Steffie Shields lauds the Moat, imaginative natural gardens at Newton near Folkingham.
Remember last June and the torrential rain that tormented all gardeners and garden lovers? When it suddenly cleared off one Sunday afternoon, and the longed-for sun came out, I grabbed my camera and rushed off out, heading in the direction of the Moat, tucked away in the quiet hamlet of Newton, east of Grantham and not far from Sleaford. This much-recommended garden had long been placed at the top of my wishlist of must-see places to visit, but somehow ‘life’ had conspired to get in the way.
The roads were quiet, and seeking to arrive before the fickle light changed I completely forgot about the overhead speed cameras on the A52. The speeding ticket arrived on my doormat a few days later, and the subsequent summons to a safe-driving course has, I hope and pray, made this mother, wife and grandmother learn her lesson. Despite this setback, that magical afternoon in the sunshine, one of very few last year, has left me with lasting, golden memories that far outweigh my driving misdemeanour.
A two-and-half-acre setting overlooking St Botolph’s church, developed over the last eleven years, Lynne and Mike Barnes’s garden ‘has you from hello’, with the welcoming wide, gravel drive sweeping up to the low, rustic converted dairy on a gentle rise. Lynne, an interior designer with that exceptional eye for colour and form, determined to link the garden with the neighbouring countryside, a task more testing than it sounds. She has certainly succeeded, and if English was logical, I would add ‘exterior designer’ to her curriculum vitae.
The house is enfolded amongst flowering shrubs and generous flowerbeds bursting with bloom, and billiard-table smooth but sloping lawns defined by faultless curvaceous, clipped edges. Where the earth was bare, it looked dark, rich and wondrously weed-free, doubtless after many an early morning back-breaking labour of love. Every vista, either from, or towards, their single-storey home, was perfection; everything pristine, but, and this is significant, far from stiff.
Nothing disturbs the eye. Moreover, there is so much to charm, such as the rose-laden rope pergola beyond the herb-filled, scented sun-trap courtyard. An informal bed nearest the house marries the building to its surroundings, adding warmth by picking up the orange and rusty tones of the roof pantiles, cleverly emphasised with deeper shades of red and plum, and contrasted with cerulean Ceanothus linking to the blue skies overhead. On the cooler east side of the stone house, an intimate green parterre, box hedge partitions, is centred with clipped Portuguese laurel lollipops.
None of the multitudes of glistening roses and frothy peonies seemed the worst for wear after the battering downpour. I was not alone. Visitors were weaving in and out, making slow careful progress as if sailing gently around the island beds in the breeze, occasionally stopping to contemplate and admire each creative plant combination in hushed murmurs so as not to disturb the pleasing peace of the place. I could hear the whole garden alive with bees, thrumming.
A couple of inviting rustic chairs on a wooden jetty beside a water feature suggest a presence, and offer the opportunity to pause and reflect. Monet would feel at home here. Anyone stopping to listen to the gentle spring burbling into the pond, strewn with iris and water lilies, cannot help but recall that celebrated artist, and wonder if this is the next best thing to his gardening palette at Giverny. On the other bank an elegant wrought-iron seat between the willows provides the perfect spot for relaxing conversation and romance.
One corner of the garden is given over to a small arboretum, with choice specimens, each tree showing off unusual, exotic and fresh foliage, including Gingko biloba, Liquidambar and Acer brilliantissimum. Nearby an island bed acts as a complimentary sorbet, with cool lime-greens, creams and whites. Silver birch trees, Betula jaquemontii, are underplanted with white peonies and shrub roses, cream foxtail lilies and cream-edged hostas. Equally overflowing flower beds, occasionally punctuated with a trio of box-balls, are richly planted with unusual perennials and shrubs, pinks, rich reds and purples in every hue, layered and interwoven into a living artwork.
Gardeners have much to learn, and cannot thrive in a vacuum, such is the wealth and variety of plant life in the natural world. If, as some say, gardening is a skill acquired through practice and making mistakes, then Lynne must have made quite a few in her life! This remarkable, vibrant garden unfolds like a series of Hockney paintings and made this photographer’s job a doddle. So, whatever the weather, and despite all the elements that nature or circumstances can conspire to throw at us, I hope any aspiring gardener or designer looking for inspiration will take the time to attend this masterclass in colour harmony, line and texture. Explore the Moat. You will witness both summer confection and sunny perfection, a progressive rainbow across a special Lincolnshire garden. Do remember those overhead cameras though and drive safely!
On Sunday 23rd June 11am–5pm The Moat opens for charity on behalf of the National Gardens Scheme (Yellow Book). The moat is also open, by appointment, between June and August. Tel: 01529 497462.