Dream Acres week seven: Prospects

 * 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 dream acres surrounding garden and habitat

Once the main elements of an estate have been planned the gardens, orchard, tree planting, sports facilities and so forth there is the question of what to do with the land in between, and, crucially, how to divide one area from another. This is a wonderful opportunity to enhance the overall appearance of the property.

The most important consideration is the view from all the different points in and around the demesne. Although each garden is unique, some design principles are generally applicable. A well-designed garden must relate to the wider landscape, and the transition from the artificial to the natural ought to be subtle and imperceptible. ‘Plans should be made on the ground to fit the place,’ as William Robinson pointed out, ‘and not the place made to suit some plan out of a book.’

Each part of a garden should flow into the next in a harmonious way, with paths that encourage you to progress from area to area and focal points that draw the eye. ‘All gardening,’ said William Kent, ‘is landscape painting.’ Having dealt with the foreground and indicated the main features at our Dream Acres estate, we turned our attention to filling in the rest of the picture. Our priorities were a wildflower meadow, a viewing mount, a shrubbery and the paths. The result is, hopefully, a masterpiece.

Wildflower meadows

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You will never regret creating a wildflower meadow. It will provide an ever changing pattern of colour from early spring to late autumn, the grass will smell sweet (especially after rain) and the blooms each have their own, delicate perfume. It will attract wonderful birds and insects, not least butterflies. On warm days, there’s no better place to throw down a blanket and enjoy a sunbathe or a picnic. And you will have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping to keep an important feature of the British landscape alive.

Over the past 50 or 60 years, our island’s meadows have been all but destroyed. Once-common flowers, such as lady’s bedstraw, cowslip, wild marjoram, wild carrot, crested dog’s tail, buttercup, marsh helleborine and a host of others, now need our protection.  

How to create a wildflower meadow

Wildflowers don’t do well in rich soil, as they get stifled by tougher grasses. If the topsoil is too rich, consider removing it and reusing it elsewhere, and then rotavating sand into the remaining subsoil. If you want to convert an existing lawn, start by mowing it vigorously every week to weaken the grass, and stop using fertiliser or weedkiller. Your wildflowers are more likely to thrive if you introduce some of them as plugs and seed the rest.

If you want a more certain result, stop using fertiliser or weedkiller and clear the ground completely. The most effective way is to use pigs, as they’ll root everything out. Another option is to burn the area, rotavate it and burn it again. Where soil fertility is too high to allow perennial wildflowers to flourish, sow a cornfield annual mix that includes plants such as cornflower, corn poppy, corn marigold and corncockle.

For heavy soils, sow in spring; on lighter soils, you can sow in spring or autumn. Try the new seed mixtures blended by Pictorial Meadows (www.pictorialmeadows.co.uk). Choose local varieties. The Postcode Plants Database generates lists of native plants for any specified postal district in the country. Flora Locale can give you an extensive list of suppliers of wildflower plants and seeds.


‘At the end of both the Side Grounds, I would have a Mount of some Pretty Height,’ explained Francis Bacon in 1625, ‘to looke abroad into the Fields.’ Very much a 16th- and 17th-century fashion, mounts have become popular again in recent years. The whole appearance of a garden changes when you look at it from above, and the mount itself serves as an attractive focal point. The simplest mounts are conical, but others may be spiral (known as ‘snail mounts’), pyramidal, shaped like an inverted bowl, or stepped.


An 18th-century visitor to Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, explained how he ‘lingered through the pleasant shady bowers of an elegant and extensive shrubbery, breathing ambrosial gales from every surrounding bush and flower’ much the effect we’ve aimed for in the shrubbery at Dream Acres.

Shrubberies are no more or less than an area where flowering shrubs have been planted together in order to create a display. They’re a wonderful way to soften the landscape, to introduce colour and to screen unsightly features, such as a tennis court. Some of our favourite shrubberies include Sheringham Park in Norfolk, Muncaster Castle in Cumbria, Scotney Castle in Kent and Killerton in Devon.

Arabella’s advice creating a shrubbery

Step one: Begin with a background of evergreens: Viburnum tinus, Osmanthus delavayi, Osmanuthus yunnanensis x burkwoodii, Ilex, Buxus sempervirens Elegantissima, Weigela praecox variegata.

Step two: Lighten the effect with silver leaves: Pyrus salicifolia, Elaeagnus umbellata, Elaeagnus Quicksilver, Atriplex halimus mixed with Phila-delphus, Syringa vulgaris Mme. Lemoine (white).

Step three: Add some colour. For instance: Ligustrum ovalifolium Argenteum, Philadelphus, Buxus sempervirens Elegantissima, Rosa moyesii, Rosa rugosa, Rosa Blanche Double de Coubert, Rosa pimpinellifolia, Deutzia scabra Candidissima, or Deutzia setchuenensis var. corymbiflora, Exochorda, Potentilla fruticosa Primrose Beauty, Cotinus Grace, Euonymus hamiltonianus.


If you wish to extend the view into pasture or parkland beyond the lawn (as we did on the west side of Dream Acres), the question arises of what to do about fencing, which can be obtrusive and distracting. The solution is to use a sunken fence or ha-ha, which, according to 17th-century writer Dezallier d’Argenville, ‘surprizes… and makes one cry, Ah! Ah! From whence it takes its name’.

Landscape designer Jeremy Weston of Hatherop Castle Gardens, Gloucestershire (01285 750363) advises viewing a ha-ha in situ before instructing landscapers to begin building. A ha-ha must be deep enough to prevent livestock scaling its wall, yet wide and shallow enough to be no threat to an animal and to make sure the view from the top of the lawn remains uninterrupted. A ditch is dug, with one side a vertical drop, usually stabilised by a wall, and the other a sloping grass bank. Ensure that the stone used is sympathetic to the surrounding landscape.

* 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 dream acres surrounding garden and habitat

What would you put at the end of an avenue? Email countrylife_letters@ipcmedia.com