Taming the wild - creating a garden from scratch

Ornamental poppies

Ornamental poppies - Credit: Juliet Penn Clark

Moving to an ancient manor house near Ware, a couple transformed acres of field and scrub into a magical country garden. 

‘A lot of it resembled a rough bumpy field, complete with large areas of brambles, stinging nettles and thistles,' says Juliet Penn Clark of the land surrounding the 15th century farmhouse near Ware she moved to with her family five years ago. 

‘The advice for when you take on a new garden is to wait and see what develops over a couple of seasons. We waited until after our first spring but nothing appeared, so work commenced.’  

The four-acre garden she has created with her husband Richard is made up of 'rooms' enclosed with yew and beech hedges, with plenty of old and English roses and peonies, plus a potager and a cut flower garden. A small area of woodland near an ancient moat has been planted with bulbs and flowers for a spring display which makes a lovely spot for a walk, as does the nearby orchard and wildflower meadow.

Billowing borders with pink flowers near the manor house

Billowing borders near the manor house - Credit: Juliet Penn Clark

When the family moved to Brockholds Manor in Old Hall Green more than 1,000 plants in pots came with them from their former home in Walkern.  

‘We had to store the plants in a friend’s barn for a few weeks whilst we moved and settled in,’ remembers Juliet. ‘Most survived and are now planted in the garden.’  
The friend who gave a temporary home to the plants also happens to be a Hertfordshire committee member for the National Garden Scheme, and hoped that Juliet would open her new garden one day for the fundraising cause.

‘Our first garden opening was planned for May last year,’ Juliet says. ‘But of course the pandemic meant we couldn’t do that. So we opened later in the year during August and September.’ 

Juliet and Richard began their new garden by planting hedges for shelter and to create distinct areas, with more than 1,600 mixed hedging plants put in during the spring of 2017.  

 The borders and wildflower areas side by side

The borders and wildflower areas side by side - Credit: Juliet Penn Clark

‘The house doesn’t sit square within the boundaries of the land, and I wanted to try and bring a bit more cohesiveness, and connect the house and garden together which we’ve achieved by creating smaller garden areas within the larger site,’ explains Juliet.  

One of the new areas is planted just with white flowers, which Juliet adores. ‘If I could plant only one flowering colour it would be white. But they don’t often mix well with other plants and I just wanted to put all my favourite white flowers together in one area.’

Flowers in The White Garden at Brockholds Manor, Herts 

The White Garden - Credit: Juliet Penn Clark

There are more than 70 varieties of roses in the garden with many grown from cuttings from her previous plot.

‘I fell in love with both old and English roses when my mother started to collect them in the1980s,’ Juliet says. ‘Their shape, form, colour, scent, names and history are so captivating. If anything, I love them more each year and keep adding to our collection here. Every summer is a joy just because of the roses.’

Ferdinand Pichard, a striped hybrid perpetual rose with a lovely scent

Ferdinand Pichard, a striped hybrid perpetual rose with a lovely scent - Credit: Juliet Penn Clark

Tulips are another favourite and last autumn over 1,200 bulbs were planted, mostly for containers, but some in the borders too. Juliet also has a growing collection of paeonies and irises. She plants perennials in groups of 15 and 25 which create impact and presence in the large borders, particularly the large central one.

During lockdown last year, Richard built a new terrace. And Juliet’s father is in charge of the lawns. Regular mowing is gradually levelling the uneven and bumpy lawn areas. 

It hasn't all been plain sailing however. The newly-planted garden quickly came to the attention of a hungry intruder. 

‘I noticed that some plants weren’t growing quickly enough, or at all,’ Juliet recalls. ‘And it took a while to understand what was happening.’

Deer were nibbling the growing tips and buds of plants and the bark on trees and shrubs, so a six-foot high fence was put in along the boundary during the winter of 2019.

While the manor sits in fields of Hertfordshire clay, the soil in the garden area is quite good and free-draining, possibly from being a farmyard and being used as a garden previously. To create even better soil structure in the borders, Juliet has eight compost bins, which are something of a passion. 

‘I love composting! I'm not sure if I garden to compost, or compost to garden, but I am thrilled at the magic of layering garden waste and then watching it turn into magical wonderful compost after a little while.'

Delicate foliage and flowers look stunning in raking light 

Delicate foliage and flowers look stunning in raking light - Credit: Juliet Penn Clark

The couple plan to open the garden for the National Garden Scheme and for a special theatre production in August, restrictions permitting.

'We feel lucky to share this garden with visitors throughout the year to enjoy,’ Juliet says. ‘It’s not an overly-contrived garden, but a mix of formal and informality growing together in harmony.’ 

Visit the garden
Brockholds Manor 
Old Hall Green SG11 1HE 
(Eight miles north of Ware and five minutes from the A10). 

A production of Jayne Eyre will take place in the garden on August 14. See brockholdsmanor.com for details and booking.