Words Sarah Langton-Lockton Photographs Jane Beedle
Best known by millions for her baking prowess – she was runner up in the 2016 series of Great British Bake Off (15.9 million people watched the finale) – Jane Beedle is by profession a successful garden designer. A year ago, Jane and her husband Ray, later joined by two boisterous young Cocker Spaniels, Florence and Minnie, moved into number 58 at the northern end of Faversham’s handsome boulevard, The Mall, with its fine row of chestnuts, first laid out and planted in 1773.
First, they concentrated on updating the handsome Victorian house – there are now four gleaming ovens in the well-equipped kitchen – then they addressed the 52ft by 22ft west-facing garden, sheltered and defined, as are so many gardens in Faversham, by mellow stock brick walls. The ‘before’ photos show what a dank, dismal and dark space it then was. Jane and Ray had only visited the house twice before deciding to buy it. While the buying process ran its slow course, Jane reflected gloomily on the garden: ‘The more I thought about it, the darker the garden got.’
With the confidence that comes from experience, however, she embraced the challenge, and with lots of hands-on help from Ray, set about creating the structure for the new garden. Last winter, they removed overgrown trees that were past their prime, including an ornamental cherry, Prunus serrula, at the bottom of the garden. ‘Its roots came virtually up to the house,’ says Jane. Nearer the kitchen door, there was a large stand of bamboo whose roots travelled in the opposite direction right down to the shed. Quantities of dingy paving were dug up and a huge heap of soil came from the removal of existing planting. At the far end of the garden a handsome shed was fitted.
Bindweed snaked its way across the site, and as she tracked it back one day Jane discovered a newt. A heavily pregnant toad also appeared. Lime trees planted close together against the left-hand wall deepened the shade that enveloped the garden. Jane’s brilliant solution was to pollard these trees and to construct in front of them raised beds with a retaining wall of gabions filled with the broken-up paving. ‘Ray assembled the gabions and hand-faced them.’ Jane is proud of the fact that they recycled nearly everything and didn’t get a skip. ‘It’s amazing how much you can do yourself,’ she says, ‘to save money down the line.’ This also advances sustainability: ‘We’re all too keen,’ she says, ‘to throw things away.’ When the garden was finished, only six bags of soil were left, and these went to a friend.
The new garden is paved throughout in pale grey sandstone – ‘dog proof’ says Jane succinctly. The brick walls are topped with robust trellis, painted grey by Jane. ‘That was two weekends of my life I’ll never get back,’ she comments. The design of the garden includes an area near the house with a pale green metal table and chairs, ideal for a cup of coffee in the morning sun. This is separated from the sitting area, which has a grey rattan sofa, seats and table, by a rectangular bed with mixed planting including miscanthus, which will grow tall and provide a screen. A naturally ball-forming Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’ was intended to provide an attractive conclusion to the bed, but has been flattened by Minnie into a comfortable outdoor dog bed. Jane is philosophical, although she does resort to a water pistol if the dogs get too destructive.
There is a similar rectangular bed on the far side of the seating area and a long border on the right-hand side. In the raised beds, which Jane backfilled with recycled soil, she planted shade-loving plants, among them ferns, astrantias, Alchemilla mollis, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, and in the pebbles on top of the gabions, the lavishly self-seeding Mexican fleabane. Late-flowering viticella clematises are planted between the pollarded limes. On the facing wall are two fine star jasmines, Trachelospermum jasminoides, and an inherited vine.
Favourite plants include acers, pittosporum and evergreen shrubs generally, including sarcoccas and Euonymus alatus compactus. ‘It ‘has lovely corky bark and leaves which go a startling pink in autumn,’ she says. Hardy perennials abound and lots of tobacco plants: ‘I love them, they’re great infill,’ says Jane. Additional interest throughout the garden is provided by large ceramic pots in muted yellow/grey shades. Two of them contain olive trees, underplanted with bright pelargoniums.
Garden design is Jane Beedle’s second career. She was born in Hastings and grew up in Brentwood, Essex. She studied maths at the University of Kent. ‘Bizarrely,’ she says, ‘I then worked in advertising, in sales, for many years.’ She met Ray while working at a silkscreen printers. They married and had two children, Amy, born in 1990 and Henry, in 1994. ‘I wanted to be at home a lot for the children, so did whatever could be fitted in. When Henry started school, I decided with my friend Harriet to start a garden maintenance service. We sent round some flyers, and within a week had a lot of clients.’ The business proved popular. ‘Things just grew. We were asked to design bits of borders, then bits of gardens.’ She decided she wanted to know more and did an evening class and then a part-time design degree at Hadlow College. ‘It was a brilliant course,’ she says, ‘a very good all-round degree.’
Jane’s grandfather owned a bakery in Hastings when Jane was little. The business was sold before her father could take over, when Jane was seven. ‘My dad loved to bake and had a particular interest in cake decorating – he liked to make things fancy.’ Jane also enjoyed baking and it was her friend Harriet who urged her to apply for Great British Bake Off. After a few attempts she was accepted for Series 7. ‘It was amazingly confidence building,’ says Jane. ‘I discovered my inner show-off.’ She now gets many invitations to go on television, judge competitions and has been to the BAFTAs. ‘It’s brilliant to be invited to those things. It’s quite extraordinary – just for a bit of baking.’ It has also provided an opportunity to give something back and she runs classes for children at Brogdale and supports children’s charities. Initially it was Ray who was keenest on the move to Faversham. For Jane it was a slow falling in love. ‘People are so welcoming, there is a wonderful mix of ages and a lot of community spirit. The day we moved in, when the removals lorry was still outside, neighbours – a schoolgirl and her mother – arrived with a plate of brownies. Another neighbour brought produce from his allotment.’
Jane Beedle’s garden will be open to the public, along with 30 other gardens, all wonderfully diverse, and ranging from middle-sized to very small, on Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day on Sunday 30 June from 10am to 5pm. Entry to all gardens is by guidebook, and costs £6 for one person and £10 for two; children under 12 are free. Guidebooks are available in advance from The Faversham Society by post or in person. Call 01795 534542 for details. They will also be on sale on the day at the Society’s stall in the Market Place.
The Faversham Society
13 Preston Street
Faversham ME13 8NS
Words: Sarah Langton-Lockton. Photographs: Jane Beedle