Back from the brink in Brightlingsea

PUBLISHED: 16:28 28 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:28 28 August 2013

The shletered courtyard garden

The shletered courtyard garden


While enjoying this peaceful four-acre garden, nestling by the Colne Estuary on the edge of Brightlingsea, it’s hard to take in the amount of work that went into creating the space.

‘When we moved here in 1994, the garden was completely overgrown,’ says the garden’s owner and creator, Lesley Orrock. ‘The house hadn’t been lived in for a few years. We used diggers to take out hundreds of sycamore seedlings and masses of brambles and diggers also cleared away thick green sludge from two ponds which were silted up.’

Lesley left one of the ponds to its own devices afterwards, for a more natural look, and it’s now a haven for wildlife with plenty of damselflies and dragonflies. A natural look was something that Lesley wanted to achieve with the garden as a whole, so that it blended with the pretty surrounding countryside. Once the mass of overgrown material was removed, the bare bones of the garden revealed themselves and mature oaks and horse chestnuts have formed the backbone of the space. Lesley did a diploma in garden design at Writtle College, studying there one-day-a-week while also renovating the house. She did a design for her garden and work began during the autumn and winter of 1995-6.

‘We started by putting up some rabbit-proof fencing and additional wildlife hedgerows,’ explains Lesley, ‘to create shelter from the wind and offer protection.’ The garden has developed over time, but the design that Lesley drew in the 1990s is still there at the heart of the garden. ‘We just followed the design I did and stuck with it!’

This beautiful and peaceful garden has a variety of planting themes and styles which complement the different growing areas. Lesley has created a small sunken courtyard near the house which adds formality with its strong outlines, but is planted informally.

‘I adore plants,’ she says, ‘but I’ve kept groupings informal to keep with my vision of the garden blending naturally with the surrounding countryside.’

The old tennis court was taken out a few years ago and replaced with a reflection pool surrounded by raised beds, while the extensive mixed borders in the garden are brimming with late summer colour in September and are looking stunning. The soil varies on the site from sand and gravel by the house to clay by the two ponds creating many planting aspects in the garden such as drought, sun, dry shade, damp shade, containers and bog. Dotted around the garden are a collection of metal sculptures including a full-size rearing horse as well as obelisks, seats and plant supports.

Lesley’s partner, Payne Gunfield, has made some of the sculpture while Colchester artist David Trenow, who held an exhibition in the gardens in 2012, decided to keep some of his sculptures here as they fitted so well with the garden and surroundings.

With stunning estuary views, there are lovely walks in the surrounding area from the garden, which Lesley has been opening for the National Garden Scheme for about 14 years. ‘I wanted to share this beautiful spot with like-minded gardeners and others,’ she says, ‘while also raising money for the charities that the NGS supports. This garden is not just about the plants and the design, it’s also about where it sits in the landscape.’

The garden is open in May and September each year for the NGS and is well worth a visit to discover its charms.

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