Blossom on the bough - Hampshire gardens

Leigh Clapp visits Flintstones in Durley, a tranquil garden of spring blooms and blended foliage combinations, created by the owners from a totally blank canvas

Many keen gardeners would relish the opportunity to start a garden of their own design from scratch and for June and Bill Butler this dream became a reality when they started the hunt for a home to retire to from Wales. 'We moved to Durley in August 1993 after we had been looking for a house to 'do-up' on a large plot or a plot on which to build. It had to be a fair size, and facing S/S/W, with no large trees, because we had decided that we wanted to plan and landscape a garden to enjoy, and possibly enter the National Gardens Scheme. We were very fortunate to find this plot which was basically just a field - a lovely empty canvas," recalls June.

A room with a viewThere had once been an old cottage on the site, which was demolished in the 1930's. The Butlers were able to buy an additional quarter-acre to give open land at the front of the house they were to build, and with fields following on from the back garden they had the advantage of beautiful uninterrupted sunsets. Attention firstly turned to the home. "We designed the house with the help of a lady architect and whilst it was being built we commenced on planning the garden. We didn't draw a plan or anything; the ideas just emerged. We used to stand up on the partially built house and plan it in our minds," explains June.

The best laid plansFrom the experience of having lost a lot of valuable topsoil when they re-developed their Welsh home, they were careful that the builders of their new home transferred the over-spill of the build to large piles in the garden. "We had them place the topsoil where we thought the beds would be. This proved invaluable, making raised beds to plant into, leaving the very heavy clay soil as sub-soil. This, along with annual mulching of compost mixed with well-rotted manure, has resulted in a wonderful soil to create a lovely garden," June comments.Today the garden has a harmonious blend of structure with plant interest throughout the seasons. Lawns stretch out, intersected with smothered arches to create hideaways and separate areas and the densely planted island beds provide the perfect afternoon wander. Two interconnecting ponds, with a fountain in the bottom one, encourage wildlife to the garden. "Our favourite sitting area is by the top pond, just relaxing and observing. We saw a crested newt a few years ago and we even have a pet garden snake that curls up in the sunshine," June adds.

In the mixBeing a very keen plants woman, June enjoys creating a tapestry effect by combining foliage and flowers and has planted a wide range of shrubs and perennial plant collections, including hardy geraniums. "I love the texture of plant materials, especially the furry grey foliage of Stachys 'big ears'. I plant this at the front of the bed to frame a planting of mixed foliage colours, in the purple, bronze and silver range. I love the feathery senecio, with the silver foliage at the back of the bed, peeping through the Cotinus 'Grace', purple sage, and Hebe 'Red Edge'. In the summer I tuck in around seven or nine Cerinthe major purpurescens, a lovely easily grown annual to complete a planting of complementary colours, textures and tones," she explains.The seasons are marked by anticipated plants. "My greatest joy I think is the sight of the first snowdrops, of which we have hundreds. They are such a welcome sight early in the year, followed by all the spring bulbs and wonderful hellebores. At our early April opening for the NGS, it is a great opportunity for people to wander round and start the garden visiting year," smiles June.

Opening TimesSunday April 3rd (2-5pm)Sunday May 15th, 16th (2-6)Tuesday June 14th (6.30- 8.30)Visitors also welcome by appointment March to OctoberContact Flintstones, Durley SO32 2AGTel: 01489 860880The National Gardens Scheme can be found at:

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