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Charterhouse School Garden

Charterhouse School asked me to create new plantings to commemorate the school's move to its present site in 1872. They wanted these planting to be of sufficient interest for the school to be included in the National Gardens Scheme.

I decided to design a planting using some of the ideas of William Robinson, a Victorian who advocated the use of hardy plants in English gardens rather than the trend of the twice yearly bedding displays which were in vogue at the time. As several of his books on the subject were published around 1872 so it seemed appropriate to base the planting on his teachings. All the plants used in the new borders needed to have been in use by 1872 in order to be true to the historical theme.

Opposite the Headmaster's Study were two long separate south-facing turfed areas, backed by dry stone walls which seemed suitable sites for the new borders. Unfortunately one of the areas had a large tree in the middle, which affected the plants which could be grown under its canopy, but the other main area was in full sun all day and was perfect for sun-loving drought tolerant plants.

I decided that the area in full-sun should have a blue, yellow and white colour theme and I chose plants with contrasting form and foliage, All needed to be extremely drought tolerant owing to the hot dry growing conditions. As the school was closed for July and August I avoided plants which had their main period of interest during that time for both borders, and focused especially on plants which would be in flower in mid-June, which was the time the school hoped to open the gardens to the public and when many outdoor social events took place.

The other border was not sun-baked all day, and so a different plant palette and colour theme was used. The plants were in the blue, pink, white, purple and very pale yellow range, with some grey foliage. Six groups of old –fashioned shrub roses gave structure to the back of the border while perennials and low growing shrubs filled in the rest.

With such long borders it was important to create a sense of rhythm and balance, and various groups of plants were repeated along the front row especially.

Researching the plants so that only historically accurate ones were chosen was time-consuming but fascinating, as was sourcing them, as some of the old cultivars could be obtained from specialist nurseries only.
Charterhouse still opens its gardens under the National Gardens Scheme one Sunday in June most year.