Waterperry Gardens

Waterperry Gardens, Wheatley, Oxfordshire

‘If people don’t gasp when they turn the corner and see the border, I’m not doing my job properly,’ says Waterperry’s horticultural manager, Rob Jacobs. He needn’t worry – you couldn’t fail to emit all kinds of superlatives when you clap eyes on it for the first time, especially at the moment. Dozens of asters in shades of blue, purple and pink are at their peak, and several large Solidago ‘Golden Wings’ provide contrasting splashes of yellow. The colour palette reminded me of a bunch of statice.

The traditional herbaceous border was originally used for teaching – Waterperry started life as a horticultural college for women, under the stewardship of the formidable Beatrix Havergal. Each student took care of a section. The border was later unified by the legendary Pam Schwertdt (latterly the head gardener at Sissinghurst). It’s designed to have a long season of interest: lupins are the highlight in late May/early June, followed by delphiniums in late June/July, phlox in August and Michaelmas daisies (asters) in September. It looks so full and abundant that you can’t help wondering where the early flowerers have gone (a visitor once asked if the plants are removed and replaced for every season). Actually, it’s all down to careful positioning (and staking) – tall, early plants are situated at the back, and any plant that keeps its leaves nicely after flowering, or flowers late, is at the front.

The border needs a lot of work to keep it looking good. There’s a lot of staking and deadheading to be done, and in the first two weeks of November it’s all cut down to the ground. Rob and head gardener Pat are at pains to point out a couple of holes in the border and say that they’re never quite satisfied with it. But to anyone else, it looks pretty much perfect.



Inner Temple Garden

If you’re feeling glum because the days are shortening, the temperatures are falling and everything is dying back, take yourself to the Inner Temple Garden without further ado. The High Border is still a riot of colour, and for a few glorious moments you can kid yourself that it’s still late summer.

The border contains many of the plants you’d expect in a late-season garden – grasses, dahlias, rudbeckias, asters, cosmos etc – but head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf puts them together in an original and adventurous way. She chooses varieties for their form, flower shape and colour, and thinks carefully about how they might complement other plants; the centre of one flower might complement the petals of another, for example. And she isn’t afraid to mix colours in combinations that more traditional gardeners would shy away from: orange, pink and red sit happily next to each other in the form of Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’, Dahlia coccinea ‘Mary Keen’ and a red rose (above), as do red roses, magenta dahlias, blue salvias, purple aconitums and yellow rudbeckias (below).

The border also looked pretty amazing when I visited the garden in May. At that time it was filled with alliums, aquilegias and oodles of tulips; oriental poppies then carried it through until June. Andrea admits that the border has a ‘June hole’ when she lifts the tulips and replaces some early flowerers with the tender late season plants such as dahlias. But for a border that powers on until the first frosts (which can be as late as December in central London), that’s a very small price to pay.