Leigh Clapp visits Tanglefoot garden in Crawley

PUBLISHED: 12:57 19 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:57 19 August 2014

Fiery heleniums

Fiery heleniums


Leigh Clapp takes a wander around the ornamental and productive garden of Tanglefoot in Crawley, at its peak in high summer

Fred and Sue Fratter have created a garden of floral and edible abundance from a totally blank canvas since moving to Tanglefoot, in the picturesque village of Crawley, in 1976. “A major attraction was that the newly built house was on the site of an old orchard with a Victorian boundary wall,” recalls Fred. “There was no garden, just a thin layer of bare topsoil on chalk across the half-acre plot. To start with we seeded a large area of lawn, made a shrubbery between ourselves and next door, and put in a veg plot by the back door,” explains Sue.

The garden has evolved in a piecemeal way, having been added to and modified with new plants and features over the years on an informal basis. From the outset, Fred took on the fruit and veg, lawn and edges, while Sue looked after the ornamentals, herbs, ponds and containers.

“Gardening is our main hobby. Fred’s father was a gardener and gave us many plants and lots of advice,” adds Sue. Inspiration and guidance has also come from travelling and visiting gardens, such as Woolbeding with its carefully chosen and unusual plants.

Trees and hedging provide privacy and shelter on the boundaries, while much of the garden is open and sunny with flower borders. A rose arch, inspired by a trip to Giverny, the productive kitchen garden, a herb wheel garden, wild flower meadows and a raised lily pond provide added interest. Areas of the garden are planted to peak at different times of the year. In spring the shady border is the focus while in summer the herbaceous bed shimmers with colour and texture.

“Eryngiums are excellent July plants – their vivid blues and silvers shine in the sun and mix with many other colours. I have them in several beds. Other highlights come from stunning plant combinations, such as the bright yellow of Heliopsis ‘Summer Sun’ with the deep blue of Aconitum ‘Spark’s Variety’.”

A confessed plantaholic, Sue ensures a wide palette of plants across the garden. “I love to find a single unusual plant in any border. I’m not really into too much repetition. I try to have a plant in flower in every bed for most months of the year,” she explains. On a bright summer’s day the borders burst with rich hues of yellows to oranges against the silvers and purples, from fiery heleniums, daisies, daylilies and achilleas with towering campanulas and ornamental grasses. In the shady woodland corners hardy geraniums and clouds of tiny purple Thalictrum delavayi blooms add colour amongst the layers of green, while hanging baskets and pots of billowing nicotiana give interest by the house.

When time allows, Sue and Fred enjoy sitting out in the garden. “On a summer evening when we sit out on our patio, with a glass of wine, as the sun begins to drop to the west, its rays back light the taller plants in the herbaceous bed, and the Stipa gigantea plumes look stunning,” says Sue.

Visitors can share the garden briefly through the National Gardens Scheme on selected days. “It’s a pleasure to let other people enjoy a garden we have created and like. Also it’s interesting to share gardening experiences with the visitors. People find the garden accessible and say it gives them inspiration and ideas for their own gardens.

“Visitors always comment on our kitchen garden, which they find well organised, presented and done in a relatively compact area,” comments Fred.

There is a bountiful choice of edibles in this garden, from apricots, peaches and figs trained against the Victorian boundary wall to the comprehensive herb collection.

“I very much enjoy selling plants from the garden and the discussions involved. I always learn something from an open day and the visitors are always such lovely people,” adds Sue.

Conversation is bound to also include the progress on the couple’s latest project, the development of a perennial wildflower meadow, cornfield annuals and native shrub area on a newly acquired adjacent two-acre field.


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