Twice as nice
Country Life UK|May 12, 2021
It appears as if it had been planned from the start, but, as Michael Heseltine recounts, the making of the double borders at his home at Thenford in Northamptonshire was far more random
Michael Heseltine
THE 100-yard double borders at Thenford have the characteristics of a carefully prepared concept from an original idea. Certainly, there would have been much to be said for such a professional approach. Fortunately, for those of us who are amateurs, the truth is a jumble of ideas, random acquisitions and planting co-ordinated over 20 years.

The double border, in fact, began life as a single border created to take advantage of the sunny south-facing outer wall of the walled garden, then being restored by George Carter. Consisting of four herbaceous beds with yew buttresses, it faced a new beech hedge. Over the years, we added more features, including two oak arbours with ornamental benches based on a design at Boughton House, Northamptonshire. Moon windows were cut into the maturing hedge to provide enchanting views over the open country beyond.

Within the alleé itself, at the eastern end, we created a castle enclosure from yew blocks bought from de Limieten in the Netherlands. At the western end, a mature walnut tree stood with a circular seat around its trunk. Some 30 yards in from the walnut, we placed a huge 8ft-high vase purchased from a French brocante in Beaune as an eye-stopper. The planting matured and, slowly, the lollipop yew cones were clipped into eight perfect balls.

Then, one evening in September 2018, we had one of those ideas that simply would not go away—that this was a job half done. How simple it would be to move the hedge five yards further into the field and to create another border to match the first?

Possible, yes; simple, no. We rapidly realised that moving and staking the 12ft-high beech trees was a task too far. One alternative was to start again with 3ft whips, accepting that that would entail several years’ delay. We avoided this long wait for the yew bushes to grow to a size where we could shape them into lollipops by buying in 9ft plants with straight central stems and shaping them before they took their place in the new borders.

Horticultural black book

The gates were designed by Jim Horrobin, Doverhay Forge Studios, Somerset (01643 841402; www. doverhay.co.uk)

Bench from Haddonstone, East Haddon, Northamptonshire (01604 770711; www.haddonstone.com)

Coade-stone columns from Ronald Phillips, London W1 (020–7493 2341 www.ronaldphillipsantiques.co.uk)

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