Notes from a Head Gardener ~ Chapter 7 ~ The perfect garden…..almost

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South Wood Farm near Honiton in Devon is a pocket powerhouse of a garden. It appears to have a little bit of everything ~ a stunning 17th century farmhouse as a focal point, a setting in a lush and peaceful valley, fabulously colourful planting in a walled courtyard, a collection of neatly clipped, many-sized topiary, a productive vegetable garden complete with sparklingly modern but traditionally styled glasshouse and coldframes, nuttery, rippling pond complete with resident frogs…..practically perfect in every way…..almost!

My visit to South Wood Farm was six weeks ago and I have been trying to write about it ever since. The problem is not what was there – the garden was stunning – there were just a couple of elements missing. My overriding feeling as I left the garden was that I had just experienced a tour of a cleverly and sensitivity designed stage set. 



Every section of the garden flowed seamlessly to the next and elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from us all at every turn. Immaculate vistas, attention to detail and use of local and rural crafts, accomplished planting and sensitively managed horticulture……but where were the surprises? The quirks? The cheekiness that makes the greatest gardens even greater? 


I really enjoyed the garden for what it was. I could appreciate the hard work and accomplished skill of designer Arne Maynard and Head Gardener Will Smithson and I would adore to spend my days working in such a gorgeous garden but I think that the anarchist in me would be itching to create at least a couple of surprises ~ a contemporary sculpture juxtaposed with traditionally clipped yew or a piece of graffiti art in the beautifully Instagrammable potting shed or against an ancient stone wall. Perhaps some unpredictable planting or an unanticipated statement plant would throw the visitor out of the fairytale trance and conjour an amused smile. Perhaps it needs the stamp of the owner to be more prominently stamped. 


When you adore a garden so much that you really want to drop everything and work there for no wage today but, at the same time, want to twist and manipulate some of it’s perfectness….. what is that? A garden that is a whisker away from being truly great. I look forward to visiting again to see how South Wood Farm has developed. It can only get more impressive 


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