Garden of the month: Old Bladbean Stud

pasCarol Bruce

pasCarol Bruce - Credit: Archant

Passionate plantswoman Carol Bruce paints her garden in swathes of roses and irises

As we stroll around the gardens she has created at Old Bladbean Stud, owner Carol Bruce says: “June in the garden is when all the hard work through winter and spring pays off with a spectacular burst of flowers in a profound celebration of nature and life, beauty and wonder.

“I sometimes need to pinch myself when the roses are in full bloom to prove I’m not dreaming.”

Started from scratch in 2003 from a wasteland of concrete, broken glass, derelict huts, thistles and nettles, the process has clearly been a labour of love.

“It was forlorn, chaotic and abandoned – the perfect place to unfurl some of the flowery worlds scrolled up in my imagination ever since I can remember.”

Carol is committed to doing the garden by herself, revelling in the details as well as the whole picture, learning and developing as she goes along and viewing the three-acre gardens as a true voyage of discovery.

“I have no horticultural training so I just find out what I need to know when I need to know it. I use gardening manuals, encyclopaedias and reference books, seed and plant catalogues and internet searches and once I have found out the basics then I have a go,” she says.

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“I tend to have very low expectations of success and a very high anticipation of failure! I then I analyse the wreckage, tweak my approach and have another go, analyse the wreckage and repeat.

“It’s my personal strategy for exploring uncharted territory” says Carol.

In addition to creating five interlinked gardens, Carol has developed an experimental self-sufficiency project with rainwater collection, a wind turbine and solar panels. It is managed as an ornamental ecosystem with a carefully planned routine of gardening activities, from pruning to cultivating. Chemical use is kept to a minimum, and the landscape is a beautiful meld of colour, scent and form.

From the moment the garden awakes in spring there is interest to be enjoyed, with each area having a different season to shine.

“There’s a magical day in April when mother nature lights the blue touchpaper, and from that moment on until the last autumn leaf hits the ground, the plants grow, flower and set seed in a silent slow-motion fireworks display,” she smiles.

Highlights in June are the old-fashioned roses in the romantic walled garden and the 300ft colour-schemed, double-mirror borders. The 90 roses, including gallicas, damask and bourbons, bloom among a tapestry palette of perennials, irises, alliums, flowering shrubs and clematis.

Paths, softened by billowing foliage, intersect the space allowing a sense of immersion in the profusion.

“The rose garden is a melting pot of every romantic floral birthday card and jigsaw puzzle image from my childhood, animated into a real place on the ground that can be walked through,” says Carol.

Adjoining the walled garden, the double borders have a more formal feel with their strong linear central lawned walk edged in sentinels of timber obelisks surrounded by colour-themed planting of blue, white and silver, echoing the hues of the sky above. The effect is defined by groupings of bearded irises, clematis and delphiniums.

“I think of the plants as components in a living collage, as brushstrokes on a canvas, or instruments in an orchestra, rather than as collectables or individual specimens.

“I choose plants for their role within the ‘big picture’, which creates the spirit of the place. I then relate them to neighbouring plants via secondary characteristics for close-up interest.”

Opening the garden to visitors through the National Gardens Scheme on selected days from June to October allows fellow garden lovers to enjoy the spirit of this beautiful place. “It’s really lovely to meet so many plant enthusiasts – I had no idea so many people share my love of flowers and nature. It’s also a very good excuse to sit down for four hours!’ says Carol. n


Old Bladbean Stud

Bladbean, Canterbury CT4 6NA

Sun 1, 15, 29 June; 13, 27 July; 24 Aug; 7, 21 Sept; 5 Oct (2-6); admission: £5.50, children free

Follow NGS signs from Stone Street (B2068).

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