We were warmly welcomed to The Down House by Jackie and Mark Porter, with Mark proudly sporting his RHS medal having recently been elected a member of Council. They bought the house and garden in 2001, which is surrounded by fields and meadows and overlooks the Itchen Valley. Chris Beardshaw was invited to draw up the original plans, which have been modified over the years, the most significant of which has been the addition of a vineyard and pleached hornbeams surrounding the main lawn.
I was very taken by the potager, created by using the framework of hawthorn standards inside a semi-circle of native hedge species, and laid out on a triangular system. What particularly struck me were the many varieties of boldly-coloured vegetables, such as red onions, green cos and red curly lettuce, artichokes, runner beans, squash, green and purple French beans, red cabbages, rhubarb chard, dark red kale and courgettes to name but a few.
In the rope/gold garden there were climbing roses up and through thick swagged ropes, and was created to the memory of Gertrude Jekyll The planting is predominantly yellow/gold and rugby/magenta with cornus alba ‘Aurea’, weigela ‘rubidor’, alchemilla mollis and cupressus macrocarpa ‘goldcrest’.
There was a lot of interesting statuary in the garden, and I loved the young girl in repose on a garden bench which had been sculpted in a hard metal. Also very striking was a large architectural greenhouse on one side of the drive approaching the house, where a great deal of young plants and vegetables are raised from seed every year.
The Down House garden is a series of ‘rooms’, too many to describe here in any detail but an absolute feast of colour and variety. After being assailed on all fronts by form, colour, variety and many different planting styles, it was a delight to walk out of the gate and down through very English meadows and watch the swan on the river below.