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A visit to Shalford House garden in Kingsley Green

PUBLISHED: 12:12 22 October 2013 | UPDATED: 12:12 22 October 2013

Shalford House

Shalford House

Leigh Clapp

For inspirational prairie planting and vibrant late season colour, take a stroll around the extensive gardens at Shalford House in Kingsley Green

The highly regarded 10-acre garden at Shalford House in Kingsley Green has been developed from scratch over the past 18 years. When Sir Vernon and Lady Ellis moved to the property in 1991 the garden was not in great shape. “The grounds were covered in fir trees, most of which were dead two-thirds of the way up, along with overgrown chestnut coppices; I could however see great potential,” recalls Sir Vernon.

After removing around 1,500 trees, local garden designer Sally Court was called in to create the layout and planting plan. Set on a south-facing sloping site with a high water table and heavy clay, acidic soil, there were challenges to be met. “It looked like a WWI battlefield when we removed the trees,” Sir Vernon adds. A retaining wall was built to allow a flat lawn area out from the house, a stream put in down to the existing pond that was cleared and enlarged, fresh topsoil was brought in for new garden beds, pergolas added and different areas created including sunken and terrace gardens.

Later developments are the Piet Oudolf-inspired prairie, designed by Marina Christopher, resplendent in late summer through autumn with waves of ornamental grasses and vibrant perennials, as well as a 30-acre arboretum of mostly native trees. The gardens have evolved co-operatively between Sir Vernon and head gardener James Stevenson, who previously worked with the National Trust. “We develop things together. I did the garden in our previous home in Ealing and enjoyed it. I like interesting plants, I wouldn’t say I was a plantsman – rather that I like the overall effects such as bold combinations with dahlias and salvias, the salvia border that was inspired by one of my visits to Kew and the prairie effect. James had the idea for the hot colours on the opera terrace, it is very vibrant and works very well,” explains Sir Vernon.

Opening the garden through the National Gardens Scheme gives the opportunity to share the garden with others. “We enjoy visiting other gardens and it is genuinely pleasurable when people visit and say, ‘that was lovely’. Our woods are open for local residents to walk; I like sharing things and it extends the use of the garden. The three gardeners work very hard and it gives them a real focus and glow of satisfaction, as well as being good motivation. People seem to like the combination of a broad sweep and also going into different areas, and that’s what I like as well,” says Sir Vernon.

Shalford House, Kingsley Green, GU27 3LW

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Get the look – prairie planting

Plant in large drifts

Grasses are interspersed with blocks of colourful perennials

Repetition creates a rhythm

Limit the range of plants, but plant lots of them

Grasses are the backbone of the effect

Mix in daisy-shaped, spires, spherical and flat-headed flowers

Allow some seedheads and skeletal foliage in winter

Grasses to use include stipa, miscanthus and molinia

Flowers to use include rudbeckia, aster, helenium, verbena, sedum and crocosmia

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