Photographs: Charles Francis
Ellis Gardens and Nurseries
October 2010: A conversation with owner Tim Ellis
The garden and nursery here are run on environmentally-friendly principles. Is this how you’ve always done things?
Recycling is central to our whole ethos. We grow all our own plants, save seeds and take cuttings, and propagate everything. We make our compost, use organic fertilisers, and let nature take care of pests and diseases. There are lots of wildlife habitats in the garden, so natural predators can come and work here. I scatter slug pellets thinly early in the year, but after that, the ducks roam around freely and eat all the slugs. The whole garden is full of wildlife. We have buzzards flying over and hedgehogs over-wintering in one of the sheds. Butterflies hatch in the nettles and cover the buddleia, and the campanulas are thronging with bees.
What’s the story behind the garden?
My wife and I were looking for an old rundown place where we could build a nursery — the more derelict the better! We found a blank field on a hill, which had been a wilderness for 10 years. It was crying out for us to do something with it. We started the garden five years ago to showcase all the plants we grow, and to be an inspirational place for people wanting ideas for their own gardens. We divided it into areas, tailored to suit different types of plants, and planted a lot of quick-growing trees like sycamore, ash and willow. The willow walk is about 75 feet long — I’ve never seen one longer. We grow a lot of traditional plants — phlox paniculata, achillea, centaurea — especially in the herbaceous borders. If a plant does well here, it will do well almost anywhere. The garden is high up, close to the moors, and east-facing, and in the winter when the leaves come off the hedges, the wind rushes through. And it’s a frost pocket: you can feel the cold air around your feet.
So how did you create the hot summer bed?
The bed is sheltered by the Mediterranean sunny bank, which is held up by 250 car tyres stacked up to make a retaining wall. When the sun is here, it’s baking hot, and perfect for euphorbias and grasses. It’s inspired by barren landscapes in Cyprus and Malta. We have a special seed mixture for the hot summer bed. There are Californian poppies and toadflax; yellow Patrinia scabiosifolia and purple Allium sphaerocephalon.
Allium sphaerocephalum with Patrinia scabiosifolia
Imperata ‘Red Baron’ — blood grass — is one of the stars of this bed; everyone admires it. Lots of verbenas and verbascums have self-seeded this year.
In complete contrast, you have the romantic white garden, with roses and hydrangeas — and a fountain made from an old water pump and a rusty bucket …
I found the pump in a garden shed, and the white garden was built around it. We hunted high and low for an old bucket: this is a fire bucket from a car boot sale. I had to immerse it in acid to make it rusty and then knock it about a bit and drill holes in it.
We didn’t lose anything in the white garden in the winter. In other areas of the garden, cordylines and phormiums were badly damaged, as were callistemons only 10 to 20 feet away from the white garden, but the agapanthus in here was untouched. Maybe the gravel holds the heat.
How did you create the water features?
We dug out the areas for the bog garden and wildlife pond and lined and re-filled them. They are both nice tranquil places to come and sit. The bog garden has candelebra primulas up through the middle in spring, and in summer, there are red, orange and yellow day lilies and dark purple astilbes. The pond was dug 20 feet deep: we used the stone to build paths and a car park. This whole area is buzzing with wildlife — dragonflies, a kingfisher, bats, frogs, newts and toads, and in the water, carp and tench, plus loads of goldfish. The summer house overlooking the pond is all recycled, and it looks like it’s been here for 40 years.
Hemerocalis ‘Sammy Russell’
The windows came from a shed, the back end was made out of another shed, and the roof is off a bungalow. The wooden boat by the pond is half of an old Bude Canal rowing boat called Pat.
What can visitors see in October?
Poppies, sedums, and the beautiful white buddleias in the white garden. The rudbeckias, if the weather is kind, will flower until November, and a lot of euphorbias have nice red and orange leaf colour. October is traditionally the best time for buying plants. The soil is warm, and they get established, and by spring they are ready to grow.
What are your plans for the future?
The garden is not static; it’s a living canvas. But it can‘t get any bigger, because we are at the limit of the boundaries. We’re developing a classroom in an old workshop, where we hope to run day courses in practical garden skills, painting and drawing and garden-orientated crafts. Next year, we‘re doing a series of open days for the Precious Lives appeal and building a display garden for them at the Royal Cornwall Show.