Frances and Rob moved to Restineas in 2009 and have since turned their 2.5 acre garden into a wildlife haven. The garden was due to open on 31st May to raise money for Cornwall Wildlife Trust as part of our annual Open Gardens series but due to coronavirus, has been unable to do so. Here, Frances tells us about her and Rob’s approach to developing the garden, the wildlife it’s home to / attracts, and the plants that are currently blooming.
How long have you lived in the house?
Rob and I moved here in Summer 2009; a year after arriving in Cornwall. Time flies! It was the size (2 and a half acres) and secluded nature of the garden that clinched the house sale. Originally an old mining site, it was a peaceful oasis surrounded by a screen of mature oaks and rhododendrons and backing onto old woodland. When we first got here most of the garden was old pasture with a neglected orchard and a few shrubs, and a pretty leat running through.
What have you done to the garden since living there?
The garden has evolved with the aims of supporting local wildlife, producing some of our own food, and providing a playground for our grandchildren, friends and relatives.
We have added a large wildlife pond and boggy rill, a polytunnel, a petanque pitch, a willow circle, a couple of mixed flower beds, wildflower meadow areas, and a rabbit-fenced vegetable patch (which the deer just jump over and help themselves). We now have geese in the orchard and a chicken run.
On the building side we have improved the patio areas and added a pergola and stones for sitting on, because we like to have areas dotted around the garden where we can just sit and gaze. Rob is currently reclaiming an old mining track so we can walk through a bit more garden that we haven’t been able to access easily before. It would make a great fern gully. There are still some areas which are pretty much inaccessible but I am sure the wildlife don’t mind having it to themselves.
How did / do you decide what plants to grow in your garden?
Over the years we have added anything that has caught our imagination, including a variety of fruiting and ornamental trees. Mostly because I thought they sounded a bit medieval, a couple of years ago we added quince and medlar, and while the quince jelly was superb, the squirrels got to the medlars before I did! I shall pay more attention this year.
There are a couple of flower beds that provide a home for plants that were mostly impulse buys at plant sales and open gardens, or arrived as gifts and cuttings from friends and relatives.
I like to try and get interesting colour and foliage combinations, but that can be a bit hit or miss as I am not ruthless enough, and if a weed looks interesting I am likely to let it grow. I also like to position particular plants (eg the smokebush and stipa gigantia) where the sun will shine through their foliage to create interesting effects.
The vegetable patch and polytunnel benefit from a more focused approach, with a planned 4 bed rotation and some serious compost heaps and leaf cages. We also use seaweed as a mulch over the winter.
What’s happening in your garden now? What plants are currently blooming?
Rob has been developing the wildflower meadow, and right now we have some subtle but lovely flowering grasses, amongst which are mown paths to lead you round the garden. In the grass are also red clover, buttercups, bluebells and cuckoo flower. Yellow rattle is emerging, with the plan of it gradually taking over from the grass and helping to support the development of a natural wildflower meadow.
The pond is looking good with lots of yellow and cream iris, and the skunk cabbage is flowering too. The marsh marigold is just going over.
Whilst we wage war on brambles and nettles, we do have a soft spot for wild leek, which is popping up everywhere, and campion, which can also be quite invasive. But they both look lovely in amongst the bluebells, stitchwort and primroses. We have a large patch of wild garlic too.
Have you seen any wildlife recently?
Recent visitors to the garden have included roe deer, bats, moles, mice, mallards, goldcrests, goldfinches, dippers, thrushes, jays, woodpeckers and great tits, blue tits and coal tits. We often have buzzards circling overhead and the tawny owls have been noisy at night. Some great tits and blue tits have set up home in a couple of our bird boxes, so we are keeping an eye on them.
The pond is now several years old, having been puddled out of clayey mud. We have lots of the usual pondlife including newts. There are damselflies on the pond today and last year we had some spectacular emperor dragonflies, so are looking forward to that again. It is so satisfying that we just dug the pond and the wildlife moved in with very little help other than providing and maintaining the right environment.
It is so satisfying that we just dug the pond and the wildlife moved in with very little help other than providing and maintaining the right environment.Owner of Resineas
What plants in your garden are doing particularly well? What tips do you have for others growing these plants?
Some of the plants doing really well were not bought at a garden centre but just moved in and looked after themselves as we cleared different areas. The ferns are majestic and impressive, and this year the primroses have been amazing. We have noticed more bluebells this year, especially in the wildflower sections of meadow. One of the benefits of a large garden is you can be more forgiving of some of the persistent species and let them have some space without them encroaching too much. The edges of our garden tend to merge and blend with woodland plants coming the other way.
Rather than fight nature, I try to grow things that are happy with our slightly acid soil and will be hardy enough to stay in the ground all winter. This has worked even with our bananas, which live outside all year round. Smaller plants or those that need a bit of cossetting usually go into pots, so they don’t get lost in the garden.
What are your favourite plants in your garden and why?
Rob has a great interest in the wild plants whilst I tend to associate plants with particular people and appreciate them in that way, so they come into focus at different times of the year, depending on their season. At the moment the wisterias my daughters gave me are thriving and exotic, despite both having been pruned/chewed down to six inches a few years ago when Merlin was a puppy.
How have you used your garden in the current crisis? Has it helped? If so, how?
We have been very lucky to be able to spend lockdown here. The weather has been amazing and we have had time to sit and observe the wildlife - a highlight one evening was two tawny owls swooping over our heads at twilight.
We also benefit from being walking distance to the Eden Project, so have been popping up on our daily exercise with the dog to admire the wildflower meadows, which are changing all the time.
Thanks to the commitment of volunteers and garden hosts, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Open Gardens series raises much needed funds for our work, securing over £20,000 in 2018. Due to the pandemic, these funds are unlikely to be raised in 2020, putting the future of our work at risk. Please help protect Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places, clicking here.
Please help protect Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places
Thanks to the commitment of volunteers and garden hosts, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Open Gardens series raises much needed funds for our work, securing over £20,000 in 2018 alone. Due to the pandemic, these funds are unlikely to be raised in 2020, putting the future of our work at risk.