A creative touch
PUBLISHED: 16:27 24 November 2006 | UPDATED: 14:46 20 February 2013
From a large open space to secluded outdoor living areas furnished with flair, Stonehealed garden is full of inspiring ideas. Leigh Clapp reveals all...
WHEN Fiona and Lance Smith bought Stonehealed Farm at Streat, in 1996 the garden was a blank canvas, offering fine, if very windswept views of the South Downs. Other challenges to be met were the clay soil, highwater table and hot, dry summers.
Today the one and half acre garden has a very relaxed, welcoming atmosphere with an abundance of planting and detailing that has just the right balance between formal and informal country style.
Lance and Fiona opened their garden for the first time last year through the National Gardens Scheme for both spring and autumn visitors, along with private appointments for groups. In September the garden has a real Mediterranean feel with sun-loving plants, touches of both vibrant and more muted colours along with the lifestyle to match. It is an extension of the house - a true outdoor room for entertaining or just taking time in, from early morning to well into the evening.
Pockets of seclusion
Working from the house outwards, the garden has evolved into areas designed for outdoor living and year-round visual interest. "It is good to have little pockets of seclusion," explains Fiona.
A sense of division has been created by planting lots of trees, shrubs and dense borders, sometimes enclosing internal views and at other times looking out to the surrounding countryside. Close to the house are paved and gravel terraces, softened with relaxed plantings, ready to be enjoyed at different times of the day.
At the front of the house comfortable wicker chairs are an ideal spot for a morning break. Groups of pots and a small rectangular pond add to the atmosphere. Moving around to the side of the house you come to the barbecue area, the main focus for alfresco dining.
A mature oak tree serves two purposes - one to give shade to a large weathered dining table and the other to house a stunning platform suspended high in its branches. "It gives wonderful views and is also a lovely place on a summer evening to catch the cool breezes," adds Fiona. Underfoot a blend of paving and gravel adds to the sense of being in the Mediterranean, as do artful arrangements of terracotta pots brimming with drought tolerant plants such as pelargoniums and succulents.
A timber shed, actually the dogs' barn, painted in dusky blue also draws the eye. Eclectic objects have been placed along its verandah. An array of jars and watering cans and even strings of drying onions become 'found sculpture'. Fiona again demonstrating how a practical element of a storage shed and the dogs' sleeping area can become a feature.
Adjoining the barbecue area, gravel paths lead through cool, shady plantings to a tranquil pond set off by a timber serpentine bridge that appears to be nearly floating on the surface. Deceptively simple, this curving platform was actually quite a challenge to install, taking hours to lay out the timber planks to form the effect.
A double-facing seat and sculptural birds from Zimbabwe, next to the pond, invite the visitor to take time to contemplate the mood before moving further into the more open areas of the garden.
Lawns spread out from the house and lead to other partially enclosed spaces. Another favourite area for Fiona and Lance to enjoy the summer evening sun is a casual grouping of timber chairs surrounded by dazzling curving hot borders of dahlias and perennials.
As a counterbalance to the informal areas are formal rooms defined by clipped hedges. One is a romantic space of soft colours and scented climbers and the other a circular rose garden.
In addition there is a vegetable garden of raised beds brimming with both edibles and bright flowers and wilder meadows blending into the countryside.
Linking the garden areas is a sense of harmonious, blended plantings with the variety of elements working together to form a cohesive whole. This is a garden of relaxed outdoor living spaces imbued with the creative ability of its owners.
Streat Lane, Streat (2m SE of Burgess Hill)
Sun 10 Sept, (2-5)
Adm. £3, chd free
Private visits welcome by appointment for groups 10+
The National Gardens Scheme www.ngs.org.uk