Photographs: Charles Francis
October 2014: A conversation with owners Tony and Kerry Marr
Tanglewood is not only a wild garden, but a water garden. Was this what you planned to create here?
Tony: We called it Tanglewood because that’s what it was like when we came: a mass of brambles. We didn’t intend it to be a garden at all, originally — we were just going to dig some ponds.
Kerry: Tony had always wanted ponds. The first one, in 2002, was Round Pond. Bridge Pond was dug the next year, then Kingfisher Pond in 2004, and Golden Pond last year. Water flows from pond to pond and out into the wetland beyond. There are 19 acres of woodland here, but we don’t know much about its history. The whole wood is terraced with stone walls, so it was obviously farmed a long time ago.
How did you decide what to plant?
Kerry: The soil is ericaceous, and we have learned what grows here and what doesn’t. The wood is covered in bluebells, rhododendrons and foxgloves, and then the crocosmia explodes. We’ve added lots of trees — it was trial and error, but alders, bamboo and willow grow well. My favourite tree is one we call the Owl Tree. It’s a Manchurian pine, and the cones look like owls sitting on the branches. We’ve added numerous shrubs, both native and exotic. We’re useless with plant names, but if it’s got “gigantean” in the name, we go for it. For the last five years, we’ve planted our Christmas trees, and they’ve carried on growing: one is an unusual Australian wollemi pine. I’ve now put in some blue spruce, which we might bring into the house this Christmas. I have tried to get wildflowers growing for years, and this year, for the first time, we’ve got daisies, yellow rattle and scabious, so I’m quite pleased.
What is distinctive about Tanglewood?
Tony: The garden is 50 per cent for humans and 50 per cent for wildlife. If you’re going to attract wildlife to a garden, you have to leave some of it alone completely, so there are lots of brambles and nettles. We have ducks nesting by the ponds, and swallows dip into the water, which is tremendous. A kingfisher visits Kingfisher Pond, and we’ve put a stick for him to perch on.
Kerry: We love the squirrels – they’ve learned to take nuts from a little box — and it’s lovely to see the jays coming down to our feeding station.
Visitors will see that you have created your own quirky additions to the native wildlife population. How do you make these creatures?
Tony: I carve them with a chainsaw from fallen trees. I like to have things peeping out to catch people unawares, like the badger. We do have real badgers in the woods, but we don’t see them much.
I made a wooden kingfisher out of a big beech, and there’s a giant spider which some of the little kids won’t go past it because it’s so frightening!
Kerry: We also think we’ve invented gorse topiary — Tony has made a whale, and a chair with a cat sitting on it. We call him Tanglewood Tiddles.
How long have you had fairies living in your trees?
Kerry: The fairy tree houses were one of the first things we did. Kids knock on the doors and look in the windows; they leave flowers on the doorstep, or an envelope with 10p inside, with “For Fairy” written on it.
Once they’ve seen the fairy trees, the kids are in their imagination zone, and when they see the other creatures, they make up stories about them. They love the unicorn, and the Tanglebod, a monster which lives off fish and birds’ eggs.
What made you decide to open the garden to the public full-time this year?
Kerry: We’ve been opening for charities for two days a year. More and more people came, and this year, we’re open from Easter to October. We don’t do refreshments, but people are welcome to bring picnics and barbecues. We’re open until 8pm, so you can even bring your supper. We’ve been doing a season ticket, so people can pop in for half an hour whenever they like.
Tony: We don’t have signposts: we just like people to walk around and discover things. There are several paths leading nowhere, where I’ve put seats, so people can relax in a quiet spot. I was going to make a giant chessboard, but it got too complicated, so I did noughts and crosses instead. Kids love it — and adults do, too.
What are your latest projects?
Kerry: Near Golden Pond is a bank of wild rhododendron, which was covered by brambles. We cleared it, and this year it looked absolutely lovely. I’ve planted the hill above the pond with buddleias, and we’re going to plant yellow stuff around it, and have some gold-coloured fish. We’re also making a picnic glade in the wood.
Your logo says “Tanglewood – may contain nuts”. Does it?
Tony: The wood has beech nuts, hazel nuts, sweet chestnuts — and we’re a bit nutty, too!