A plantsman’s paradise

PUBLISHED: 12:55 14 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:11 20 February 2013

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A variety of growing conditions at Radnor Cottage, in Clun, makes it the ideal canvas for keen gardeners Pam and David Pittwood, to experiment. Garden writer Liz Pegg talks to the couple about the many different faces of their riversid...

Pam Pittwood got hooked on gardening when she and her husband David got
their first home in Dudley.
Even though they only had a tiny back yard with enough space for one
specimen plant, Pam, a retired English teacher, savoured wandering around
nurseries and perusing the
horticultural goodies on offer.
When she finally made her choice - a delicate Japanese Acer - she can still
remember the satisfaction of planting and nurturing her beloved tree.
Things have moved on from then - the Pittwoods now have around two acres of
land at Radnor Cottage, their home in Clun - but Pam's love of gardening has
not diminished.
In fact, because the large garden has a wide spectrum of growing
conditions, it has enabled Pam to flex her green fingers even more, and
experiment with a variety of plants.
She explained: "We're really lucky here because there are so many different
types of garden. There are parts that are hot and dry, shady areas and parts
that are damp and boggy, which means I can grow everything I want."
As a result, Radnor Cottage is a real plantsman's paradise. Directly in
front and to the side of the house, the conditions are hot and dry -
allowing the growth of tender plants such as Cistus, sun-loving herbs and
hardy
geraniums.
Alpines are grown in between the crevices of two dry stone walls,
meticulously built by hand by David, a retired science teacher. All the
stone was dug out of the ground, and one of the walls was built as a
Millennium project.
"I did a degree in engineering and the first lecture I had was in dry stone
walling, because it would teach us the basics of engineering," said David.
"I never thought those lectures would come in so useful!"
Pam explained that the couple had a rather "traditional partnership", in
which she did most of the planting and design, and David did the building
and landscaping work.
"We're a good team, because our strengths complement each other, and it's
good to have a shared interest," smiled Pam.
This union of skills is demonstrated in a display in front of the house of
some pretty alpine troughs. The troughs were the work of David, who
fashioned them from a cement mixture which looks uncannily like stone, and
Pam has chosen a lovely selection of tender alpines to go inside them.
Beside them there is also a colourful selection of house leeks (sempervivum)
in terracotta pots. "I love them because they are so tactile - you just want
to touch them," said Pam. "We had a group of school children coming to visit
the garden once and they kept asking if they could touch the house leeks."
Old fashioned roses are another favourite plant of Pam's, and the
globe-like blloms, dripping with scent, are everywhere - entwined through
trees and rambling over fences.
"I prefer old roses because I am fascinated by their histories, and I love
reading about them," she said. "One of my roses, the Holy Rose of Abyssinia,
was grown in North African monestries 1,000 years ago, and it's amazing to
think I am now growing it in Shropshire! They have such romantic names too."
Across the far side of the garden, conditions become more shady
and damp, and a stream meanders gently down into an old puddled clay pond at
the bottom, which dates back to at least the 1890s and used to provide
spring water for three houses. Gardening here can be a challenge, because
although the ground
is damp for part of the year, the pond and stream dry out in the late
summer.
"Right next to the water, I've chosen plants that don't mind damp shade,"
said Pam. "Hostas do very well there, and there are ferns, ligularias, marsh
marigolds, candelabra primulas, water forget-me-nots and irises. But in some
of the beds the growing conditions are quite testing, because the soil dries
out as the weather warms up.²
Right next to the pool, an attractive gold-themed border is thriving,
containing many shrubs and perennials with yellow leaves and flowers, such
as physocarpus, berberis, meadowsweet and aquilegia.
Below the pond the soil is very boggy, and the couple have taken advantage
of this by planting a bog garden full of moisture-loving trees and shrubs,
including willows, dogwoods and viburnums. Among the perennials are astilbe,
filipendula and lysimachia, and specimen plants include a swamp cypress,
gunnera, tulip tree and liquidamber. Suprisingly, there is also a thriving
collection of grasses in the bog garden, including miscanthus and quaking
grass.
The Pittwoods opted to leave the large grassy area next to the pond unmown
for most of the year, to encourage wild grasses and flowers to flourish.
Winding footpaths have been cut into the grass to allow them - and visitors
- to stroll through it without damaging any of the delicate blooms.
³We only cut the grass once a year in late summer,² said Pam. ³We get some
beautiful wild grasses and flowers, like Star of Bethlehem.²
Scattered throughout the meadow area are a host of native trees - selected
for their bark or berries. Birches and rowans play a major part, with Sorbus
¹Joseph Rock¹ and ¹Apricot Lady¹ putting on a fine display of yellow and
red-orange berries in winter, and the gleaming white bark of the Paper Birch
(Betula Papyrifera) providing interest all year round.
There is also a small orchard, containing 20 apple varieties, including
crab and cider apples, and plums, pears, cherries, walnuts, medlar and
mulberry. Inevitably, some of the produce goes to the garden wildlife, and
David makes a mean apple chutney with part of the crop. The Pittwoods also
enjoy growing their own vegetables on a well-tended veg patch.
Below the vegetable garden, a new area is being developed, designed for
relaxing in the sunshine. A beech hedge encloses a gravelled area and seat,
making it into a sheltered suntrap, and Pam wants to install a trickling
water feature too.
"From the seat you can admire the view down to the River Clun, which is
wonderful at any time of the year," said Pam.
The couple have opened up their garden under the National Gardens Scheme
for many years and now get regular visitors. They decided to show it off to
the public to raise money for charity and also because they have enjoyed
exploring other people's gardens under the scheme themselves.
"It's lovely because people are so appreciative, and hopefully everyone
will pick up some ideas while they're here because we have to contend with
almost every growing condition," said Pam.

* Radnor Cottage is open to raise money for the National Gardens Scheme
and Clun Methodist Church between 2 - 6pm on the following dates: May 27,
June 27 and July 22. There is a plant sale and teas are available. The
couple also give talks to clubs and gardening groups on a whole range of
topics, from cottage garden flowers to planting in cracks and crevices. All
proceeds go to charity. For details, call them on 01588 640451.

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