
In the rose garden the colour scheme is pink, including deep pink 'John Betjeman', the tiny blooms of 'Mistress Quickly' and standard pale pink 'Bonica'.
New this year is the central pool and fountain, its cool stone adding an Italian feel and providing the perfect place to linger.
Another new development that will peak later in the season is the wild flower meadow, using one of the Sheffield mixes, that has just been sown under a group of laburnum.
Beyond is a small valley, site of the old medieval village of Hawling, and across which the couple mow paths down to a pond.
More wild flowers are found on a slope behind the long mixed border at the heart of the garden. Ox-eye daisies and yellow rattle make a colourful show under trees, including fagus and silver birch.
In front, the planting, while having many herbaceous stalwarts such as lupins, achillea and the giant yellow scabious, is kept informal, allowing a natural progression into the wild flowers behind.
It's a clever touch and one that ensures that the garden doesn't jar with its rural setting – despite the designer touches.
â Littlefield, Hawling, near Cheltenham, is open for the National Gardens Scheme tomorrow from 11am to 5pm.