Paul Hervey-Brookes: The art and craft of garden design

PUBLISHED: 14:38 21 November 2020 | UPDATED: 15:15 25 November 2020

Paul has used planting in pastel shades to soften the Cotswold stone walls. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

Paul has used planting in pastel shades to soften the Cotswold stone walls. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

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History and landscape have inspired the design of a sloping Cotswold garden. Words and pictures by Mandy Bradshaw

Vibrantly-coloured chard. Photo: Mandy BradshawVibrantly-coloured chard. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

It’s easy to imagine that if you call in an award-winning designer, you’ll risk getting something that shouts Chelsea Main Avenue. Highly stylised gardens may be perfect for wowing visitors and judges but are rarely suited to a domestic setting.

Stepping into a Cotswold garden designed by Tetbury-based Paul Hervey-Brookes, it was easy to spot his touch – a strong framework overlaid with soft planting in his trademark colours of blue, pale yellow and purple. Yet, this is no Chelsea set piece but rather a garden that has been created to fit with the house and surrounding countryside.

It was the Arts and Crafts house in the Stroud valleys and the beautiful, long-reaching views that gave Paul the starting point for the design: “I wanted to use the discipline of the period where all the main formal hard landscaping, the highly ornamental elements, would be nearest the house. Then, as you progress towards the natural landscape, its becomes more wild and natural.”

Paul, who has won numerous gold medals for his show gardens and is an RHS judge, was faced with a site that slopes steeply away from the four-storey house, dilapidated original terracing and an overgrown rockery.

Roses add a romantic air to the vegetable garden. Photo: Mandy BradshawRoses add a romantic air to the vegetable garden. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

“The rest was just sloping grass and all on really bad angles.”

The house was one of two built by Thomas Falconer, an architect in the 1920s, and designing a garden that was sympathetic to the house was paramount.

“We decided quite early on that where there was architectural detail, or some remnants of what had been installed originally, we would try to keep it or elaborate on it, so that what we made felt like it belonged to the fabric of the building.”

Researching the period and understanding it were important and Paul sent the owners to explore two Arts and Crafts gardens: Bryan’s Ground in Herefordshire, and Somerset’s Hestercombe, which was designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens.

Aquilegia Swan Violet and White. Photo: Mandy BradshawAquilegia Swan Violet and White. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

“Hestercombe shows the kind of Edwardian detailing,” explains Paul. “Bryan’s Ground shows a building similar to theirs, although larger, with a garden that’s been built in the spirit because I wanted them to make some quite big decisions.”

As with any large garden, he drew up a masterplan and advised them to tackle the project in stages.

“I know that, as you do one thing, so you become braver to tackle the next thing. The atmosphere changes a bit and it gives you confidence.”

He started with the area nearest the house, which was the most complicated to landscape. Original steps and walling were repaired, and in some cases made higher, and a new terrace was created with a central lily pond, inspired by a similar feature at Bryan’s Ground.

Stachys byzantina Big Ears stands out against the dark Symphyotrichum lateriflorum Lady in Black. Photo: Mandy BradshawStachys byzantina Big Ears stands out against the dark Symphyotrichum lateriflorum Lady in Black. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

“Because the house is so dominant behind you, I wanted to be able to glimpse it on a different plane, so that it felt like it was anchored more in the garden.”

Today, the large pool throws back reflections of the house and the surrounding planting. Cotswold stone walls are set against billowing nepeta, geranium and ballota. There are chives grown for their purple drumstick flowers and frothy Alchemilla mollis while Erigeron kavinskianus cascades down steps.

“It’s supposed to feel formal in its layout, but bucolic in its planting.”

The giant scabious, Cephalaria gigantea, is used to provide height along the outer edge of the terrace where a table and chairs allow you to enjoy the elevated position.

The raised pool reflects the surrounding garden. Photo: Mandy BradshawThe raised pool reflects the surrounding garden. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

“It is quite a drop so what I wanted is that you can see the view and you don’t feel penned in but at the same time you don’t feel you’re about to fall off the terrace.”

Meanwhile, the planting is kept transparent so that the view is not obscured.

“When you’ve got such dominant views, it’s easier to work with them rather than turning your back on them because there’s no point competing with something like that,” says Paul. “You want to bring it into the garden space.”

Some of the colours, such as the later flowering Verbena bonariensis, were chosen because they show up well in evening light and would draw attention to the planting.

Elsewhere, things were selected because they were fashionable in Edwardian times: “I wanted the garden to feel in maturity that it was difficult to gauge when it had actually been installed.”

So, Sasa palmata, which is not commonly planted now, was used to fill the space under a mature yew along with hoheria and ferns.

“Choices were made by when plants were introduced or were popular and by the colour and the durability of the combination.”

Potentilla fructicosa Abbotswood is a mass of delicate blooms. Photo: Mandy BradshawPotentilla fructicosa Abbotswood is a mass of delicate blooms. Photo: Mandy Bradshaw

Running along one side of the garden is the original rockery. Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’ and Centranthus ruber have colonised the area and there are ferns and pulmonaria tucked into crevices between the rocks.

Move down the garden and there’s a long border that spans the space. The planting is deliberately designed to peak in autumn and winter as the border is the main thing that can be seen from the house when bad weather may keep the owners indoors.

Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aphrodite’, Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’, Aster novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’ and Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’ add seasonal blooms while Miscanthus transmorrisonensis brings structure and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ bright winter colour.

Marching through the planting are series of obelisks with Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ scrambling up them.

It is essentially a double-facing border with planting on the next level down wrapped around a seating area with open views over neighbouring fields.

“You have the shelter of the shrubs behind you on that top layer, so it’s quite a nice place to sit,” says Paul.

“It’s the only level bit of grass as well so actually it’s quite a valuable space to have just that breathing space that’s not on a slope or not confined.

“What I wanted was that open grass, the border nestling you in and then the lovely field.”

Tucked away to one side of the garden is a potager, reworked from an original walled vegetable garden.

A series of terraces have dealt with the sloping ground while raised beds, designed to be tended without the need to walk on them, divide the space and make it easier to manage.

Pressure treated timber was deemed more practical for the beds rather than trying to match the Cotswold stone boundary walls.

It’s a productive space with fruit, vegetables and cutting flowers. There’s a small greenhouse, a large fruit cage, and roses on the walls, adding a romantic feel.

Indeed, creating an air of romance was a driving force behind the design of the whole garden.

“My overall ambition was that it should have quite a formal bone structure that defines the spaces but when it’s growing, it should feel like how we imagine Edwardian gardens to be, like the Secret Garden, overflowing, very full and kind of slightly fanciful. That’s what I wanted the whole place to feel like.”

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