Victorian conservatory

Photographs: Charles Francis

September 2009: A conversation with owners Charlie and Liz Pridham

What’s the history of Roseland House and its garden?

Charlie: Bits of the house probably date back to the 1600s, and there hadn’t been much done to it for 100 years when we came here in 1983. The garden was also neglected: some of it was destroyed in the 1940s, and some was sold off. By the time we arrived, it was an empty plot. There were no plants except yew and fruit trees. The tallest things in the garden were daffodils.

Liz: You couldn’t even really see where the flowerbeds had been. The owner before last had grown fruit and veg, but that was the only area which looked cultivated.

How did you go about creating a garden in this empty space?

Liz: The first thing we did was mow the whole garden. Then we started changing the levels, as it is on a steep slope.

Charlie: We brought a vanload of plants. The soil was shallow and light with no goodness, as it hadn’t been gardened for so long. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of mulching and put in a lot of raised beds. We don’t compost any shreddings – we just put them straight onto the ground.

How did you become interested in climbing plants?

Charlie: One of the things which did well without any help from us was honeysuckle. When I left the Merchant Navy, I decided to have a go at running a nursery. I contacted a grower of honeysuckles in Kent, and bought not just honeysuckle from him, but a wide range of climbing plants. They don’t take up much space at ground level, and they are up out of harm’s way, where dogs and children can’t get at them. When the grower retired, I taught myself how to propagate them.

Clematis 'Jackmanii Rubra'

Clematis ‘Jackmanii ‘Rubra’ 

How did you develop the nursery?

Liz: We started by doing the local WI market. After that, we began selling out of the county. We decided to specialise in climbers because we have so little competition — most nurseries won’t touch them because they tangle.

Charlie: We probably have more than 100 clematis varieties on the go at any one time. All our plants can be hard-pruned so you don’t have to put up with a gone-over mess. If something new comes along, something else has to go, as we have limited space. Because we have a National Collection of Clematis viticella, people expect to see serried ranks of clematis. They say: “Where’s the clematis collection?” and they’ve already walked past three-quarters of it!

Clematis 'Princess Diana'

Clematis ‘Princess Diana’ 

What advice can you give people who like clematis but aren’t interested in the “serried ranks” approach?

Charlie: Ask yourself if it’s big enough to grow up the plant you want it to grow up, When things are up close, you can use smaller flowers; further away, you need bigger ones. You have to be careful at ground level, because of bare space, but you can hide that with other plants. Some books suggest you grow clematis as ground cover, but they get chewed to pieces by slugs and look absolutely dreadful.

Clematis 'Ascotiensis'

Clematis ‘Ascotiensis’ 

Do you have any favourite clematis varieties?

Liz: I love ‘Aphrodite’ — it’s a dark purpley-blue, a pain to grow, but carries on flowering once it starts – and montana wilsonii, which is later than normal montanas. It’s creamy-white with a wonderful scent.

Charlie: I’m fond of ‘Betty Corning’, which is pale blue, and also has a lovely scent. Both of us lean towards plants which not only look nice, but smell nice.

What are the good and bad points about gardening here?  

Liz: As well as having poor soil, the garden is exposed, especially to the north wind. Another bad point is that it’s an open, sunny site, and it’s hard to keep moisture in. In heavy rain, you can see all the goodness in the soil being washed away. A good point is that it’s an open, sunny site!

Charlie: It’s frosty, because we’re down in a valley. Most winters the frost doesn’t last long, but this winter we lost a few things, including two large phormiums. But the hedychiums which looked as if they had died are now at the same stage they are at normally.

Liz: We have lots of little compartments, which means we have been able to do bits over the years — many people try and do a whole garden at once and can’t keep on top of it. The parts of the garden which the children used to use for football and netball goals we have gradually taken over. One of the best things about the garden is having a Victorian conservatory and greenhouse.

Charlie: But like the rest of the house, they need a lot of maintenance!