by Ruth Lawrence
Tended over 17 years to become the inspiring garden it is today, Ladywell undulates over landscaped grounds and is accompanied by the tinkling of a natural spring.
Sarah and Robert Salisbury’s garden has been a labour of love. It has taken 17 years to achieve an idyllic acre of tranquillity from an initially unpromising plot.
I spoke to Sarah who maintains the garden while Robert attends to all the essential construction of ponds and outbuildings. She admitted that she was daunted by the hilly, wet terrain all those years ago; “The garden was full of grass, crazy paving and conifers,” she recalled. “I bought three trees that I’d always wanted and took it from there.” Now, those three trees each form a stunning focus in their own right; a statuesque ‘wedding cake’ tree, a Magnolia Grandiflora and a Judas Tree, whose flowers appear before its leaves.
Inspired by Wakehurst Place and Sheffield Park, Sarah has skilfully blended elements of these world famous gardens into her own undulating, landscaped grounds. The slope proved to be the garden’s making, lending it the feel of a varied landscape, leading the eye through several levels to the view of the Downs to the south. There is a natural spring which has enabled Sarah to construct a series of ponds, joined by a rill; the effect is both entirely naturalistic and enlivening. The sound of running water gently adds to the relaxing feel of the garden, balanced by wind-rustled leaves above and birdsong travelling up from the wild garden below.
Birds love the combination of water and wilderness, while people appreciate the beauty and contrast of this cleverly designed garden; there are combinations of colour, texture and seasonal planting at every turn. Hosts of white lilies contrast with purple-pink Pulmonaria, a favourite with bees, while the orange twigs of a pollarded Willow seem to shine in evening light.
Sarah has encouraged wildlife into the garden; a stoat has taken up residence and the pond is a haven for newts, many of whom I watched swimming in dappled afternoon light. Robert has built a substantial greenhouse and a characterful shed which boasts an artificial swallows nest, inspired by the real one that graced the old shed. All three varieties of woodpecker are regular visitors and a heron occasionally steals a goldfish from the large pond at the bottom of the garden.
Standing at the ‘summit’ of the garden, the land falls gradually away, revealing different vistas at each level. The whole effect is tied together by the ponds, which weave their way down and suggest a journey rather than a static view. Practicality has not been forgotten in this garden either with a substantial vegetable patch catering for the kitchen, while fruit trees provide a decent crop of apples, pears and plums.
This is the first time Ladywell has been part of the NGS Open Gardens; Sarah and Robert are busy constructing a rockery which should be ready for the open day on the 2nd of June. The garden entry fee goes to NGS hospice charities while money from tea and cakes will be given to Holy Trinity Church in Cuckfield for essential renovation work. Visitors to this absolutely stunning garden will gain inspiration from Sarah who has shown that a hilly plot can prove far more engaging, both physically and visually than its less challenging, level counterpart.
The garden will be open for the NGS on Thursday 2nd June from 2.00pm-5.30pm. £4 entry.
Robert and Sarah Salisbury
Address: Ladywell, Courtmead Road, Cuckfield, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 5LP