Gardener Rosemary Alexander’s spring garden is a perfect example of her ethos of blending the practical with the romantic.
Sandhill Farm House’s 1 acre garden is laid out around the pretty 17th century farmhouse and when Rosemary moved there in 2000 it provided the perfect canvas of white.
“When I first saw Sandhill’s garden, I realized that the two distinct areas, front and back, had the potential to be transformed into several different garden spaces, each with their own identity and planting,” recalls Rosemary .
Find out below how she transformed the garden and be inspired to incorporate some of her designs into your own English garden ideas.
Rosemary Alexander has been inspiring and educating gardeners for almost 40 years through the renowned The English Gardening School (opens in new tab).
The first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Society of Garden Designers (opens in new tab)Alongside her gardening career, Rosemary has developed her own home gardens.
A hands-on gardener, she readily admits the hard work and effort that goes into deciding how to plan a garden.
Using Sandhill Farm House, she drew a grid from the house and marked out different areas, each with their own character but flowing into one another as a whole. Design came first, followed by planting ideas. “Lines go on paper, but the planting plans are in my head,” she explains.
Stepping into the garden through an arch in the surrounding beech hedge, which is a good choice for fast-growing hedges, you are met with the rich carpet of shrubs, herbaceous plants, bulbs and vines in a frame of trimmed evergreens and topiary that complement the characterize the garden.
A wide gravel garden path leads along the front garden to a pretty bench with a step leading down to a wooded garden and a sunny patio at the house.
“Spring is probably the most exciting time in the front woodland garden, starting with lots of different galanthus,” explains Rosemary, a fitting inspiration for anyone wanting to know how to plant snowdrops.
The ‘snowdrops’ are followed by three different types of witch hazel, then other early spring-scented flowering shrubs such as e.g Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill and unusual spring onions, including the dwarf Iris histrioides Lady Beatrix Stanley.”
As an expert in planting daffodil bulbs, she includes unusual varieties such as daffodil ‘beeper’.
Gravel paths meander through the forest that creates the illusion of vastness thanks to the clever design of raised bed ideas and hill contours, cherry tree canopies and other deciduous trees underplanted with rare and beautiful plants.
Seats are placed to absorb the atmospheric scenery and no space is wasted, with carefully selected communities of woodland plants intertwining in a deceptively casual look.
Other notable plants include graceful magnolias with long-lasting, clear pink flowers that are among the best trees for front gardens, fragrant winter hazel, along with an array of underplantings of bergenias, hellebores, pulmonarias, hostas and Brunera macrophylla ‘JackFrost’. It’s a lesson on how to plant a flower bed.
A shrub that stands out most of the year – and is one of the best winter plants for pots and borders Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire”.
“We prune the leafy stems back to about half their height in early May so their leafless red stems will brighten the front yard for next year. Underplanted with snowdrops for the beginning of the year, the copper colored fern follows Dryopteris Erythrosoraand for later in the year the purple bloomed Liriope muscari‘ explains Rosemary.
The wide path that leads visitors to the patio and front door is punctuated by neatly trimmed generous evergreen box spheres and a green and white themed border, which is an inspirational idea when considering garden color schemes.
The planting in the entrance area should make visitors look good all year round and therefore includes some front garden ideas. “We use a heavy mulch in January that highlights the topiarized structural shrubs – Phillyrea angustifolia and Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ – supported by a serpentine clipped low box hedge and clipped box spheres,” explains Rosemary.
“Helleborus looks good amongst the topiary shrubs in this light shade and offers a springtime backdrop to the white Narcissus triandrus ‘Thalia’ and tulip ‘Spring Green,’ which we replenish annually,” says Rosemary.
In the back garden, which is full of north-facing garden ideas, the design includes a number of spaces including a vegetable garden, dining patio, borders and lawn.
“The sunny and open back garden comes into its own in summer, so in spring we focus on the double borders on each side of the main path and use several hundred lily-flowered tulip bulbs, including ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Merlot’. ‘ says Rosemary.
In the back garden, she uses strategically placed pots for ongoing spring color. “That means we can change them up based on fashion and mood,” says Rosemary.
General interest flows and continues to be tweaked from season to season, with new plans always afoot.
Rosemary’s energy and enthusiasm seems boundless, her love of plants contagious, and she continues to put what she teaches into practice, inspiring visitors and students alike.