Lady Farm, Chelwood, Somerset, England: planting for impact

By Andy McIndoe

The garden at Lady Farm, Chelwood, Somerset, England, has been extensively featured in the past few years and was voted one of the top 20 UK gardens by the Daily Telegraph in 2012. I think I first came across it when it was featured for its prairie and steppe style planting which is so photogenic in magazines. I have been keen to visit for some time, particularly as this part of the West Country is one of my favourite parts of the world. I was at University in Bath and always gravitate towards any gardens in the Bath area because of their wonderful west of England setting.


I eventually made it to Lady Farm this summer and it turned out to be a garden way beyond my expectations. Admittedly we visited on a glorious sunny day, and Lady Farm was a wonderful contrast in style to the amazing Laskett Garden we had visited that morning, but that aside this is my kind of garden.

Lady Farm is the home of Malcolm and Judy Pearce; the garden has been created by Judy over the past 20 years. They originally took on Lady Farm as a working dairy farm with no signs of a garden. Their acquisition of the property is an interesting and amusing story in its own right. I’ll leave you to read about that on the Lady Farm website, or better still allow Judy to tell you when you visit.

The garden today sits beautifully in the surrounding countryside; the borrowed landscape is a major feature. Dramatic vistas were one of the main objectives in creating the garden and Judy emphasises the need to re-examine, make changes and progress a design during the evolution of a garden. The discovery of spring water on site has led to the development of stream, lakes and waterfall which are such a feature of the garden. The planting flows with the water and follows the contours of the land. Beautiful sculpture and statuary grace the garden and simply add to the story and the atmosphere.

From the top of the garden, following the course of the stream, the planting is simple but bold and this is what makes it so effective. By restricting the varieties and the colour palette the planting flows and has so much more impact than a more diverse scheme could ever have. The soft yellow, lime and green scheme of foliage shrubs, perennials and grasses is uplifting and has gentle energy. Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ the red barked dogwood with soft golden leaves is a wonderful shrub in this situation. It enjoys the damp soil and will have red stems continuing the interest into winter.

Alchemilla mollis provides that froth of green at ground level; it makes wonderful ground cover and suppresses weed growth at the same time. The familiar Cotoneaster horizontalis provides a structural contrast to the soft leaves of carex and primulas. Similarly the sparkling gold seedheads of Stipa gigantea add an ethereal quality above the planting. What makes it all work is repetition: more blocks of the same variety leading the way down the hill towards the first lake.


Another key objective in the garden has been planting for low maintenance. In a garden of this size and scale there is no place for fiddly high maintenance planting. I really relate to this and know its something most gardeners struggle with, especially when moving from a small garden into a much larger space.

In contrast to the fresh morning colours of the steam planting on the other side of the slope a gently moving haze of pink, red, blue, yellow and white: a pictorial meadow surrounding a group of white-barked birches. This is everyone’s dream vision of a meadow with poppies and cornflowers and bees and butterflies. Its wonderfully naturalistic in character but not in cultivation. Judy explains that this is sown annually onto carefully cleaned ground; as many of the plants are cornfield natives they would only grow in cultivated ground so they do not come back naturally year after year. Natural or not its very beautiful and blends with the more natural meadow which borders the lower part of the garden. It makes a clever transition between the cultivated and natural.

The prairie planted slope above the first lake also fulfils this role. A rolling landscape of grasses punctuated by the spikes of verbascum and kniphofia and studded with prairie daisies and euphorbias it is a delight through summer into autumn and winter. I have to admit that although this is what I first saw featured I was so bewitched by the water with its mirror reflections of trees, sculpture, reeds and sky that I did not really study the planting. There is so much to see in this garden it’s virtually impossible to absorb it all in a single visit.

Lady Farm is open to the public on certain Sundays. It is also open by appointment to groups of 10 or more. Visit the Lady Farm website for further details

Andy McIndoe

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