Beautiful borders “bustin’ out”!

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
June 2023

Steffie Shields visits Carol and Tim Almond’s plant-packed garden in Caythorpe, near Grantham.

Fingers crossed this month that frosts are history, so that gardeners can relax and leave their tender new seedlings safely growing outdoors.

This time last year, I hurried in sunshine to Caythorpe, having heard that acquaintances from our RAF Cranwell days, Tim and Carol Almond, were opening their garden in aid of the ‘yellow book’ National Garden Scheme (NGS).

An attractive village recorded in the Domesday Book, Caythorpe sits below the Lincoln Edge. Passersby on the Grantham to Lincoln A607 will notice a significantly long, rustic stone wall snaking beside the highway and marking the boundary to the late Georgian Caythorpe Hall. This remarkable old wall, built for a much earlier house, the original seat of the Hussey family, has in recent years undergone a mammoth restoration.

Several centuries-old houses, some with orchards, a few shops and two pubs, line the equally lengthy village main street. Venturing behind to the west, it is easy to lose oneself among a surprising labyrinth of streets and lanes amongst a diverse mix of dwellings.

I eventually found the Almonds’ south-east facing single-story house which straddles a knoll set off by a lawn, sweeping down to a smart contemporary summerhouse and patio garden, backed by a sweet chestnut and variegated holly. Here a narrow path winds through their shade, home to a verdant collection of hostas and ferns.

Brimming with blooms
Seldom have I seen such a plant-packed garden, all looking healthy, well-fed and brimming with vitality. After many peripatetic years serving as a Royal Air Force officer, settling down has been life-changing, but both Tim and Carol are far from retiring.

Although Carol enjoys the garden and does her bit, helping to maintain the many borders, Tim is the serious gardener. He is also a musician who regularly supports St Mary’s RC Church in Grantham with his guitar playing and singing. Here, one could say, with the “right place for the right plant” philosophy first coined by Beth Chatto, he orchestrates the natural world of their domain.

Pitching up a bit early, an army of helpers were still setting up tables and chairs for visitor refreshments, comfortably shaded by a pergola laden with roses and clematis. So I slipped quietly out of the way to explore the garden. A corner of tall, budding spires of creamy-white delphiniums drew my attention besides the path circuiting the house.

These archetypical English country garden stars were beginning to take the stage from clusters of honey garlic seed heads in full sun. Around their feet a popular hardy geranium, commonly called Armenian cranesbill, Geranium psilostemon, has rightly earned an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Its dramatic red-purple, black-centred flowers will enliven any garden in early summer.

Every spare wall space on the house was clad with David Austin’s gorgeous climbing roses. Elsewhere, looking is made easy. Pleasing lines, mostly extensive curves, defining magnificent herbaceous borders, lent a clever harmony to the whole scene. Accessible paths of slate, cobble or paving stone made a contrast to the immaculate, soft underfoot lawn.

An array of rich pink Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ with old rose fragrance, one of the first English shrub roses to come into flower, was under planted with deep purple Astrantia. In among a patchwork carpet of alpines beyond, a group of Allium karataviense, a most unusual, low-growing ornamental onion, displayed their pinky white roundels of star-shaped flowers. They repeated the circle theme of three handsome slate spheres, in turn echoed across the lawn by a bed filled with taller Allium ‘Purple Sensation’.

A plantsman’s garden
Clipped hedges back colourful borders everywhere. This made it easy to focus on a particularly striking combination: an effective and calming, green and cream ‘sorbet moment’, a feature ornamental tree, Cornus kousa encircled by one of the best hostas, ‘June’.

Ordered planting was cleverly repeated from time to time. Another cluster of ferns, this time combined with leaning spires of foxgloves, were flourishing in the shade of a fine deciduous tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera identified by distinctive, lobed almost spade-shaped leaves.

Then came a large bright bed, in full sunshine, filled with two blocks of perennials, deep purple flag iris and two-tone pink Russell Hybrid lupins. Passing through to the large, pristine vegetable growing area both at the rear of the house and the north side, confirmed my realisation.

This is a proper plantsman’s garden, complete with greenhouse and scarecrows, and yet more serried rows of potted plants awaiting planting out or selling on to visitors for charity.

RHS Chelsea will have come and gone by the time you are reading this, and, in contrast to all I admired in Tim and Carol’s garden, I daresay today’s fashion for wild and weed-loving gardens will have been trumpeted by fashionable designers and concerned environmentalists. I prefer to take a long-term, practical overview. Gardens will continue to evolve regardless. What does not change, gardens need people who are prepared to learn how to grow and care for plants of every sort, not just for a season but all year round.

Historic setting
Caythorpe Court, a country house in early 17th-century vernacular style by the celebrated Edwardian landscape architect and author of The Formal Garden in England, Sir Reginald Blomfield, enjoyed gardens ‘of the grand manner’ with commanding views of the village. In 1946 it became Kesteven Agricultural College, recognised nationally for its excellence in agricultural engineering, then in 1980 a part of Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture, before being taken over by De Montfort University. Unfortunately, as horticultural training declined, the college closed in 2002.

Thankfully, however, dedication to cultivation seems to remain strong locally, with Caythorpe Primary School actively interested in gardening, and a lively, friendly Caythorpe and District Garden Society.

When soldiers were based in the village before bravely participating in World War II’s Arnhem invasion, there must have been a reason why plans were called ‘Operation Market Garden’ – perhaps there’s something extra horticultural in Caythorpe’s water!

Tim let me know earlier this year that instead of opening for NGS, he had decided to organise and support Caythorpe Village Open Gardens. “I lost quite a lot of plants after the summer drought and cold wet winter. I am slowly moving over to a more dry-tolerant garden and have changed some of the planting scheme, introducing more varieties of lavender etc. In addition, I have managed to organise a bit of a vintage car rally and there is also a very large model railway opening in one of the gardens. Teas will be served in St Vincent’s Church, where there is also a display by local artists.”

A Fane diary entry, dated 12th August 1879, records that the Caythorpe Flower Show, held in Caythorpe Hall grounds, attracted two thousand people! Alongside Tim and Carol’s, I know not which seven other gardens are opening this month, but mark your diary and head over to Caythorpe. I guarantee a garden trail like no other, where generous owners will welcome you into their wildlife havens. Whatever their garden styles, they are bound to be lush and in the words of that classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Carousel, “bustin’ out all over!”

Caythorpe Village Open Gardens takes place on Sunday 4th June. Eight gardens, open from 12noon-5pm.

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