Such is the allure of the artlessly wild look (shaggy lawns, weeds charmingly poking through paving stones) that one forgets just how breathtaking perfection can be.
The exquisite garden at 54 Athelstan Road is barely two years old, yet seemed to have arrived fully formed without the inconvenience of bald patches or disaster areas. This, despite the fact that the owner, Sarah Langton-Lockton, bought the art deco house with its unusually large garden for a town house – as wide as it is long – in November 2013 as ‘rather a wreck’. ‘The garden was impenetrable. I had no idea what it might contain. It had several sheds, ponds, a bothy, spotted laurels…’
Sarah, former gardening columnist at The Lady and volunteer at the Garden Museum, had the lot cleared, and created a design that complements the crisp lines of the house. It also defies the fashion for dividing the space into compartments: the visitor sees the whole in one glance, with interest and direction provided by strong lateral lines.
Sarah started planting in 2015, choosing ‘things I have always wanted to have, or things that I see in other gardens and covet’. The long border has an elegance and rhythm to its planting: the palette in late May is all soft purples, with tall, pale blue irises set against the delicate grey-blue foliage of Thalictrum ‘Elin’ – while Nicotiana sylvestris is powering up for a display later in the season.
‘I like tall things at the front of the border, and to use different heights – so it undulates through the season,’ says Sarah. Three vegetable beds are cut across the centre of the lawn, and the end of the garden is a masterclass in planting for dry shade – the delightful Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’ thrives under a Viburnum plicatum ‘Watanabe’. Look out for the show stopping ‘Bengal Crimson’ rose – bright, carmine red – and the irresistibly neat compost bins, made from pallets. The whole gives a sense of great calm and intelligence.
The second, 17 Norman Road, heralds itself with valerian and a luxuriant white potentilla growing in the front. John and Mary Cousins’ garden is a more conventional shape – long and slender – and divided into distinct areas. There is nothing conventional about its planting. It is absolutely bursting with character and delightful eccentricity. The owners moved here 14 years ago, and have opened for Faversham Open Gardens day over the past five or six years – evident in their attention to detail and finish.
It is a garden enjoyed in close-up: chimney pots are stuffed with succulents, a Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ creeps its way around the back of a tree; raised ponds are beautifully planted with lilies and oxygenating plants, with pots of hostas crowding around the base.
John keeps himself busy with two allotments in Ospringe, and one of the delights of the garden is the way that vegetables seem to have escaped from his allotment into Mary’s borders. Star-like rocket flowers – which thrive in sun or dappled shade – have moved in by the kitchen. And you’ll find salsify here and there, known as ‘Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’ for its habit of closing its flowerhead in the middle of the day. ‘Traditionally, when the salsify flower closed, workers knew when to stop for lunch,’ Mary says. Very civilised.
Do look out for John’s shed at the end of the garden. It was featured on this site last year; he has put his love of marmalade to use, with rows of empty marmalade jars hanging along its length, filled with nails and string, and other invaluable bits and pieces one can never throw away.
The third, 19 Newton Road, belongs to professional gardener, designer and writer Posy Gentles. This fabulous spot is constantly evolving, always dramatic and highly expressive. White aliums and flesh-coloured irises lead to three stunning white birches, which provide dappled shade halfway down this slender garden. ‘I like the sense that the garden seems as though it’s almost taking over – but by gardening you can just keep it in check, which is why I like big plants,’ she says, pointing out an enormous Rheum palmatum towering against a wall, and a tetrapanax, with metre-wide, deeply lobed leaves, overlooking one border with sinister intent.
Posy’s skill as a horticulturist is much in evidence: especially her finely pruned rose, ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’, twisted around a wire column. She works in several notable gardens in the area, so uses her own patch for amusement. ‘I buy something because I like it and to see what it will do,’ she says. ‘I know I should have drifts, but here at home I just like to experiment.’
The highlight of this garden lies at the end of the garden: the most astonishing shed which she designed and built with the help of friends out of old scaffolding boards, reclaimed bricks and wood. The windows – one circular, others metal-framed – were also given by friends. ‘I want it to look like an old railway carriage,’ she says, although to my mind the silver-colour of the curved corrugated metal roof, which picks out the silver of the birches and pale planting elsewhere, looks more like a shepherd’s hut with a hint of Gaudi. David Cameron, eat your heart out.
54 Athelstan Road, 19 Newton Road and 17 Norman Road open on Saturday 3 June for the NGS .
Text: Kylie. Photography: Lisa
Kylie Sanderson is a former magazine and award-winning newspaper journalist having worked on The Telegraph, where she launched and edited the Gardening supplement and latterly edited the Weekend section; was part of the production team at Horse & Hound magazine: and is now programme co-ordinator at the Canterbury Festival