A garden of rooms
February is the month to revel in the sight of carpets of snowdrops and other spring bulbs. Caroline Bingham visited Brightwater Gardens, Saxby ahead of their winter garden open days.
I had not chosen the best day to visit. Driving rain and a bitterly fierce wind was blowing but while I cowered slightly, Chris Neave, his partner Jonathan Cartwright and their collie dog strode out to guide me around.
Saxby is only ten miles north of Lincoln but feels deep in the Lincolnshire countryside, with panoramic views across the upper Ancholme valley. Chris Neave is the fourth generation of his family to live on this land, part of the farm which his great-grandfather came to as tenant in 1885 and bought in 1917. The present day Garden House and Brightwater Gardens has been built on the site of a bungalow previously occupied by Chris’s great aunt Annie Neave.
“She chose this site and was an enthusiastic cottage gardener herself,” Chris explained. “In 1999 the opportunity came to completely redevelop the site and over the next nine years the garden grew from one to eight acres in the process of creating a twenty-first century garden.”
Throughout the first few years, Chris and Jonathan were still running a commercial landscaping business and the garden was a showcase for their own pleasure. They remember clearly how much work was needed to clear paddocks of grass, nettles and thistles. “We are seventy feet above sea level here on south facing, hungry sandy soil. One of our greatest challenges was moving 1,500 to 2,000 tons of soil with an excavator when we began to create the ponds.”
The plan was to create a garden of ‘rooms’ which would radiate and follow lines of walls, windows and corners out from the house. The formal ‘rooms’ would then lead to more open spaces of water and woodland walks and finally wildflower meadows which blend the peripheries of the garden seamlessly into the rural landscape.
The Solar Garden was created in 2013 and, as its name describes, is home to the house’s solar panels as well as landscaping in different textures and materials. Planting follows the theme of heat and sunshine. The Cathedral Garden is a formal area with pleached red twigged limes forming the architectural structure. The garden does not offer a lot of shade but the Hosta Walk and rose covered Pergola is a picture of cool colour in the summer months.
There is a potager edged in box where Chris and Jonathan grow vegetables, next to the Thyme Walk an Urn Garden planted with peonies. The Dutch Garden is bright and scented with hyacinths in spring and colourful with agapanthus in summer. Finally in this area closest to the house is the Long Terrace where shelter makes it an ideal location for roses and tender plants such as salvias.
Now the garden opens into a second area of hillside accessed via Yorkstone steps, with a Lavender Walk, a dramatic Obelisk Garden, Prairie borders and the beginning of the more casual meadow planting. “We have designed each area so that every season has spectacle and a new vista to offer,” said Chris, “and one of the very satisfying rewards is that plants are starting to naturalise across the garden. We have bee orchids and other species appearing sometimes in areas where we don’t want them but it is part of the garden being accepted in this landscape.”
Chris and Jonathan estimate that they have planted in excess of 150,000 spring bulbs since 2007. Visitors to the forthcoming Snowdrop Open Days this month will see drifts of delicate white heads through a woodland trail as well as crocus and aconites. In the Winter Garden there are also seasonal flowering shrubs as well as colourful stems of dogwoods and willows.
The Hillside Garden overlooks the Pindle Pond, lawns and is planted with more unusual trees, each labelled to help the inquisitive visitor. Here you will also find fantastic displays of spring bulb colour.
The third area is woodland and meadows planted with native trees which are now becoming well established and a magnet for wildlife. Here snowdrops, aconites and bluebells are also planted and native daffodils are naturalising throughout the area .
Chris and Jonathan have completed their major landscaping now and 2016 will be a consolidation year. Already they have begun work improving the Damp Garden with steps leading down to decking giving a perfect viewpoint of the neoclassical St Helen’s Church, Saxby where Chris is churchwarden and Jonathan church organist. Strong evidence suggests that the church (the Saunderson family mausoleum) was designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown when working for Richard 4th Earl of Scarbrough between 1760 and 1780.
When they are not looking after Brightwater Gardens, Chris and Jonathan spend time at Brightwater Green Burial Meadow which is located on an eleven-acre site a short distance away on the edge of the next village. This opened in 2009 and offers a wildflower meadow and woodland setting as a final resting place. They have planted 400 metres of hedging and shelter belts of native trees.
“We have had nearly 100 burials since we opened,” said Jonathan. “Each funeral is very different and gives each family time to say farewell in an unhurried and very special way. Families can plant a tree and place a small plaque on the plot. The nearby Hay Barn can be used for refreshments after the ceremony and family members and friends come back regularly to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the site.”
Brightwater Green Burial Meadow is a member of the Association of Green Burial Grounds and last year was the runner-up as the best site in the East of England.
Recent winter work on the grounds included laying the hedge along the edge of the car park. Hard and prickly work which Chris and Jonathan were glad they had completed.
Now with the first snowdrops and early signs of spring appearing they are preparing for another busy year at Brightwater Gardens. As well as the Open Days this month, the gardens are open May to August on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, 11am to 4pm. There are also other special seasonal days which can be found on their website. Do go along to enjoy one of this gardens’ highlights of the year.
SNOWDROPS AND WINTER GARDEN 2016
Brightwater Gardens will be open every day from 12th to 28th February, 11am to 4pm. Visitors can stroll along a quarter-mile, spring bulb, winter walk and see banks of seasonal shrubs and trees in their winter colours. Afterwards, enjoy a warming bowl of soup and a sandwich or refreshments and homemade cake in front of the Hay Barn’s welcoming fire.
Wear suitable outdoor footwear, there is plenty of parking and mown grass paths. Entry: £4.50 adults, children under 16 free.