Photographs: Charles Francis
February 2016: A conversation with owner Carole Vincent
An exposed north coast site is not the obvious place for a garden. What made you decide to live and garden here?
I had always dreamed of living in a cottage by the sea, with roses round the door, and I could see that this was somewhere where I could have painting and sculpture classes. That was more than 50 years ago. I knew that gardening here was going to be quite a challenge, as the land faces north, and a lot of wind and salt come in. I started by doing drawings of the garden I wanted to create: it looks out onto the cliffs, and I wanted it to follow their shapes. Then I set about making the garden, with a pickaxe, a shovel and a wheelbarrow — I had no digger and no help. I built walls and paths, and put in a greenhouse and a pergola. As a sculptor, I am interested in structure. But once you have the structure, it needs softening, so you have to go for loads of plants.
How did you decide what to plant?
It’s a question of what will grow. Fuchsias do well here, and skimmias are also good growers. I push my luck sometimes, but I have to accept it when plants say: “I don’t like it here”. To start with, I mostly planted shelterbelt stuff — a lot of pines, fatsias, and a bay tree, which is now huge. I’m beginning to regret that I put in so many big trees, even though they keep the worst of the wind away. I spend masses of time clearing up pine needles in the autumn.
How did Half Acre become the one-and-a-half acre garden you have now?
I bought more land to build a new studio, so I had another area of garden to construct. There’s also a wood, which is lovely in the spring, with snowdrops, daffodils and then bluebells. The wood is the highest part of the garden, and in June and July, you can see the sun setting between Boscastle Lookout and the church. It’s also my recycling area. I’ve made a dead hedge using twiggy material bound together with bamboo and string: it’s a good barricade against the wind and very wildlife-friendly. Decent-sized branches go in the dead hedge, and the rest is burned or goes in the compost heap. There’s enough top dressing for the whole garden.
The garden is a wonderful setting for your colourful concrete sculptures. When did your fascination with concrete begin?
My father had a small concrete works in Devon, and I used to help out when I was little. In my early days as a sculptor, I couldn’t afford large chunks of wood or stone, so I started experimenting with colour in concrete.
There are quite a few of my large-scale commissions in Devon and the Channel Islands, and one in Cornwall: the Bude Light which I was invited to do to mark the Millennium. I decided on a tall cone — as it’s a stable structure — in the colours of sand, sea and sky, with a light at the top to commemorate Goldsworthy Gurney, inventor of the original Bude Light, a very bright oil lamp.
The Blue Circle garden, with its circular ponds and vibrant colours, is a distinctive feature of Half Acre. What was the thinking behind it?
I wanted some ponds here, and originally I was going to make them with slate and granite — but I knew I had to prove that coloured concrete would work. I wanted pink punctuation as a contrast to the blue concrete and brick, so I made lots of pots and filled them with geraniums. When I was invited to take the garden to the Chelsea Flower Show, the pots all went up there, and I remade all the bricks on site. The Blue Circle garden is still evolving. Last year, I took out the grasses around the ponds and planted astilbes and primulas.
Do you have any favourite plants?
I like echiums because they’re sculptural — I’m always growing more from seed. I lost a lot when we had two bad winters, so last year, I put them close to the greenhouse with fleece on top. A friend brought me some red echium seeds from Tenerife, so I’m looking forward to them flowering in a couple of years. I also have lots of David Austin roses dotted around, mostly white and pink. I still have a ‘Dorothy Perkins’ rose which was here when I came. Last year, I had a really good show of roses, but the weekend I opened for the National Garden Scheme was too early for them, so this year, the garden will be open one week later.
What are your other plans for 2016?
I’ve got a lot of daffodils to go in the wood, and I’m growing tulips, which I’ll put out in April. I’m also chancing my arm with salvias this year, although I may have to put them indoors for the winter. There’s not much going on in the greenhouse at the moment, but I’ll soon be busy there, and in the meantime, it’s a nice little haven from the wind and rain.