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  • Debi Holland

The Dew Pool


Hiding in a suburban street in North Somerset, a stone's throw from one of the busiest motorways in the South West is an absolute oasis of joy. An ancient dew pool, originally used to quench cattle's thirst, has been transformed into a paradise garden.

Owners Margaret Ann & Ian have spent 50 years developing what had become a rubbish tip for old prams and rubble into a dream garden, opening their gates for many years welcoming visitors and raising money for the National Garden Scheme.

Margaret Ann is a painter and her grasp of colour and form transposes into her garden design. It certainly is an artists' garden and a great source of inspiration.

I have been working for Margaret Ann and Ian since October 2016 and I never forget our first meeting. I was working for a neighbour over the road and suddenly Margaret Ann appeared and said 'Are you a gardener? I mean, are you a proper gardener...do you know about plants?" And we've been great friends ever since.

Gardening had become impossible for Margaret Ann due to health reasons so help was needed. Incredibly frustrating to be an avid gardener who is struggling to garden, so we put the world to rights through chatting about gardening and discussing plants and jobs that need doing.

Never say age is an issue with gardening; at ninety years old Ian still mows the lawns, tends to the veg patch and is up trees picking apples! A healthy outdoors life has paid dividends.

It certainly is a garden for all seasons. Every time I visit I am in awe of the continual plant metamorphosis. The garden has me under a spell! The Fall brings a kaleidoscope of colours as the acers and native maples turn.

The further most reach of the garden has a woodland feel and is an arboretum to many trees such as Acer psuedoplantus 'Brilliantissimum,' Acer palmatum which turns bright red in autumn, various brightly coloured and scented witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), a stunning magnolia, lilac, hawthorn, fig and apple trees.

Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, carpet the rear lawn from winter to spring, nodding their dainty heads, hinting at the forth coming season.

Moving into spring the magnolia buds burst into the skyline and what a spectacle that is.

When Margaret Ann and Ian first bought the house the bottom of the garden was part owned by the local council. The former dew pool was derelict and being in-filled with rubbish. As they were surrounded by diseased Dutch Elms Margaret Ann and Ian agreed to pay for the tree's removal in exchange for the land. They set about transforming the chaotic site in to a horticultural delight.

Native trees now line the garden's backdrop alongside apple trees, ferns and an impressive rose collection.

By definition a dew pool's water source is collected from dew but here it was filled naturally by an underground spring but local construction work altered the course of the spring and the pool now had a tendency to run dry.

'One summer the pond dried up completely.' says Ian 'The solution was to install a waterfall. The rest of it dries up in summer so we top it up if we have garden visitors. It takes thousands of gallons of water to fill it just over four feet so we don't fill it very often! But all the water is recycled rainwater. There is several feet of mud at the bottom of the pond which houses frogs, toads and newts while dragonflies are frequent visitors above ground.'

Using stone from what was originally a pigsty on the land Ian made a separate elevated netted pool which was built to host fish safely away from a zealous heron that had already poached many prized fish but the stonework proved a little too popular with the local slugs and snails!

"I planted it all up from cuttings,' says Margaret Ann. 'And later had a bridge built to provide access from one side to another. Previously there had just been an old tree trunk that didn't quite reach the other side.'

So they contacted a local college and a civil engineering student was excited to take on the project. He made a scale model of the bridge and then constructed it in the garden. On the strengthen of the project the student gained a place at university.

Many plants enjoy moist roots around the pond such as persicaria, Sagittaria sagittifolia (arrowhead), marsh marigold and astilbes. hostas and ferns adorn the pond sides surrounded by clumps of iris, primroses, cowslips, lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and bulrushes.

"We wade into the pond every year to clear it out and clean the water filers once a week. We have to repot the water plants in special pots. We use compost that doesn't get absorbed into the water as well as putting sacking at the bottom to prevent fish disturbing the root ball,' says Margaret Ann.

'Bulrushes have thick roots that have to be cut out to thin. My husband tried to pull them out but he ended up in the pond!'

For me personally I think one of the most impressive features the garden holds is the incredible spectrum of green that makes up the rich tapestry of this garden. I like to call it fifty shades of green! Every hue imaginable develops throughout the year and emits calm.

The clay soil is slightly acidic which allows for a spectacular display of azaleas, camellia and rhododendrons in the front garden as well as boasting sweet smelling philadelphus (Mock Orange), Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan honeysuckle), Choisya ternata.

Kniphofia (Red Hot Pokers), Zantedeschia (Calla lilies) and a rose garden also grace the front. And the back garden hosts a plant collector's dream.

Margaret Ann has always been a keen flower arranger and comprises displays for the local church; her garden was specifically planted with this mind.

Such a joy to be able to walk outside your back door and pick your own stems and blooms, from twisted hazel (Salix babylonica var. pekinensis 'Tortuosa') which started life as a 15cm cutting, to Berberis thunbergii, lilac, roses, peonies and lilies, the collection of plants are diverse and provide all year round interest.

Large herbaceous borders host Phormium, astilbes, monks hood (Aconitum), geranium, fuchsia, asters, plume poppies (Macleaya microcarpa), golden rod, asters, cosmos, herbs, knautia macedonica, Crocosmia 'Lucifer,' euphorbias, rudbeckia, phlox and cordylines.

This garden has it all...

The garden also sports some unusual plants such as the poisonous foul smelling but stunning Dracunculus vulgaris, Dragon Arum, pollinated by flies. Looks like it is straight out of a film set of Harry Potter.

Like the front the back garden has an impressive rose collection, my favourite being the 15 year old enormous 'Generous Gardener' which covers a garage wall. I hard prune this back when dormant and it returns with prolific growth each year, smothered in blooms and later hips.

Boundary walls are encased in fabulous climbers such as Campsis (Trumpet vine) and variegated ivy, climbing roses, Rosa rubrifolia, clematis and hops.

...and a large bay tree and fig guard the pathway to the kitchen garden.

This is definitely a nature garden. No chemicals are used, compost is home made and the wildlife thrive! Bees, butterflies, newts and slow worms are regular visitors.

Along the length of the house runs a kitchen garden which host as fabulous array of edibles from raspberries and gooseberries to beans, kale, carrots and beetroot as well a fine display of sweet peas.

There is also a plant-filled conservatory that looks out over the entire back garden; and is home to an exquisite coloured bougainvillea, stephanotis, clivia and hibiscus and various house plants.

Across the lawn sits a greenhouse which cultivates seedlings for the borders and neatly planted tomato plants in a water irrigation system which year on year provides a ridiculously abundant crop.

As the years have rolled on Margaret Ann says she has 'become more fussy about plants, from organising the church flowers, now I only grow what I like, usually from cuttings so I do not have anything too exotic.'

Well things cannot stay the same forever and the big news is the Crichton's have decided finally to explore new pastures and by the end of the year the Dew Pool will pass on to new owners.

An incredibly emotional time all round. Fifty years cultivating a garden from scratch is hard to let go of. Many sentimental plants to pot on for the move!

I am honoured to have spent three years in this breathtaking dream garden. And will cherish all my gardening memories, photos and good times with my dear friends Margaret Ann and Ian.

All the best in your new home!

All photos by Debi Holland © 2019

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