An English country garden at Longer End Cottage in Normandy

With a whole host of private gardens opening their gates across the county this month, there's certainly no shortage of wonderful gems to visit – but a truly delightful choice for a summer's afternoon is Longer End Cottage in Normandy

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2011

With a whole host of private gardens opening their gates across the county this month, there’s certainly no shortage of wonderful gems to visit – but a truly delightful choice for a summer’s afternoon is Longer End Cottage in Normandy

Words and photography by Leigh Clapp

Enthusiastic gardeners Ann and John McIlwham always look forward to sharing their beautiful garden at Longer End Cottage in Normandy when they open briefly for the National Gardens Scheme each year.

“Part of the pleasure of gardening is the common interest,” says Ann. “All the hard work in opening the garden is far outweighed by the joy of the day. To watch people absorb the atmosphere of the garden and exchange ideas over afternoon tea is a magical experience.”

The couple have lived at the 16th century cottage since 1976, when they moved in to discover a lovely, well-structured garden, set over one-and-a-half acres, and began work on developing it further.

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“The idea was to create a romantic garden where we could be detached from the madness of the real world and enjoy a sense of calm,” says Ann.

The framework of yew and holly hedges was retained and provided a palette to work on, though the couple did find some challenges as they progressed with the garden.

“It was very beautiful, but with our initial lack of detailed gardening knowledge, we managed to lose a large number of plants,” recalls Ann. “It was a steep learning curve.”

Working with the light and sandy soil, which has an average PH of 6.5, not to mention being set in a frost pocket, has often meant moving plants around until the ideal position is found. “Honey fungus, deer and rabbits, plus numerous diseases, have plagued us as well, but the positives always prevail,” adds Ann.

Picture perfectA formal lawn at the front of the cottage is adorned with beds of roses, herbaceous shrubs and trees, as well as a naturalistic pond and a striking buxus parterre designed by the late Rosemary Verey of Barnsley House fame.

Other garden ‘rooms’ spreading around the cottage include an attractively laid out kitchen garden, a stunning laburnum walk aglow with its golden racemes in June, underplanted with contrasting purple alliums, and an exotic jungle themed area hidden behind ivy trained on rope swags.

Other favourites include the brick folly and adjacent wildflower meadow with its constant shimmer of textures – though creating the effect was apparently quite a challenge as the area was cut back to the soil and then seeded with around 60/40 per cent grass and flower seeds, taking quite a few years to get just right.

“To stand by the folly and watch the movement and colour of the grasses and wild flowers on a sunny day, with all the butterflies, is just gorgeous,” says Ann. “It’s always full of surprises with different plants attracting your attention each year.

“Having developed it from scratch, it’s lovely to see it work out – it gives us a real sense of achievement.”

There is an extensive range of plants in the garden reflecting Ann’s interest in finding unusual treasures to add to her palette of material.

“It’s wonderful having Wisley so close and I also love to visit Sissinghurst on a yearly pilgrimage,” says Ann. “It looks amazing any time of the year and the structure looking down from the tower is so inspiring.”

Back at Longer End Cottage, at this time of year the foxgloves, irises, delphiniums and roses are out in their full glory, followed by spires of purple Verbena bonariensis catching in the breeze with soft pink lilies glowing in the late summer sun, before the autumn sees richly toned dahlias and late season perennials continuing the successional show.

Meanwhile, sculptural plants, such as bananas, palms and ferns feature in the exotic bed.

“New plans are constantly in the pipeline,” says Ann. “Ideas may come from other gardens, magazines or an inspirational thought after weeks of sleepless nights!”

With Ann’s background in catering, be sure to allow enough time to enjoy a home-made tea to complete your visit to this welcoming, charming garden. 

NEED TO KNOW:Longer End Cottage, Normandy GU3 2AP. For more information, see

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