Tunnel vision

PUBLISHED: 10:39 11 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013

'The large trellis was left unpainted just with the stain on it. When we attached it to the wall it looked so striking that we decided not to grow anything up it,' says Jessica

'The large trellis was left unpainted just with the stain on it. When we attached it to the wall it looked so striking that we decided not to grow anything up it,' says Jessica

Jessica and Toby Ancill turned a long narrow space into an idyllic garden, ideal for enjoying time with the family and Duchess, their Chinese goose

IT WAS eight years ago that Jessica and Toby Ancill moved to their Victorian bargeworkers' cottage in Maldon.

'There were a lot of original features and styles that we really liked about the house,' explains Jessica. 'We were very near to the river and a lot of the walls and supporting structures inside the house are made of timber from the local barges. Although we were very at home in the cottage, the garden needed some work.'

The couple realised the mammoth task ahead of them. The garden is about 60 feet long and a just 12 feet wide. 'When we first stepped out into the garden it was such a depressing place with no atmosphere,' says Jessica. 'There were large expanses of grass and lots of concrete paving in a straight line from one end of the garden to the other. The garden also had a six-foot fence in place to provide privacy, but it made the tunnel effect worse.'

Jessica and Toby hoped that they would be able to make their new garden into an extension of their cheerful house. To do this it had to be good for several things.

'We needed an area for entertaining and playing with the ever-expanding family. By the time we had finished the house and begun the garden we had become a family of five,' Jessica says. 'We both felt that we wanted to keep a little bit of lawn at the bottom of the garden, but to break up the two very different areas we decided on a border as a central feature. Nearest the house seemed the best area for a patio and something quite rustic was needed. We chose two half circle sets of paving slabs. They were very heavy but not a problem to lay as we took time to prepare and level the ground.'

The high fences were painted in a deep blue shade of quick-drying wood stain. This needs little maintenance so plants can grow in front to provide contrasting colours. The beautiful wisteria needed an equally magnificent colour as a background and another blue was chosen. Trellis was put along both sides to break up the garden. Jessica's favourite flowers are lilies and their strappy foliage and bright blooms can be seen all over the garden. Marguerites are an annual gift from Jessica's grandfather and they add cottage-like simplicity to the otherwise sophisticated patio. Large leafy palms in painted pots and murals added by Toby give this part of the garden a truly Mediterranean feel.

Careful observation
Moving from the patio towards the small border is a narrow shingle path with traditional box hedging. Jessica has planted this border heavily with day lilies, monbretia and glorious agapanthus, the results of many years of careful observation at nurseries and famous gardens such as Beth Chatto's garden at Elmstead Market.

She has planted rosemary on the sides of the herb border so that the scent is released whenever someone brushes past it. Sage, chives, garlic and thyme also grow in the raised herb circle, contained within reclaimed pantiles.

The last part of the garden is laid to lawn for the children along with their companion, Duchess, a Chinese goose raised from a gosling and now a pampered pet. 'We felt that a shed was a dull home for the goose, so we gave her a railway ticket office, made by painting the existing shed a mid-blue and adding a mock picket fence,' explains Toby.

Evenings are a peaceful time in the garden. 'This is just what we wanted,' says Jessica. 'There's plenty of space and we can share a quiet meal or have friends round. We wanted an additional area where we could relax and entertain - and that's exactly what we have achieved.'

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