Garden Media Guild visit to Southwood Lodge

Last week, having spent a marvellous morning at Mona’s Garden in Highgate, London, our group of Garden Media Guild members proceeded to Southwood Lodge, a handsome 18th century house set amidst a most charming garden. The house has previously functioned as a care home and school, but in 1963 it was purchased by an architect who developed the house and what remained of the garden after a large area was sold for the development of neighbouring Kingsley Place. Sue Whittington and her family moved to Southwood Lodge over 40 years ago, and she describes inheriting a wonderful garden that drew her to the property as soon as she saw it.

Sue greeted us warmly and with a softly spoken elegance, she explained how caring for the third of an acre garden is an honour. Sue developed several gardens around the country before arriving at Southwood, she favours the practice of dividing gardens into rooms and has a particular fondness for Sissinghurst in Kent.

When Sue and her family moved to Southwood, the terrace, which can be viewed from the front of the house, was formally planted with red, pink and white roses – only the white ones have been retained as Sue has introduced bulbs, perennials and grasses to tone down the formality. The surrounding wall has an arched hornbeam hedge which replaced the original pyracantha when it fell down some years ago and a beech hedge separates the terrace from the more formal garden below it. The terrace is viewed from the front of the house and overlooks the wrap-around steeply sloped garden.

Leaving the terrace, a descent via stone steps and under a clematis covered arch, a cool and peaceful formal garden awaits – pyracantha originally cloaked the perimeter wall, but Sue took advantage of its demise by replacing it with a formal row of yew, pruned effectively in columns and framing a lovely stone statue.

In 2014, storms seriously damaged a huge conifer, but rather than remove it completely, Sue enlisted the help of tree sculptor Ed Elliot to carve ‘Splash’, a highly tactile and striking addition to the garden. An abstract design, the idea evolved from the effect of dropping a ball into a puddle – the ensuing splash of water was the inspiration.

Sue believes the trio of descending ponds situated on the steepest slope of the garden were built in the Victorian era and were spring pumped. The original waterfalls are not currently functioning, but it is easy to imagine the effect they must have had as water flowed between the ponds. Lush, verdant planting accompanies you to the lowest pond, where a bench provides a quiet, cool and relaxing spot for contemplating the view above.

Spring flowers line the descent to the bottom of the garden, euphorbia robbiae performing with its characteristic freedom, brunnera macrophylla and hellebore hybrids in abundance.

It’s early in the year, but Sue’s garden is already full of colour, with its flourishing plant life at every turn undoubtedly a taster for the next few months.

Sue is an accomplished gardener, and has been involved with the National Garden Scheme (NGS) for many years so it’s easy to see why she is included in Heidi Howcroft‘s 2015 book ‘First Ladies of Gardening’, accompanied by the likes of Beth Chatto and Vita Sackville-West.

We finished our visit with tea and cakes, Mona Abboud had described Sue as a classy lady with a classy garden – a great description, but she’d also given us a heads up on the classy baking – right again!

Sue’s garden at Southwood Lodge opens by arrangement for the NGS from now until the end of July.