A Highgate Garden

On a grey day in June with an unpopular American in town, eight keen gardeners were treated to a hidden treasure of a garden, the creation of Bunty Schrager, a woman who has transformed a neglected wartime wilderness into a flowing series of gloriously abundant spaces, burgeoning with variety, colour and texture to be enjoyed by her family and the residents of the other flats in the house. Her hand drawn plan was much appreciated in guiding us around the borders, through the arches and under the trees, identifying the main plants and features of this spacious, plant-laden haven, and clearly pictures the total lack of straight lines in the design. Tall trees in adjoining gardens, a perry pear, a walnut and a heavily pruned but thickly leaved chestnut, give borrowed landscape at the boundaries, and the deep, heavily planted borders wind around the edges, through the centre and back up to the slope below the patio, to the pond with its little fountain and waterfall, damselflies, fish and frogs. There is height from unusual trees including a paulownia with a few purple blooms left, magnolias, acers, tree peonies, roses and clematis on frames and arches. Covering the ground, pale pink heuchera and dicentra fill shady spaces, salvia, greeny-blue ansonia and bright blue corydalis flank the deep bronze foliage of the cow parsley-like anthriscus ravenswing, and an extraordinary Chinese foxglove – Rehmannia elata – its bright pink flowers with vivid yellow spotted throats. No wasted space and unexpected delights at every turn. A splendid Crinodendron hookerianum by the kitchen door, what a wonderful sight of a morning! The tall house faces south, and its shadow stretches nearly to the end of the garden in winter, shortening visibly as the spring progresses, but there is a broad area below the house which gets no direct sun. No matter, its still full of lush planting. There’s a golden arch of philadelphus aurea, still blooming with fragrant white flowers, which frames the steps down from the entrance patio, thriving in an open setting despite a complete lack of direct sun. The horizontal, blossom covered branches of a viburnum plicatum spread out over a camellia, and below that the unusual spiky tipped palmate leaves of Kirengeshoma palmatum grow wide and healthy in deep shade. Its ‘pixie hat’ shaped, waxy yellow flowers will emerge in late summer, in succession after the ground-cover of sweet woodruff and lilies of the valley. Far from ‘just’ being an imaginative, creative and productive gardener, who battled through thick brambles and almost endless debris (including 27 old car batteries!) as she reclaimed the space, Bunty has turned her hands to brick walling, pond digging and waterfall design and construction. She makes all her own compost, always with two bins full resting and two being filled with clippings, raw vegetable peelings and even the teabags, cups and paper plates from which which we had our refreshments (excellent lemon drizzle cake!). The results are piled onto the garden in autumn and winter and the plants most certainly thrive on it. Our thanks to Bunty for a delightful morning, and much inspiration!

Photographs © Alison Miller

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