New design in historic National Trust garden offers visitors ideas for succession planting and encouraging wildlife at home

Press release
Ham House crocus garden
Published : 18 Mar 2019 Last update : 26 Mar 2019

A new design for part of the garden at the National Trust’s Ham House and Garden in Richmond is providing a number of ideas that could easily be adapted by home gardeners.

Ham House is an atmospheric 17th-century house which sits on the banks of the River Thames. Head Gardener Rosie Fyles has reimagined the mansion’s once-opulent formal garden to make the vast manicured lawns a delight for nature and people.

The planting in the new garden is a series of ‘plats’ on a grand scale – each the size of centre court at Wimbledon – filled with a succession of 500,000 bulbs and wildflowers,  giving a pageant of colour from early spring throughout summer.

However, the ideas for the displays could easily work in any garden and Ham’s garden team hope that visitors can get inspired by what they see.

Rosie Fyles, Head Gardener explains:
“You can easily use pots, planters or a small area of border to create a pollinator-friendly bulb display over a few early spring months; in fact you can curate your own sequence of flowering from February to May at least.

“We have used Crocus 'Ruby Giant', four types of species tulips (including bright red Tulipa linifolia) and Muscari latifolium to create a bright, deep blue carpet of colour.”

Importantly, the plats at Ham are planted with wildlife and diversity in mind. The planting uses a number of naturalising bulbs, not usually chosen for a formal setting but brilliant for attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

By June, the bulb plats will have returned to short grass and the remaining areas will take over with exuberant displays of native wildflowers. For these meadows, Rosie will encourage the existing wildflowers already present in the lawns, adding the seed of native meadow species to encourage new diversity, vibrancy and form from May through to July.

There are many different ways of creating a meadow area out of existing lawn.

Rosie’s top tips include:

  • Try to leave some areas of your lawn un-mown: use your lawnmower to create paths, seating spaces or a simple pattern and leave other areas to grow. After a few mows, the definition of different spaces and shapes will bring a whole new feel to your garden.
  • Mow selectively and avoid use of weed killer to see which wildflowers are happily able to establish in your lawn right up until late summer. Many plants that are weeds in a formal lawn are wildflowers everywhere else!
  • Encourage even more diversity by scarifying with a rake to create patches of bare soil and sow native wildflower seed in autumn.

Ham House has had a focus on natural gardening for many years – including a move towards organic principles in its kitchen garden since 2014. The property regularly surveys biodiversity to monitor habitats for wildlife including butterflies and birds.

The National Trust garden team also manages nearby Petersham Meadows, an historic water meadow protected by a 1902 Act of Parliament and which was part of the estate attached to Ham House from the early 17th century.