Bringing back the Best Garden

View of the Best Garden on a sunny day

It's been 25 years since a Garden Management Plan was written for the garden at Chastleton. It is now the time to reinstate and revive the Best Garden by aiming to create an environment of rich planting, intoxicating scents and impressively clipped topiary. Senior Gardener, Rosy Sutton, has been writing a progress diary as the project moves forward and we share this with you here.

Wednesday 13th March 2019

First breaking of the ground today in the Best Garden. The ground is finally dry enough after the rain of the past few weeks, but it's still really windy. Weirdly, this area isn't affected by the wind. We can hear it roaring, but it is quite still in the centre of the Best Garden. The strong wind is coming from the south west (the prevailing wind) and any trees in danger of toppling would fall into Church Field.

Best Garden
The Best Garden at Chastleton
Best Garden

I've suggested starting the work to the volunteers. We start, but stop again when the rain rolls in - never mind, there's plenty of things to be sorting in the greenhouse. Later, when the rain has died down a bit, we re-mark the blue lines around the beds. We marked them out so long ago that the original lines have almost faded away. 

Once the beds are re-marked, I set about showing them how to use the half-moonedger to cut the shape of the border. Once the border is cut we cut the turf into strips and lift it, from the centre, to preserve the crispness of the edge of the border. The turves are really thatchy so we are able to lift them without much soil still attached. Strips of the turf are piled onto the back of the mower and taken down to the bottom of the garden for stacking into loam piles to use in the future.  

The Best Garden with some reinstated borders
The Best Garden with some reinstated borders
The Best Garden with some reinstated borders

Amazingly the weather holds off and we are able to complete a whole section. Afterwards I get the mower out and mow around the beds that we have completed and then round the larger beds on the outside of the hedges to show how big the final project will be - everyone has a minor freak out moment!

Something I had never noticed before is the landscaping within the Best Garden - it rises to a point where the sundial is, in the middle. This sculpting really adds to the design of the area. It's amazing how opening just one quarter of it makes it look instantly 'arts and crafts'. (This reminds me that I must check that book by Sarah Rutherford which has a similar picture on the front cover).

Once our work for the day is complete, we go up to the Long Gallery and look down on our work.

Thursday 14th March 2019

Another wet and windy day. Assistant Gardener Laura and volunteer Gardener Shirley are in today. We go and have a look at the work from the previous day, but it is quite wet so we start on some jobs inside and hope it gets drier. After break it gets a bit brighter and we start on the opposite quarter to the one we worked on yesterday. We start on the inner beds as I don't think we'll manage to get a larger bed done before it starts raining again. 

Once again we pile turves onto the back of the lawn mower. The weather conspires against us and we only ge the one bed open, but it's still progress.

Friday 15th March 2019  

Wet and windy again so we concentrate on undercover jobs and run out to work on the Best Garden when the weather allows. Volunteers Mary and Julie are in with Laura. 

Volunteers planting up the rose beds in the Best Garden
Volunteers planting up the rose beds in the Best Garden
Volunteers planting up the rose beds in the Best Garden

We pile up the turves onto the finished beds as it's too wet to take the mower through the garden and to the wilderness. We hope by leaving them earth they will be less noticable.

We manage to open up a larger bed, so now, half of the beds have been opened up. It's very noticable how airless the Best Garden is - this needs to be taken into account in terms of fungal diseases in the roses - planting will have to be slightly sparser to stop black spot and mildew rampaging through the plants. 

Once again we head up to the Long Gallery to check our progress.

View of the Best Garden from the Long Gallery
View of the Best Garden from the Long Gallery
View of the Best Garden from the Long Gallery

Wednesday 20th March

Work continues on the Best Garden. I go off strimming in the morning and ask the volunteers to start stripping turf of the penultimate quater of the beds. I come back after about an hour of strimming to find amazingly that Annie, Sue, Faye and Lisa are just about finished. Amazing work!

Thursday 21st March

No volunteers in today so Laura and I start on the penultimate bed. Just as we finish lifting the turf on the inner bed it starts raining so we edge up quickly and move into the greenhouse for the rest of the afternoon. 

Friday 22nd March

Full complement of volunteers this morning so we get cracking. Since the rain yesterday morning it has been dry and windy so not only can we finish lifting the turf we can also remove all of the turves that have been piled onto the beds waiting to be removed. The turf flies off the bed finally revealing the finished design. As there are 5 volunteers in an me and Laura we divide the work up. Stripping turf, edging borders and Laura and Alex using the ride on and trailer to shift the lifted turves to the Wilderness to stack them and make them loam. With such a large team and with the end in sight we are flying through the jobs. We finish by lunchtime and stop for a break to celebrate.

After lunch and with a second wind, we dicide to start planting.The roses for these beds had been ordered in the the autumn and have sat heeled into the vegetable garden sinch Christmas. THe look really healthy and are obviously ready to start growing. As we start lifting the roses we can see the new white growth on the roots; a very promisign sign.

The roses were bought from Peter Beales roses. When the National Trust were given Chastleton House in 1991 they found a pot full of old rose labels in the Beer Cellar. These labels were catalogued and records kept of the roses. We didn't know where the roses were, at Chastleton. By looking on the Peter Beales website I found that I still get hold of quite a few of them, and I couldn't get hold of the exact rose variety I could get hold of one of its parents.

Amazingly all of the roses that were still available were in raspberry ripple colours, highly scented, repeat flowering and between 3 and 4 feet high; absolutely perfect for this project. 

Rather than creating a very formal rose garden, I wanted to do a more Arts and Crafts inspired garden. A garden with beautiful form with planting cascading out of the beds. Half of the photos that we have of the borders show them to be pure roses, the other half have the beds as a mixture of herbaceous and roses. WIth the prevalence of modern plant diseases, monocultures are no longer seen as a good idea and a mixture of flower shapes and flowering times are much better for bugs and beasties, not to mention the soil erosion that can be caused by a rose bed with no under planting. 

So with all this in mind, I went for beds with lots of roses but also with lots of companion plants. On this Friday we managed to plant up half of the beds with roses and Malva Moschata (that we already had) leaving the other 4 beds to plant. I felt it was important that all of the volunteers got to plant some of the roses so that they were all involved and that they have ownership of the project.


    Check back soon for more Best Garden progress updates.