PUBLISHED: 14:54 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013
Fiona Edmond's creation of Green Island Gardens near Ardleigh has been a story of discover and recovery. Philippa Pearson celebrates this tranquil garden with year-round appeal
WHEN Fiona Edmond and her family moved from London back to her native Essex 12 years ago, Fiona, who was brought up at Great Bromley, was unwell with ME.
As a trained garden designer, Fiona is a keen plantswoman, but due to her illness, she and her husband weren't actively looking for a house with a large garden. But when they discovered Green Island, a triangular land island near Ardleigh, the appeal of developing the large garden won them over. Once part of Ardleigh Park, the house was designed by architect Raymond Erith and is surrounded by 20 acres of land.
Fiona spent the next few years gradually creating plans to transform the garden and this therapy helped her tremendously on the road to recovery. The neglected garden needed an incredible amount of work and her father, with other family members, concentrated on clearing the grounds. 'The garden and woodland were full of self-seeded sycamore trees and brambles,' explains Fiona. 'When we eventually cleared these, we found the remains of several mature oak trees which had fallen in the great storm of 1987.'
Eventually, several large island beds were created at the back of the house and planted with architectural shrubs and perennials. Fiona particularly wanted year-round interest in the garden so foliage, bark, shape and texture were important considerations in her plant palette. 'I also re-cycled wood from the site, making seats from oak tree trunks and lining borders with logs,' says Fiona, who recovered enough from her illness to open the garden to the public in 1999.
Fiona has always loved working with plants, helping her mum with flower arrangements when she was a child: she wanted to pursue a career in horticulture but was persuaded instead to go to Cambridge University to study geography. She discovered golf in her university days and was a successful amateur golfer, playing for Great Britain at one stage. But the lure of horticulture led Fiona back to her original career choice and she studied garden design in London, qualifying in 1990. Now with six children, Fiona devotes her time to maintaining the developing garden, her design consultancy and her family.
At Green Island, the gardens are designed as a series of areas with different themes, all blending with their natural surroundings. The main borders provide plant interest throughout the seasons, with lashings of glorious late autumn colour.
'Green Island has its own micro-climate and many borderline hardy plants do very well here,' says Fiona. The original brick terrace at the back of the house was widened and large beds added to give generous planting which softens the edges. A screened area here leads to the Japanese garden, complete with chairs and tables made from felled apple trees, and an interesting collection of plants from Japanese origins. Fiona designed a seaside garden for a cottage in the garden's grounds using low maintenance planting in gravel and a decked area here catches the last rays of the setting sun. Once the main borders had been developed, Fiona began designing some of the adjoining woodland area and here native birch trees mingle with rhododendrons, azaleas, pieris and camellias. The remaining woodland with self-seeded sycamores is currently being cleared to make way for new trees. Fiona plans to open this area during 2009 when she will also be extending the opening hours of the garden.
RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson is a garden designer and professional horticulturalist. Call 01767 651253 or email Philippa at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Green Island Gardens
The gardens are open until the end of November, 10am to 5pm, each Wednesday and Thursday, plus Sunday, November 2 and Sunday, November 9. In 2009, the gardens open from February 1 to November 30, 10am to 5pm, every day except Monday and Saturday, and Bank Holiday Mondays. Other times by appointment. The plant nursery is open at the same time as the gardens. The Smith School of Gardening run courses in the garden.
Green Island Gardens
Park Road, Ardleigh, Essex CO7 7SP
Situated three miles northeast of Colchester. From Ardleigh village centre, take the B1029 towards Great Bromley. Park Road is second on the right after the level crossing.
Fiona's top five plants to create year-round interest
Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' With beautiful heart-shaped reddish leaves this plant flowers in mid-spring and has a lovely shape for all-year interest
Cotinus obovatus Stunning shape, fluffy flowers for months and leaves that are bronze-pink when young, maturing to mid-green with fantastic autumn colour, make this a great choice
Trachelospermum jasminoides This self-clinging, evergreen has richly-scented jasmine-like flowers
Acer palmatum 'Chitose-yama' Enjoy gorgeous spring pink leaves, turning stunning red in autumn
Pittosporum tennuifolium 'Tom Thumb' An evergreen, rounded shrub with young leaves contrasting with deep-reddish brown mature foliage