The National Collection of Clematis Montana

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The history of the garden

Cinza article - November 2012

In 1986, after an amazing two days as a guest at the Moet & Chandon Chateaux in Epernay I returned home to my Salisbury flat in the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral Close. On the hall floor were particulars of Studio Cottage (now reverted to its original name of By The Way - the house and paddock flank the Avon Valley Footpath). The land had originally been acquired from the Breamore (pronounced Bremar) Estate in 1930. The purchaser built his one bedroom home from hand made bricks from the local quarry in 1936. They added a bathroom and extra bedroom when Mavis, was born in 1942. For years it was an idyllic family home, with Mavis being lulled to sleep by the sound of her father pumping the water up to the house from the well. Then, one night, a family who had acquired grazing land in the valley below, moved in - cutting down By The Way trees in order to widen the access down Lodge Drove to accommodate their mobile home.

By The Way/Studio Cottage changed hands four times in the next five years. Successive purchasers experienced neighbour problems soon after moving in, and moved on quickly.

This is where I came in. Knowing nothing of the history of the property, I rounded the corner of Lodge Drove one early September morning. I gasped at the sight of the south-west facing valley. I heard the buzzards calling. Studio Cottage was perched almost at the top of the hill, with its two thirds acre garden to the east and south and one acre paddock to the west. It is protected from the worst of the north winds by the only property to the north. The house and land were run down, filthy dirty but had a sound surveyors report. I offered the asking price and although three of us made the same offer I secured the property as I had already sold my Salisbury flat subject to finding another home. The condition was that I completed the purchase within 4 weeks - very quick indeed but I went for it.

The garden had one magnificent clematis montana climbing up the east wall of the lounge. It was a haven for nesting blackbirds. Apart from that it was devoid of flowering plants - just trees everywhere. But my parents were avid gardeners. My Dad loved to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables and my mother was a wonderful cook and flower arranger. I was thrilled to have a virgin garden. At the time I was working full time as an educational psychologist for Wiltshire County Council. I was single and had little spare money to develop the property and land. But I love hard physical work.

The one acre paddock was a sea of thistles. Being a committed organic gardener I gradually dug them all out by hand. It was hard work as the ground is typical forest land - stones and dust with seams of clay. Getting a fork in was very hard work. But after the first year, and having purchased two adorable primitive breed (Jacob x Hebredian x Manx Loughton) ewe lambs, the paddock was virtually clear of weeds.

The garden provided a great challenge. It is on a very steep south facing slope, again, stones and dust with seams of clay. To say it was neglected is an understatement. After several years of making aerobic compost and raking up and stacking leaves, I had wonderful rhubarb, gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries. Gradually beds emerged round the base of many of the trees and then, out of the blue, I met my husband to be. I had long given up hope of meeting the man of my dreams. I was fifty! He went into work the following day and announced that he had met the "girl" he wanted to marry! I was stunned and swept off my feet. He moved in the following week (!) and we married on the anniversary of our meeting the following year.

As we were older than most betrothed couples and both had reasonably equipped homes, we asked for contributions towards a sit-on mower as wedding presents. This was to be my husband's best loved toy. Headlights on, long after work and sunset, he would career up and down the slopes, frequently dragging mature montana vines after him! But he did his best - he was definitely not a gardener - and with lawn mowing taken care of I set about developing many more flower beds. With two clematis montana climbing into every tree - a pink and a white (the pink flowers first, followed by white a couple of weeks later, with single flowered varieties followed by double) - we soon had a magnificent annual spring into early summer display.

Initially I had planted clematis in order to have climbers in flower throughout the year. I had joined the British and International Clematis Societies. I was informed that there was no National Clematis Montana Group Collection. Would I consider housing one? When I retired in 2002, at age 60, I decided that the challenge was appropriate. After all, there couldn't be many - just pink and white? How wrong I was. I was informed that there were 75 and that I had to have at least 50 species and varieties before I could apply for National Collection status.

But I love a challenge. I was mastering the use of a computer and scoured the internet and hounded of British Clematis Society notables for plants when I drew a blank. I couldn't source a C. vedrariensis 'Hidcote'. My husband suggested I contact Hidcote Manor - the Head Gardener, Glyn Jones, admitted he didn't have one, but, if I could find it, he would love a cutting, please. Finally I acquired one from Denis Bradshaw, who previously held the National Montana Collection. I took a cutting and, in October 2006 went to Hidcote Manor to present them with the plant. They now have the plant in the garden once more and sell plants of the name at a premium price!

I was awarded full National Collection status in November 2005. The Collection has brought me so many friends. Three British Clematis Society members in particular have given me much encouragement, and support - Mike Brown (who holds the only National Collection for Herbaceous Clematis) has been number one mentor and come to many of my open days, acting as garden guide and always laden with plants and advice; Roy Prior was my first 'clematis teacher' - I used to attend his talks on clematis around the county - he is a wonderful grower, inspirational speaker and good friend; and Wim Snoeijer, has come from Holland several times, always with trays of difficult to source, mature montana clematis. He took herbarium specimens for both the Leiden Institute and Wisley Herbariums and was a great help when I tried to find C. 'Hidcote Purple' (introduced by Jim Fisk in 1960) for Hidcote Manor and the National Trust. I feel so honoured to have had their support and also help from so many others in the clematis world.

Back to the garden. My plan has been to alternate pink and white, single and double, scented and non-scented montanas. In addition, I have been aware of the need to provide a colourful display at the feet of the montanas. I have always loved forget-me-nots. They just happen to flower at the same time as the montanas, just after the daffodils, which are prolific here - but daffodils leave masses of untidy stems and leaves for a couple of months after flowering. The forget-me-nots quickly grow to cover the daffodil stems and leaves, and there is a sea of blue, pink and green in all the beds at just the right time for my hundreds of visitors (of course, after weeks spent pulling them out a month later, the forget-me-nots make wonderful compost!). I also have pots of many different tulips, hyacinths, primroses, bluebells, lily of the valley, alliums - in fact a lot of colour in other pots and beds round the house and garden.

Map of the garden

Find out more about the layout of the garden .

How to find us

Directions to the garden if you are interested in coming to see the collection.