Go west: a visit to a newly minted Royal Horticultural Society Partner Garden
PUBLISHED: 17:12 01 September 2017
Ruth Pavey takes an August wander to the West Country to visit newly famous Midney Gardens and Nurseries
The West Country is a good place for gardens and nurseries, some long famous, some just becoming so. Midney Gardens and Nurseries, Somerton, Somerset, count among the latter, having recently become a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Partner Garden. David Chase asked the RHS why his garden had been chosen for this distinction. The answer … that after some incognito visiting, they had picked Midney Gardens for the variety and interest of its planting in a relatively small space (c 1 acre), and for its quirkiness.
There are indeed some quirks, eg, an old paraffin heater here, a bus stop there, but eccentricity is not the main point. More important is the subtle and exciting combinations of colour David creates. He says he isn’t a painter, at least only with plants, but he certainly has a good eye and imagination, and the skill to get plants to work for him. In a series of linked gardens, with vistas through one to another and green as a constant foil, the colour combinations move on from, say, deep reds and purples, through purplish blues, to softer pinkish, peachy tones to bright yellows and oranges. You might think, what’s so special about that, don’t lots of gardeners grade their colours? Well yes, but not often so well.
I asked David how he starts thinking of a new planting scheme (the schemes are always changing) for instance, the bed we were standing near, with its reds, deep reds and coppery tones. The idea here, he said, had been to make a fire garden, a place to sit in the evening sun, cooking over a fire pit (something that has yet to happen). The plants include Echinacea ‘tomato’, Zinnia ‘single fire’, Persicaria ‘red dragon’, red currants, black perennial cornflowers, Dahlia ‘Arabian night’ and Rose ‘hot chocolate’. This is the garden in which the paraffin heater makes an associative appearance, glancing out between leaves. Fire is only one theme among many, eg, white, oriental, seaside, gin, kitchen, sleep, wild….
Earlier we had paused at the gateway from the car park for David to criticize his own colour composition, deeming a dark blue agapanthus too strong in tone against the soft green weeping grass (a wild grass already on the site) and some golden rod too bright … “this garden’s not as free and fluffy as you might think, specially the colours”. He often places plants in pots to see how they look before planting them out. The offending agapanthus will probably get split and potted up for the nursery.
David grew up in Lowestoft. His father worked at Birdseye, but Lowestoft’s job opportunities were dwindling by the time he himself needed an apprenticeship. There was one available in floristry. So that was the start from which, with a few diversions into drumming and singing in punk rock bands, he has made a career in horticulture, sometimes as a head gardener, sometimes with his own landscaping business.
The business was based in Reading but David often worked in London, specially around Bloomsbury. When the recession bit in 2009, he and Alison Hoghton decided it was time to head west to look for somewhere they could live and develop a garden. The property they found was originally built for a gamekeeper, but a variety of activities have gone on there since. These include concrete cherub fabrication, fence panelling, watercress production, quarrying, all of which had left their traces. An old bus is reputed to be buried in the quarry, hence the bus stop standing out among the waving greens of the wild garden.
Much heavy work went into taming all this, but now it is a very enjoyable place to visit, not least because of Alison’s cakes in the tea room, and the chance to buy plants propagated on site. Allow some time, there’s a lot to take in….
Midney Gardens and Nurseries, Mill Lane, Somerton, Somerset, TA11 7HR Open Thursdays – Sundays, April – October
For more details visit midneygardens.co.uk
UPCOMING EVENTS, all well worth a visit
Sat. 2nd Sept. Plant Heritage, Grand Plant Fair, 10.00am – 3.30pm, Highgate School, N6 4 AY.
Sat. 2nd Sept. Muswell Hill Horticultural Society Autumn Show, 3.00pm, North Bank, Pages Lane, N10.
Sun. 3rd Sept. Golf Course Allotments, Winton Road, N11, open for the National Gardens Scheme 1.00 – 4.30pm.
Sat. 9th Sept. Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Autumn Show, 3.00 – 5.30pm, Free Church Hall, Northway, NW11.
Sat. 16th Sept. Highgate Horticultural Society Autumn Show, 2.00 – 5.00pm, United Reformed Church, South Grove, N6 6BA.