Photographs: Charles Francis
The Garten Garden
August 2013: A conversation with owner Sara Gadd
Where does the name Garten come from?
It stands for a union of art and garden, as well as being German for ‘garden’. The garden has evolved from my husband Daro Montag’s art practice — he is associate professor of art and environment at Falmouth University — and my garden design practice. I studied plantsmanship and garden design at Duchy College, and through that, I started thinking about how we wanted this garden to develop.
What was your vision for the garden?
The vision has always been about working with the earth, and being aware that every small thing we do can make a difference. We have tried to contribute to the ecosystem of the garden, and learn about how we can look after it for the future. Our water feature is carved from Delabole slate, and has an inscription from Lao Tsu, an ancient Taoist philosopher and poet, which includes the lines: “A journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath our feet”.
I also wanted this to be a place for family and friends — we have several dens here for children. As a designer, I work with people as much as with plants, and that’s what I love doing the most. If this garden can give us food, pleasure, and a space to bring up our family, that’s great.
What is the history of this site?
The house was originally two simple granite farm workers’ cottages, with sheep pens in front. When we came, the garden was just blank grassed areas, overgrown shrubs, a horrible dilapidated greenhouse, a field of brambles and a great big overgrown area of blackthorn. The land was split by stone walls, and we decided to work with these old boundaries, but give the garden a modern twist.
How did you go about doing this?
We have a hot terrace, a spring garden, a wildlife pond, and feature trees like eucalyptus and olive. We’ve planted a fernery and a willow walk, and also a bamboo walk which borders on the wilderness outside the garden — there’s a sense of not knowing what’s beyond.
A friend who has a quarry brought us some giant granite stones for paving: we wanted something that would match the house and was earthy and not highly polished, and would drain well. Gabions made from eucalyptus act as walls, a wildlife habitat and a store for the wood we use for fuel.
We’ve also planted a small copse with willow, oak, ash and hazel, which we hope to start coppicing in a few years. My husband loves working with fundamental materials like granite and wood, and makes benches and seats. He also makes a heart for me every Valentine’s Day, and these are dotted through the garden.
Do you have any favourite plants?
In the fernery, there’s a sword fern which is goes a dark deep green. It doesn’t die back, and looks beautiful all year round — you just need to give it a bit of a crop when the new corms come up. I love hostas. If I poultry grit them regularly and add organic pellets, I can keep them free from slugs for some time — but then the doily effect comes on. I also love gunnera. We bought ours as £3 pots, and they’re huge now.
What are the challenges of gardening here?
We’re 400 feet above sea level, and it’s very windy, so we’ve put in hazel and ash as windbreaks. The climate is changing: our orchard is on a slope, and it’s so damp at the bottom that we don’t get as many apples there as we used to. We’ve now moving with the climate, and putting in more trees further up. We try to be as hospitable as possible to wildlife — as long as they don’t eat our chickens. We have a resident buzzard, and badgers and bunnies live in the garden walls, and we sometimes see a fox trundling across the field with cubs.
What can visitors see on your open day in August?
There will be a huge variety of grasses, like Calamagrostis brachytricha, pennisetum and miscanthus. Paniculata hydrangeas should be out, and late-flowering asters, rudbeckias, leucanthemums and hollyhocks. Our veg garden should be pretty full: I am passionate about heritage varieties, and trying to keep the gene pool as wide as possible.
We’ve planted a willow circle, which is where we have our barbecues, so if it’s a nice day, we hope to have the barbie burning!