Wilde gardening

Date
Published in
Woman's Weekly (UK)

Kim Wilde has nurtured her gorgeous garden for over 20 years. She takes us through the seasons in her family's private Eden.

I began our garden in 1996. I'd lived in the 16th-century barn since 1990 but I had just married my husband, Hal, and we were keen to start a family. Within four years, we found ourselves the happy parents of Harry and Rose.
My first priority during pregnancy was to start making a garden for the kids to play in, explore and be inspired by. Having just 'retired' from the music business I found myself with time on my hands and I booked a summer gardening course at Capel Manor College in Enfield, a decision that would change the course of my life.

I had no intention of having a second career at all - let alone one in horticulture - only a desire to create a beautiful garden for my family. Learning about plants enchanted me; designing with plants appealed to my creativity (old art students never change) and horticulture perfectly filled the gap left by the music industry.

Over 20 years our garden has evolved from a blank canvas to a place crammed with all kinds of plants and wildlife. I started by creating a vegetable garden using raised beds, an idea I'd seen on Gardeners' World, and I also decided to plant an avenue inspired by the renowned plantswoman Rosemary Verey. Rosemary's brilliant book Garden Plants was way beyond my ability at the time, but it helped start me on my horticultural journey and it continues to inspire me to this day.

I've made mistakes (and always learnt from them) and my confidence has grown. Hal and I do the majority of the garden maintenance throughout the year, drafting in help for tree surgery, hedge trimming and special projects when needed. It requires a lot of hard work and commitment but having this hands-on relationship with the garden is hugely fulfilling for both of us.

Spring

April is incredibly busy. I start sowing vegetable seeds in trays or raised beds and clearing the herbaceous areas ready for new growth. I also cut back our roses and summer-flowering shrubs like Buddleia and Caryopteris. I haul compost that has been 'cooking' from one of our huge compost bays into the garden, to use as a soil improver as well as a thick 8cm mulch to inhibit weed growth. Hal mows the lawn on sunny days and I make sure that his grass cuttings are evenly layered with egg boxes and cardboard as well as organic kitchen waste in one of our two compost bays. Making compost is a real asset for any garden no matter how small combining 'greens' (nitrogen-rich grass, herbaceous plants) and 'browns' (carbon-rich cardboard, wood ash). All organic food waste from our kitchen, including coffee grounds and tea bags, gets recycle into compost, with the added benefit of keeping smelly waste out of our kitchen bin and, more importantly, out of landfill sites. How to 'Cook' Compost, published  by the National Trust, has been an invaluable guide for us.

Summer

I usually wait for the traditional 'Derby-Day' (the first Saturday in June) to trim the large Buxus sempervirens I planted 15 years ago - but, saying that, I always think it's better to get a job done when you have the time than not get the job done at all. Most plants are as tough as old boots, and pruning or trimming at the wrong time generally won't kill them - the worst that can happen is you'll forego this season's flowers, or they'll catch a frost from which they'll usually recover. Some of my favourite flowers in the garden appear at the end of May, just as the amazing RHS Chelsea Flower Show begins in London. I particularly love the lilac-blue iris 'Jane Phillips', the purple, spherical flower heads of Allium 'Purple Sensation' and the rich orange Tulipa 'Dordogne'.

Autumn

Autumn arrives just as our children go back to school in early September, with autumn crocus decorating the lawn and little cyclamen flowers emerging from bare earth before their leaves unfurl. I love autumn colour and have planted trees and shrubs such as Rihus, Cotinus, Amelanchier, and ornamental grasses to decorate our garden until winter takes hold. Apples crowd the espalier trees that surround the vegetable garden and rich-coloured berries and hips will replace summer's flowers on the roses, shrubs and trees. I can't resist sneaking off to one of our very good local garden nurseries at this time of year to indulge in my passion for bulbs. Bulbs are such good value for money and will happily multiply for years to come. In our garden we have snowdrops, Narcissi, Scilla, Crocus, Allium, tulip and grape hyacinths.

Winter

Winter is often overlooked in the garden as a time of bare trees, bare earth, and chilly uninviting days. Of course, all of that is very true, but dormant winter holds a few wonderful surprises and I have included some very special plants to lure me outside in the cold weather. One of my favorites is Sarcococca (Christmas box), which has deliciously spicy, vanilla-scented flowers from December to February. There are several shrubs that bring a heavy scent to the winter garden including Viburnum, Hamamelis and Mahonia.

Some plants in our garden, such as the Trachycarpus fortunei (palm) and the Cordylines, I bunch up and cover with frost fleece, but most of the plants I grow are hardy and emerge out of winter in good shape.