Gardening for nature at Boyton Cross

PUBLISHED: 07:48 07 July 2015 | UPDATED: 07:48 07 July 2015

Borders are packed with interesting plants

Borders are packed with interesting plants


Naturalistic planting to attract wildlife is in abundance in Margot Grice’s garden at Boyton Cross near Chelmsford, as Philippa Pearson discovers

When Margot Grice and her husband Michael first saw their home at Boyton Cross near Chelmsford 32 years ago, it wasn’t so much the bricks and mortar that were the attraction. ‘We bought the house for the garden really,’ Margot explains. The three-quarters-of-an-acre garden surrounded by fields and open countryside was the perfect place for Margot to develop a naturalistic-style wildlife garden with planting to attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

‘I was working full time when we moved here,’ says Margot, ‘so I couldn’t throw myself into creating the garden then, but it has evolved over time.’ With the main ethos of the garden to attract wildlife, many plants have been chosen specifically for this, whether single flowering nectar-rich ones that act as a magnet for pollinating insects or plants that create habitats for birds and other creatures. In addition, Margot has sumptuous, colour-themed border displays featuring specimen plants and many other inspirational themed areas of the garden.

At the bottom of the garden flows a stream, giving the opportunity to use a range of different plants that like the boggy conditions. All plants in this area have to work hard for survival, though, as the stream regularly floods in winter each year. ‘This area usually floods between January or February when we often have heavy rain,’ Margot explains, ‘and a fair bit of soil is washed away around the planting, which we top up afterwards.’

Snowdrops are good plants for this area, Margot tells me, and the garden has a collection of more than 250 different cultivars spread between the stream area and the front garden. The latter is planted with deciduous trees and carpeted with snowdrops in late winter. The back garden was originally just lawn and Margot gradually carved out borders for her growing plant collection. She is a self-confessed plantaholic, adding meandering paths built by Michael that lead to ponds and other areas of the garden. Michael also created a peaceful summerhouse by the stream with views over the countryside, one of two buildings in the garden.

During the last 11 years since Margot retired, giving her more time to devote to it, the garden has developed considerably. Key influences for planting and design styles come from Beth Chatto’s garden at Elmstead Market near Colchester and the now closed Glen Chantry gardens created by Wol and Sue Staines at Wickham Bishops. Elsewhere in East Anglia, Margot and Michael have been inspired by Alan and Adrian Bloom’s gardens at Bressingham in Norfolk.

‘We really liked the way conifers and heathers were used in the Bressingham gardens,’ says Margot, ‘and planted a few areas on that theme here in our garden which have matured nicely, although some of the conifers have now been replaced with broadleaf deciduous trees.’

Planting for year-round interest is also something that Margot has been influenced by in her garden visits and she has introduced this into the garden. Seasonal foliage, shape, interesting bark and texture come from trees such as Acer griseum, the paperbark maple with lovely bronze-coloured peeling bark, seed heads in winter which are also good for birds and the use of grasses which add interest for much of the year.

Height in the borders comes from climbing plants on structures and tall plants while a good selection of troughs planted with alpines adds additional interest. There’s also a fernery, a scree garden and a vegetable plot.

Margot’s love of plants comes from joining a range of gardening groups in Essex such as the Hardy Plant Society, Alpine Gardening Society, British Clematis Society and many more local groups. There are plenty of plants for sale at the open days, and as she enjoys propagating and with an eye for unusual and less common plants, you will no doubt find something different to take home and try in your own garden.

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