Indeed, elements of this design can still be seen today; the stone bench in the north-eastern corner, the central fountain, the York stone paving, fishpond, pavilion and rose covered pergola all date back to Carlota’s design. Her successor, Raymond Oppenheimer left the framework intact but grassed the garden over, and it was this minimalist version of the garden that Strilli and Nicky Oppenheimer inherited.
In 2000, Strilli commissioned the Dutch Garden designer, Henk Gerritsen, to redesign the garden. The resulting design saw a new and triumphant use of the space whilst keeping the original stone features. Gravel beds were laid on the warmer north side of the garden, planted up with drought-resistant plants. Visitors to the garden today will see these gravel plantings in their maturity; the silver-grey fronds of Santolina, the architectural forms of Eryngium oliverianum‘ Miss Wilmott’s ghost’. The presence of red valerian, Centranthus ruber, attracts humming-bird hawk-moths, whilst true valerian, Valeriana officinalis, attracts a host of other insects and pollinators. The gravel bed around the pond is a joy in Summer, as the aptly named Angel’s fishing rods, Dierama pulcherrimum, bob and sway. The raised beds to the north of the garden feature plantings of South African bulbs such as crinum, agapanthus and eucomis.
A range of grasses feature strongly in the garden, softening the vista, seed heads catching the sunlight. In the gravel beds we see the golden glow of oat grass, Stipa gigantea, alongside the red tipped Miscanthus gracillimus. One of the paths has become a river of self-sown Mexican feather grass, Stipa tenuissima, creating a magical, rippling effect in the slightest breeze. The central pond is an important water source for the garden, a home to small fish and a breeding ground for the estate’s frogs. In Summer, emperor dragonflies can be observed patrolling the pond area – it is also a breeding territory for a number of other species of dragonfly and damselfly.
The gravel beds are separated from the south side of the garden by a 4m wide lawn and a clipped ‘caterpillar’ box hedge. In recent years, the hedge has withstood both box blight and box moth and its continued presence in the garden is testament to the owner’s firm belief that it would prevail. The garden team help the process with horsetail tea and regular grooming sessions throughout the Summer to remove the box moth larvae and chrysalises.
On the south side of the caterpillar hedge, we see a taller, more rugged planting, with plants carefully chosen to compete with the indigenous ground elder. The contrast on either side of the garden is one of its great pleasures – indeed each quarter has its own character. To the south we see a mosaic of plants; Calamagrostis brachytricha and Veronicastrum indicum, Ornithogalum umbellatum and Nectaroscordum siculum, Cephalaria gigantea and golden rod, the lilac tones of Eupatorium maculatum ‘ Atropurpureum’ alongside the white flush of Persicaria polymorpha. Shrubs and trees, such as Chimonanthus praecox, with its early scented flowers, and a magnificent Magnolia soulangeana purpurea add an extra layer of height, as does the central pergola of roses and clematis. This abundance of plants offers a steady source of nectar throughout the year, ensuring that the garden is a haven for bees and other pollinators.