Photographs: Charles Francis
September 2016: A conversation with garden designer Darren Hawkes
This garden enjoys a dramatic location above Readymoney Cove in Fowey. How did this influence your design for the site?
I wanted to make it a garden with a large proportion of ornamental grasses and tall seedheads. There’s always a breeze here, and I knew they would work really well. In terms of colour, I didn’t want there to be any restrictions. The combination of lots of colour, muted seedheads and the light movement of the grasses is so pretty. Then I chose pittosporum and lonicera because they echo what’s growing above the beach. In the first year, hedges were essential to stop perennials being lashed by the south-easterlies. Because there’s no actual house here, we put a summerhouse and greenhouse at the top of the garden, to call people to the top and give them a reward, a place to sit and catch the view.
It’s quite unusual for a privately-owned garden to have no attached residence. What is its story?
This was once a kitchen garden which fed Point Neptune, the large Gothic house at the head of Readymoney Cove, when the whole cove was owned by the Rashleigh family. When they moved away from Fowey, the garden fell into disrepair. It was managed sporadically with an occasional visit with a chainsaw, and was eventually left in trust to a family of six children by their parents. They now congregate here in the summer, and visit on and off during the year.
How did you first become involved?
About six years ago, I noticed there was a lot of tree clearance going on, and I asked if I could pitch some ideas for the garden. After the trees had been felled — about 60 of them — there were two years of weeding and trying to dig over borders with a 45-degree slope. There were masses of terrible weeds, like Japanese knotweed and mare’s tail: one of the problems about gardening in Cornwall is that weeds don’t have a dormancy period! We started planting in the winter of 2012. There’s a nod and a wink to the garden’s past as a kitchen garden, with asparagus and raspberries — but the soil isn’t really good enough for growing crops.
The wildflower meadow below the summerhouse is a lovely feature of the garden. Was it easy to establish?
It was a bit of an experiment for us; I haven’t done a meadow before. We started three years ago with a perennial seed mix. The first year was a big disappointment, but this year it has worked really well. In June, it was full of ox-eyed daisies, and in July, cornflowers, scabious, angelica and centaurea, with mallow by the end of the month. There’s a really good view of the summerhouse when you look up from the bottom of the meadow. I’m now toying with the idea of having a path going through the middle, so people can get close to the plants.
What else has worked well in the garden?
There are lovely peaches ripening in the greenhouse. Tomatoes, chili and verbena have also been grown there and then gone out into the garden. Rubus thibetanus ‘Silver Fern’ is a bit of a brute, which reaches everywhere, but it’s really beautiful. It started off as a windbreak, but it has earned its place as an ornamental. We planted Erigeron karvinskianus at the edge of one of the borders as plug plants. It’s a brilliant foil for larger plants, and requires no watering — we just clip it back with shears if it gets really dry. By the gate is a curved hedge of Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’. It tolerates the wet winds, and leads your eye straight up through the garden to the summerhouse. Below the lavender is Euphorbia robbiae. When it’s in flower, you get a huge swathe of lime green.
The garden has opened under the National Gardens Scheme for the first time this year. What can visitors look forward to seeing on the final opening day of the season at the end of September?
I think the garden will improve during the summer. Miscanthus sinensis and other grasses will be at their best, and there are a lot of late-flowering annuals like cleome and ricinus, and perennials such as ceretostigma.and Persicaria campanula. When I was persuaded to open for the NGS, the family who own the garden were excited about sharing the garden with the public. I was a little bit nervous, because it is a work in progress, but people have responded really well. It’s worth coming up just to enjoy the view, which is spectacular. It’s nice for us to interact with people, and for them to see that this is a working garden.
What are your plans for the autumn and winter?
We’ve got to do a whole load of mulching, using seaweed from the beach mixed with our own compost. I want to re-do the top borders, to give us more plant material to propagate from, so we will be lifting and dividing and replanting. We divided the crocosmia last year. Now they are in flower, some people might think they’re a huge clash with the pittosporum hedge, but I love them — I think we’ll plant more to make a lovely red ribbon through the garden.
Four years after you embarked on this project, how do you feel about what you have achieved here?
You lay a garden out, but it finds its own way of being. This isn’t an immaculate clipped garden, because we don‘t have time — or the budget — to keep it that way. It’s become a space I feel a certain sense of ownership of, because I’ve chosen and planted every plant. It’s a privilege to work here.