Read all about our gardens and natural pool in The English Garden magazine this September.
Sarah Scoops the Gold Medal in National Garden Competition
Although it has a Doncaster address the winner of this year’s Cobra Gardener’s Garden gold medal is a magnificent 5 acre site surrounded by rolling South Yorkshire countryside.
Although still developing – the garden was started just four years ago from a “wilderness” – Ellicar’s Sarah Murch has created a fantastic site that bowled over the judges with its use of shapes, heights and colour and year round fascination.
The competition, sponsored by the leading powered garden equipment brand Cobra, is now in its third year. Elizabeth Chaloner, the company secretary of Henton and Chattell which owns Cobra and one of the judges, explained that its aim is to reward amateur gardeners.
“For the professionals a gold medal at Chelsea Flower Show is a major achievement but there is nothing for the hundreds of thousands of amateur gardeners who toil away year after year creating some absolutely fantastic gardens at their homes,” she explained. “The aim of this competition is to fill that gap and Sarah is a very worthy Gold Medal winner.”
Sarah and her husband and five children have lived at Ellicar for seven years and one of the major focal points of the garden is the 300 square metre natural swimming pool. The planting surrounding the water gives year round colour and shape and forms a stunning backdrop to, what looks like a natural lake.
The family now install these award winning natural Bistop pools in the North of England. The garden is open twice a year for the National Garden Scheme and on every Friday between April and October.
The runner Silver medal winner in the competition was Pam Thompson at Pear Tree Cottage, Witton Hill in Worcestershire and the Bronze medal went to Ros Biswell at Moors Meadow near Bromyard in Herefordshire.
Dark silhouettes of iris sibirica 'Whirling Butterflies' against tawny grasses- still standing despite a battering from heavy wet snow and high winds.
NGS Open Garden
Getting ready for our first NGS Open Garden - 23rd March 1-4pm. I had planned to have an ethereal garden with architectural grasses and seedheads swaying in the main borders along with the Winter Garden peaking- but the early spring meant cutting back earlier this year! Happily the garden has quickly bounced back and is looking vibrant and alive- with blossom, fragrance, pulmonarias, swathes of sultry hellebores, shocking blue scillas, and bright yellow daffs dotted everywhere- it is quite refreshing to look out across spaces that are later full of taller plants, and to enjoy views across the garden onto the countryside beyond.
New developments over winter- a lovely rustic Potager- using up all our old chestnut paling fencing- surrounded by fan trained cherry and plum trees, soft fruit, herbs, cut flowers and veg in the raised beds- full of promise-I'm feeling really optimistic about growing vegetables this year! The old vegetable garden has been turned into a small plant nursery.
We just sowed the late season wild flower meadow- full of nectar plants for butterflies and bees and seedheads for birds over winter. The woodland edge wildflower border in the Bird Garden is germinating fast- looks a bit of a mess at the moment and I’m flying thro it constantly weeding out the unwanted- we will mow it soon to take out the annual weeds then it should shape up better. Fascinating and tricky growing anything from seed here as the black soil is just a massive weed seed bank waiting to explode into life!
The most exciting bit to come still is the start of a new perennial flower meadow at the back of the pool- I’m currently growing on the plants, and plan to plant it up some time in May- there will be a lovely mix of grasses and perennials with some beautiful wildflowers dotted through- can’t wait!
So lots going on- garden full of bumble bees, mistle thrush has just made a nest in the Winter Garden, tree and house sparrows busy squabbling and nesting, in fact birds busy everywhere. Our Natural Swimming Pool has second generation frogs spawning amongst the marginals and the water temperature reached 11degs C already, so soon be swimming! Lots to see under water too –it is like a huge aquarium.
Great time to visit the gardens- I’m worn out getting it all ready and don’t think I will ever finish, but looking forward to the NGS this Sunday afternoon!
Lily- Jan 2014
New Arrival- Hurricane Lily- black working cocker spaniel puppy- lively, energetic, adorable- possibly highly destructive. Been here 2 weeks now. She likes a paddle in the pool (day 1); likes to entwine herself in Carex testacea Prairie Fire-has developed a serpentine move amongst the clumps of 5 – she can actually tie knots in them. She is also fond of snapping off miscanthus stems- particularly the stately M. transmorrisonensis - focal point of the winter border by the back door- I push them all back into the soil, no one will know! Also a very fast digger. Ground rules for dogs not destroying the garden may be bent here- she is so much fun to watch- family loving this dilemma!
New Year Fresh Start!
We finally pulled out the last stretch of monstrous dead leylandii hedge around the Winter Garden- what a transformation! Sun streams in now lighting up the Cornus stems, bounces of the evergreens and views open out to the cattle field behind. We have shuffled around the planting and put in some lovely backbone shrubs- Cotoneaster franchetii, Viburnums, Pyracantha, Mahonias, Osmanthus and holly- now all I need is for the thousands of tiny winter bulbs I planted to flower in carpets for our NGS winter Open Garden day-23rd March.
