On June 24th and 25th Lewis Cottage Garden, near Spreyton, will open its gates to visitors as part of the National Gardens Scheme.  Regular readers of Richard Orton’s articles on this website, will be familiar with the joys and challenges of developing this special garden over the past 30 years. But whether you’re a gardener or not, this is a delightful place to spend a few relaxing hours, not to mention enjoy a delicious tea.

Here Richard explains how this year visitors will notice a difference, as they have allowed part of the garden to go back to nature.

Every year as the Chelsea Flower Show opens its gates I am always amazed as to how bang on trend we are at Lewis Cottage. I’d never be so presumptive to say that Chelsea follows my ideas, heaven forfend, but was it coincidence that the year we took delivery of and repurposed an old grain silo was the same year that one appeared at Chelsea. Likewise, this year, whether one approves of the wild and weedy look that permeated a lot of the gardens, was it again coincidence that two weeks prior to Chelsea we had taken the bold decision to let the bottom half of the garden go back to nature, rather than try to garden it in the same way that we have these past 30 years?

There were several reasons why we have decided to embrace nature at the bottom of the garden. Firstly, as I approach a milestone birthday in a year or two, I want to be able to still enjoy the garden without getting depressed that I can’t keep it as we used to. Making a conscious decision to change the way I garden is a huge first step. As you may recall, we suffered the loss of an old walnut tree last year and the logged wood is still down there, too heavy for me to lift. It has substantially changed the look and feel of that part of the garden, so rather than drag every piece up to the cottage, we’re going to redefine the beds with them instead, providing a home for insects as they eventually decay.

Secondly, the felling of the walnut tree exposed a vista that drew attention to four very sick ash trees which will be removed later this year. Not the time then to be re planning borders and plants. So what to do? Well we have left the grass to grow down there for a start and it’s amazing to see which wildflowers have sprung up all over and what we would usually have not seen because of mowing. We have strimmed a pathway through the long grass so that access is still possible for visitors on our open days. The contrast between the top and bottom areas of the garden is now quite stark but we hope our visitors will enjoy the slightly more relaxed approach this year.

Talking of visitors, it’s that time again and my goodness it seems to arrive quicker than ever. Lewis Cottage opens its gates to all supporters of the National Gardens Scheme on the weekend of June 24th/25th. For those who have never been, Lewis Cottage sits in the centre of a four acre plot near Spreyton in Mid Devon and has a wide variety of planting schemes both relaxed and formal. Light refreshments of homemade cake or quiche are served and we have a well-stocked plant nursery for those who like to buy a souvenir of their visit.

We’re fortunate to see many regular visitors but are always surprised how many new visitors there are each year, particularly young families which is a joy to see. If you are a regular then put the date in your diary and, if not, come along and soak up the tranquility of a glorious piece of Devon countryside, you are all very welcome indeed.

Other gardens open for the NGS in the coming weeks

22nd June  Blackbury Honey Farm Southleigh, Colyton

24th & 25th June Musbury Barton, Axminster

1st & 2nd July Heavitree’s Unexpected Gardens Exeter.

Jobs to do in the garden this month

  • Check your plants daily and water when necessary. If you can, use grey water to conserve water.
  • Check your plants daily and water when necessary. If you can, use grey water to conserve water.
  • Harden off any annuals you’ve been growing in greenhouses and polytunnels ready for planting out and use greenhouse shading to prevent scorching plants.
  • Keep picking sweet peas to ensure a steady supply throughout the summer or they will go to seed very quickly.
  • Divide and replant snowdrops and other early spring bulbs.
  • Pinch out the side shoots of tomato plants (you can actually pot these up to create new tomato plants).
  • Sow salad crops every two weeks to ensure a steady supply of homegrown salad during the summer.
  • Keep an eye on onions and garlic - as soon as the leaves turn yellow, they’re ready for harvesting.
  • Harden off and plant out the more tender vegetables such as courgettes, sweetcorn and squash.
  • Prune plum and cherry trees.Use rainwater rather than tap water for blueberries to ensure the soil acidity is kept stable. The same goes for rhododendrons.
  • If you overwinter container grown plants, it’s worth tipping them out to check for the dreaded vine weevil. Plants can be saved by washing all of the affected soil from the roots and replanting either in fresh compost or direct into the ground.
  • Keep bird baths topped up in the hot weather.
  • Give hardy geraniums a good haircut (the Chelsea chop) to get a second flowering in a few weeks.
  • Other spring perennials such as pulmonaria which start to look a bit scraggy now, can also be cut back. In a few weeks plants will look fresh and luscious again.
  • Mulching thirsty crops like beans and courgettes will help retain moisture and aid growth.
  • Keep on top of those weeds, especially if they’re beginning to bolt and ready to set seed.

More information about the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found here where you can find out about further open garden weekends, plant sales and private group visits.

Jun 23, 2023

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