Dream Acres week six: Secret gardens

 * For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect secret garden

What could be more desirable and enchanting than a secret garden? A private, sunny space filled with scented flowers, the whole enclosed by a tall hedge or wall, containing romantic arbours and hidden walks?

British garden fashions may come and go, but the medieval concept of a hortus conclusus, or confined garden, based on a much older, Persian tradition, has remained popular. The ideal location is adjacent to the house, and the ideal access is through a side door or French window.

A secret garden doesn’t have to be large (Queen Eleanor’s 13th-century herber, which abuts Winchester Castle, only measures 30ft by 90ft), but it should be sheltered. It’s the perfect place to grow a few herbs for the kitchen, to sit in quiet contemplation or to entertain honoured guests. It’s a retreat, the outdoor equivalent of a private sitting room. When we were creating Dream Acres, we positioned our secret garden to the south-east of the house. Its predominant feature is the rose garden sensuous and lush. At the far end, a gate leads to a wisteria alley. At the end nearest the house, a herb garden adjoins the terrace. The hedge is of yew, which will grow remarkably quickly in well-prepared soil.

Rose gardens

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‘Let climbing roses,’ instructed Sir George Sitwell in an expansive mood, ‘drop in a veil from the terrace and smother with flower-spangled embroidery the garden walls, run riot over vaulted arcades, clamber up lofty obelisks of leaf tangled trellis, twine themselves round the pillars of a rose-roofed temple, where little avalanches of sweetness shall rustle down at a touch and the dusty gold of the sunshine shall mingle with the summer snow of the flower petals.’

Climbing roses are to be found in profusion in our secret garden, together with dozens of other varieties, including Hybrid Musk (which can flower right up until Christmas) and Portland (for its semi-double, fragrant blooms). To set them off, we’ve added other plants such as iris and dianthus placing them so that the wide, generous beds are filled with an abundance of colour and perfume. To one side, in an alcove, we’ve placed an elegant bench, and cut a window into the yew hedge to reveal the distant views.

Arabella’s advice for a rose garden
 ‘Roses are greedy and adore the sun. Prepare the soil with plenty of well-rotted manure or its equivalent, and make sure that there is at least 3ft of soil depth.

Design the rose garden with heights, flowering times and colour in mind almost every shape and size is available, so it needs careful thought.

Mix the old favourites the true old-fashioned roses, such as Bourbons, Gallicas and Damasks
with some of the newer roses, such as the English county roses, which are bred for con-tinuous flowering.

Some of my favourite rose varieties include Portlands such as Jacques Cartier and Comte de Chambord; Bourbons such as Louise Odier; Centifolias such as Fantin-Latour; and Gallicas such as Tuscany Superb. I also adore the continuously flowering Hybrid Musks, such as Felicia, Wilhelm, Buff Beauty and Prosperity all of which can flower as late as December.

Old-fashioned roses need their whippy growth to be trained onto supports of wood, hazel, willow or metal to keep them under some form of control.

Use complementary herbaceous plants to offset the roses violas, alchemilla, silver leaves, iris and dianthus for the lower levels, and phlox, peonies, sidalcea, campanulas and thalictrum for planting between shrub roses.

Spring and summer pots can fill in the ‘empty’ season if required.

Roses need air for good health and disease resistance do not plant them too close together.
My favourite rose nurseries are David Austin and Peter Beales.

If you want to hedge a rose garden, I recommend yew. Its intense green leaves and strong, architectural forms sets the flowers off beautifully. If you are in a hurry, plant specimens that are already 3ft to 4ft high.’

Herb gardens

Small can be very beautiful, as our plan for a miniature herb garden only a few yards from the kitchen illustrates. We’ve created 16 raised beds, each of which measures a modest 3ft square. They’re filled with a variety of herbs, and, at the entrance, we’ve placed two large planters containing clipped bay trees. The paths are of brick. More herbs are, of course, grown in the kitchen garden.

Arabella’s advice for a formal herb garden

Herbs generally like good drainage add grit to areas where Mediterranean and drought-loving herbs are growing, particularly in areas of clay soil.
Cover French tarragon it is surprisingly tender and dislikes the cold and wet. Grow basil indoors in pots and take it outside when the weather becomes warmer. Remember, mint needs to be restrained or it will take over. Some of the prettiest herbs are sage, variegated thymes, borage (either blue or white) and hyssop.

Wisteria alleys

Step through the gate at the bottom of the rose garden, and you’ll find yourself in the wisteria alley. The pergola itself is made from oak and the path is of grass. At one end, an elegant bench is positioned so you can see the distant view of the countryside through a tunnel of wisteria.

* For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect secret garden

Dream Acres