Scillas, Crocus, Iris reticulata, Iris danfordii, Iris histrioides Kathryn Hodgekin and George- a rich vibrant violet, great planted amongst yellow Cornus and with contrasting snowdrops....that’s the plan anyway- last year the voles munched their way through a convenient ready meal of these tiny bulbs. The long awaited carpet of Iris Kathryn Hodgekin finally appeared – a sad single flower! This year I’m vigilant- vole watching- there are even more of them now- perfect little holes amongst the plants that the dogs put their noses into and channel along. They totter about drunkenly in front of me in broad daylight – not even trying to run away, probably too full of bulbs. I thought I would be cunning and plant up a contingency supply in the polytunnel ready to plant out the night before- only to find a mouse has just eaten all the bulbs there too! How does anyone manage to produce those effortless carpets of winter flowers that just appear in casual drifts?
Maybe we just need more owls.
Will's top nest this year is the Spotted Fly Catcher- It started off nesting in the wisteria off the patio- we really enjoyed watching it perching on the chairs and swing seat catching flies- the first nest was raided by a crows but the pair managed to rear a second brood just outside the back door in a pyracantha. What a fantastic achievement- these little birds are so elegant- swooping up suddenly to catch flies in the yard right outside the kitchen window. We hope they return next year.
My favourite bird's nest this year is the Goldfinch who successfully reared two chicks in my Weeping Standard Rose- Sander's White- I found it by chance whilst pruning in June- the tiny bright red head surrounded by cascading white roses made a lovely picture. She reared two chicks- what a lovely start to life!
The other great nest was a little wren who sat through two Open Garden events and several Teacher Training sessions - nesting in the sleeve of the School Garden Scarecrow! thank you to all our garden visitors who repected her privacy!
Beach Border 2 months after planting- full of flowers and bees- grasses will bulk up next year and fill in the spaces.
We finally planted up the new Beach Border mid June- just 3 days before the first Open garden Event (nothing like a bit of pressure!), incredably in 2 months it has grown and filled out beautifully. It has turned out to be the most popular border for bees- they seem to flock to every plant in droves so that the whole border vibrates and hums- incredable! I noticed the other day whilst weeding thro' that bee families tend to gather on specific plants- are they sticking together or is it that particular plant that draws a particular species? It is easy to get quite obsessed with bees in this garden! Also weeding close up amongst these bee drenched plants does take a few nerves-I have been told the bees are no hazard whilst they are collecting nectar- in fact they seem so drunk on the stuff and in their own little world I almost feel like an intruder! Interestingly the lovely tall Sanguisorbia menziesii Alba didn't attract any bees- but were covered in wasps and hoverflies.
The Rose Garden is clothed in ecclesiastical purple with Alliums, Polemonium, Salvias, Sibirican Irises, mauve chives around the edges- huge silver Cynara and the silver lavenders, weeping pear tree, catmint are creating a great foil for all those purple flowers. Amazing transformation from the royal reds a only a couple of weeks ago- tulips in shades of burgundy, red, orange, vermillion- now gone and I can't even see the withered foliage the growth of perennials is so fast at the moment. I would like to freezethe moment, but the roses will come next so there is always something to look forward to.
The Crab Apple Avenue (Malus 'Evereste') is in full flower- so pretty- white blossom opened up from pink tinged buds over three weeks ago, and has held on through sun, rain and hail. Long grass at the base of the trees is dotted with stray cow parsley that has taken over from the snakeshead fritillaries – together the trees and grass frame a walk through the garden inviting you to wander down to Hannah's Wood. I can imagine in a few years when the trees grow together into a tunnel, it will be magical. I'm thinking about planting some white camassias amongst the trees too- we have blue camassias all over the winter garden, but I'd like to keep this walk white.
This fantastic little tree works hard in a garden- it will star again in Autumn with autumn foliage, and produces miniature 'Gala' like crab apples that stay on the branches till the birds feast on them- something to look forward to at the end of summer!
Two huge old Green gage trees framing the orchard are in full blossom- more than making up for the fact that they never seem to produce any fruit! This year the cooler spring has timed their flowering perfectly to coincide with the lovely white Narcissus actaea dotted amongst the fruit trees- the orchard is going to be so beautiful in a few years when the trees grow and the bulbs naturalise and multiply. Cherry trees about to burst into flower next then the apples and pears. Bees are busy in the garden at last- it is lovely to hear them working the flowers and trees around the garden.
Our Natural Swimming Pool is warming up- incredably reaching 19 degrees C on the bank holiday. We have started swimming every day-even before school in the mornings, it is so addictive- the water feels amazing! Reeds are shooting out of the water and marginals flowering around the pool edges. Bright yellow marsh marigolds, pretty white Caltha, fragrant Aponogetum, and blue water forget me nots. Lily leaves are rising to the surface and below the water there is a whirl of pond life amongst the oxygenators. This year we have also seen a few newts-so pretty, like miniature dinosaurs.
Agnes the pig is also being useful- she has moved into a patch of woodland behind the Winter Garden- rooting around, clearing the weeds, and looking very content.
Only I’m not convinced the single strand of almost invisible electric wire about 6 inches high, will keep her in for long- although the pig expert in our family assures me that is all it takes to keep in commercial outdoor pigs. (I think he ran out of wire to do a second strand).
