An experimental garden

01:16 06 October 2011

An experimental garden

An experimental garden

Naomi Slade visits 'mix and match' gardener Nicki Whiteman and hears her exciting plans for autumn and winter

Having talked gardening with Nicki Whitemans on BBC Radio Berkshire on a regular basis for the last year or so, I jumped at the chance to check out her plot on the outskirts of Chieveley.

Nestling between high evergreen hedges, the garden boasts a spectacular view of rolling countryside under an immense, ever changing sky. It was a blank canvas five years ago, but she has since developed its character and it is now very much a family garden, with irregularly-shaped flower beds, seating areas and a raised deck pretty with bunting and with a hammock perfectly positioned to admire the scenery.

Nicki is a great bargain hunter and picks up many of her plants at supermarkets or from friends: "Gardening on a budget, thats totally me!"

"By spending less money there is less disappointment and way more satisfaction and I trade with my neighbours too." The grapevine climbing the pergola hails from Lidl and the fine array of cornflowers is another coup. "I threw the seeds into the border, and up they all came!" declares Nicki.

As a result her planting is cheerful, eclectic and evolving but on trend nevertheless. Veg in the borders is a la mode but it has been a bit of a challenge. "It looked lovely for a while, mixing the red-leaved lettuce with rocket, chard and lime-green perpetual lettuce, but they go over and then you get a gap." But elsewhere there are success stories; there are grapes on the vine, peppers and tomatoes in pots and rosemary and oregano grow in happy companionship. Eldest daughter Molly, too, is very proud of her sunflower and the tiny oak she grew from an acorn.

Autumn brings new excitement and new plans. The deep purple sedums are thriving and dahlias are a particular favourite: "They just keep going and I love them for that, the Trojans!" Nicki enthuses. "But Im planning to get more colour and interest in over winter. Id like a carpet of snowdrops and crocuses under the trees, and Im going to plant a low hedge as a windbreak and to help keep the field out the poppies are pretty, but the stinging nettle battle is endless!"

This may be so, but the eye is always being drawn back to that view and the field filled, in early summer, with shimmering grain. "It is a bit like living by the sea," says Nicki. "When the sun sets over the barley my hammock is one of the best spots in West Berkshire!"

Nicki Whiteman presents the breakfast show on BBC Radio Berkshire, Saturdays 6-9am, and the gardening show with Colin Evans, Sundays 12noon-2pm.


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