Tom & Sue Stuart Smith’s Garden9th July 2013 • Stephanie's Blog • Stephanie Donaldson
I see many lovely gardens in the course of my work, but I have seldom been quite so delirious with excitement as I was in the Stuart-Smith garden.
The Main Garden
To the south of the house, enclosing hedges and topiary yews frame sumptuous borders overflowing with flowers. The planting combinations are as accomplished as you would expect from Tom, predominantly in shades of blues, pinks and whites. It was a masterclass in creating herbaceous borders where plants flow into one another and combine, apparently quite effortlessly.
The Vegetable Garden
Although it is generally thought of as Tom’s garden, it is actually a collaborative effort between him and his wife Sue. Although they have shared in its making and work alongside one another when they garden, the vegetable garden is Sue’s personal project. With the backdrop of one of the most envy-inducing sheds I’ve ever seen she grows food and flowers for the family.
This is not a conventional English meadow, but something more akin to a prairie filled with non-native plants. It was too early (especially this year) for much colour to be showing but as I wove through the mown paths it was obvious that it is going to be a spectacular sight later on. Tom took some of us on a tour describing its making. It has been grown from seed and is in its second year. The evenness of the plant distribution and the health and vigour of the plants was hugely impressive. Tom had sourced a special seed mix that combined species that would coexist happily from germination onwards. It cost a staggering £6000 for a packet of seed the size of a bag of sugar. This was very thoroughly mixed with sawdust, decanted into 120 small buckets and then hand broadcast into marked out sections to ensure even distribution. The area, which had previously been a fairly impoverished pasture, had been spread with a 10cm layer of builders sand to supress weeds. Once the seed was sown a covering of course jute netting was added to prevent the birds eating the seed – this also had the advantage of indicating when conditions were dry, so that it could be watered for optimum germination. The only real colour showing at present was from the emerging bright pink flowers of Dianthus carthusianorum. The only real problem that has needed attention was caused by wormcasts containing dandelion seeds coming to the surface. This required meticulous hand weeding to get rid of them. All growth is cut back and removed in February.
The Courtyard Garden
This enclosed space is on the site of the original farmyard and is a serene contemporary space defined by the surrounding buildings and the rusted corten planters that Tom had used in one of his Chelsea Show Gardens. I don’t think I have ever seen astrantias used to better effect.