The thought of that powerful snout ploughing through my winter garden, crunching through Bergenias and Hostas, Lilies ........let’s hope she stays happy with nettles and cow parsley.
Strip the Willow
The goats are being useful this week- stripping bark from the bottom of thick willow rods, to be made into plant supports around this garden and in the schools I’m working with this year. I poke a bundle of willow rods into the goat paddock and they spend all day happily chewing off the bark- this way we can push the rods into the ground without them rooting.
A couple of relatively warm weeks have brought the garden out of suspended animation into a riot of spring colour. I can’t keep up with the daily changes it is all happening so fast now! Plants are racing to make up for lost time, having spent so long in winter cold store. Leaves and blossom dotted along branches, as fine as gossamer silk- particularly lovely backlit with the early morning sunlight streaming through like miniature stained glass windows.
The Birch Circle in the Winter Garden is bursting with flowers-dainty pulmonarias, chunky magenta bergenias, lime green euphorbias, exquisite lemon epimediums, delicate blue brunnera, ferns unrolling, hostas piercing the soil, dog’s tooth violets –their yellow hats dancing in the breeze, and stately orange Fritillaria imperialis- all jostling for space around the fading hellebores. Like a packet of jelly tots- all the colours of spring thrown together- at any other time of year I might be offended by this mismatch of a colour scheme gone wrong, but in spring I think anything goes!
The rest of the garden is more refined with white Narcissus Thalia filling the borders in huge drifts together with early tulips- I love this white daffodil and can’t plant enough of them. I struggle to enjoy big blowsy yellow daffodils in borders (love them in long grass) but delicate white Thalia works for me. It is a great buffer for spring flowers, works well with tulips, and has the bonus of being fragrant- when you are down on your hands and knees weeding nearby, you will suddenly be rewarded by its sweet scent-it always surprises me!
11th April 2013
Ebony finally gave birth tonight to a strong little boy calf- Giles. He has a white face and one black eye patch. Giles is suckling already and less than an hour old.
Gloria is watching him curiously from the pen next door- she has been waiting for a little friend to play with for ages. Gloria plays hide and seek in piles of hay, sucks water from the hose pipe and has a riot every evening with William when he cleans them out. She is such a bright little calf. Such a relief Ebony has finally calved- we were beginning to wonder if she was just really fat.
Now we can put the cows out in the field for summer. Agnes the pig is going to need a new friend though- she has enjoyed being in the barn all winter next door to Ebony, sharing hay. I have got an idea to make a pen for her in a patch of woodland next to the cow field and adjacent to the Winter Garden -then she will get to see us all, and can root up the wood for me and clear up the weeds and brambles.
What a difference two days of sunshine have made! The garden is stirring, plants starting to grow, surface weeds germinating- a sure sign the soil is warming up- and finally in the orchard, over a month late now, tiny narcissus including ‘February Gold’, ‘Tete a Tete’ and ‘Minnow’ are in bright yellow flower.
We planted about 4000 bulbs under the fruit trees last Autumn – William and I made the holes and the boys dropped in the bulbs- a great family bonding activity! The different varieties should give a lasting display of daffodils starting with the tiny dwarf narcissi through to my favourite late flowering Pheasant’s Eye.
Under the crab apple avenue a lovely mix of tiny crocus, scilla, pushkinia and chinodoxas are opening up-with fritillaria meleagris following on. I’m going to add some snowdrops in the green from the winter garden to complete a flowery walk between these trees.
I love bulbs- you get so much flower power for your money, you can mix and match colours, flowering times, they multiply and come back every year without any fuss. The only ones I’m missing this year are the Iris reticulata in the Winter garden- I’m wondering if the voles have munched their way through them this winter- sometimes you can have too much wildlife!
This weekend we pollarded all the Salix v. ‘Brizensis’ in the bog garden and it’s really time to coppice all the coloured Cornus around the garden. I find this so hard to do- especially as the Winter Garden is looking fantastic right now with bright red cornus ‘Sibirica’, black ‘Kesselringii’ and bright yellow ‘flavirimea’ stems intertwining and framing the borders. However, I’m going to be ruthless and prune them hard to encourage lots of vibrant fresh stems for next year and I will weave the coloured stems into the willow maze and make colourful plant supports with them so I get to enjoy them for longer.
Weather still cold down here. The hellebores- so beautiful gathered together in all their dusky shades of port wine, were bent double under snow a few days ago- they seem to bounce back though- what a fantastic, resilient garden worthy plant they are.
Vibrant, violet coloured Iris ‘J S Dyt’ are finally popping up through warm pink Erica carnea ‘Myretown Ruby’, and shocking blue Scilla siberica are just peeping through the soil. Also a month late, soft lilac Anemone blanda ‘Blue’ are starting to unfurl their silky petals.
Apart from creating a welcome splash of colour in the garden, the heathers and scillas are fantastic winter nectar plants – bees coming out of hibernation flock to these flowers, along with the hazel and willow catkins - I love hearing them at work around the garden, but with this cold weather they are staying firmly put!