The Old Rectory garden opens for The National Garden Scheme in Berkshire

Members of the wonderful National Garden Scheme are generously opening their garden gates for charity this summer, just when we need them most. The sheer joy of a visit to see some of Britain’s private gardens is going to bring a lot of happiness to many. The variety of gardens you can visit range from secret city rooftops to cottage and manor house gardens. The season starts for us on Sunday 23 May (2 – 5 pm) with a visit to one of Berkshire’s finest.

The Old Rectory, Lower Basildon

The first time I saw The Old Rectory garden was in a deep mid-winter. I was in my early twenties when weekends were regularly filled with friends’ weddings. At the time I was working for a book publisher in Mayfair and my friend and colleague Kate was marrying a Berkshire horse trainer at St Bartholomews Church next to The Old Rectory in Lower Basildon.

The floral crown on this exquisitely detailed portrait by Lizzie Riches reminds me of the one that Kate wore on her wedding day at St Bartholomew Church, Lower Basildon.

It had snowed heavily the night before and I will always remember the drive from London down the lane to the church which had turned into a magical, icy white tunnel. Snow-laden branches were almost touching either side of the car as I passed. It was the prettiest of weddings made prettier by the snow in a very special location.

The Old Rectory garden in 2021

Eventually, we moved out of London to Reading and when some years later friends Alison and Charlie Laing bought The Old Rectory in 2014, I knew the exact spot from where Kate’s wedding had been all those years before.

You can understand why writers such as Jerome K Jerome have written about this stretch of the Thames. There is something completely magical about how the garden sits in the landscape. The way the river bends and the meadows rise up to tree-covered Chiltern hills behind is more than a little captivating.

Remodelling The Old Rectory garden

The remodelling of the 2-acre garden has been a labour of love for Alison and Charlie since they bought the Georgian rectory in 2014. Alison says, “There were already many wonderful features such as an old Mulberry tree, a crinkle crankle wall, and pond that had previously been a swimming pool. However, there were a few hedges and overgrown fruit trees which blocked the view of the wall and of the area that we wanted to become a vegetable and cutting garden.”

Apple tree avenue

The Laings asked Rachel Rendell of Sunningwell Fruit to help retrain old fruit trees as well as establishing new ones. Rachel has helped create the ‘apple tree avenue’ of espaliered trees by the back door. The trees are underplanted with tulips which are a legacy from the previous owners. New mixed apple and plum trees have been planted along the drive.

The Old Rectory vegetable and flower cutting garden in May 2021. A little too shaded in this shot to see but the yew hedge has been shaped to mimic the cinkle crankle wall. A pleasing design touch that was suggested by landscape and garden designer Ana Mari Bull. Photo: Charis White
The Old Rectory vegetable garden with its new greenhouse in August 2019. Photo: Charis White
Cosmos in The Old Rectory cutting garden edged with herringbone brick path, decorative terracotta pots and iron edging. August 2019. Photo: Charis White
Bamboo cloches provide protection against squirrels in the vegetable garden. August 2019. Photo: Charis White

Garden design at The Old Rectory

Alison and Charlie were confident about how the space in the garden could be designed to improve the layout but took advice from Ana Mari Bull Landscape to help with the creation of the rose and peony beds, the white border and long herbaceous border.

Tulips and spring bulbs have been planted in the bays of the crinkle crankle wall along with soft and stone fruit trees, May 2021. Photo: Charis White

Colour themes

The planting scheme was designed predominently with blue, white, and purple flowers. Later in the summer, hot pinks and oranges appear in the garden. Alison grows calendula, nicotania, sweetpeas and sunflowers from seed, mixing them companionably in the vegetable garden.

And this year for the first time, the cutting garden will include some colourful sculptural dahlias. Divine pink climbing roses entwine with a wysteria framing a semi-circular stone portico over the front door.

The White Border

Drifts of white Annabel Hydrangea blooms form an effervescent structure in the White Border during the summer while White First Early Peonies are aptly the first to appear in the Peony and Rose border.

Annabel White Hydrangeas in the White Border at The Old Rectory Garden, August 2020. Photo: Charis White
Romantic planting in The White Border at The Old Rectory, Lower Basildon. August 2020. Photo: Charis White
White Annabel Hydrangeas punctuated with purple Geranium flowers. August 2020. Photo: Charis White

Dividing perennials

The garden has several perennial gems which Alison successfully divides each spring and plants in various borders. I was curious as to how cautious you need to be when dividing Agapanthus and Alison said, “Much to Charlie’s disgust I find a sharp kitchen knife is the best way to divide the roots, but it works!”

Plants that have meaning

There are a few plants which hold particular meaning for Alison; in fact they are known as her ‘sentimental plants’. Particularly special are a silver maple tree that their children gave them for their 25th wedding anniversary, a yellow tree peony given to Alison by her father and also a rosemary which is a third generation plant from her Aunt Rosemary’s garden in Edinburgh.

The crinkle crankle yew hedge (which is much larger now) divides the long herbaceous border from the new greenhouse. Plants include Clematis, Box, Nepita, Alchemilla Mollis and Humpty Dumpty Euphorbia. August 2019. Photo: Charis White
Alison and Charlie installed a tennis court at the end of the garden. August 2019. Photo: Charis White

Cedar of Lebanon tree

This a the view from the White Border to a huge Cedar of Lebanon tree. The tree is home to Egyptian Geese, who set their young free by dropping them from the branches of the tree! Luckily they do survive and make it quickly into the pond nearby.

View from the White Border with cube shaped Box topiary to a huge Cedar of Lebanon. The Old Rectory Garden in May 2021. Photo: Charis White

Maintaining the garden

The Laings did the planting themselves based on the original design for the borders by Ana Mari Bull with hard landscaping done by A L Lacey & Sons.

The new design of the garden certainly helps with maintenance as Alison says: “The great thing about having the vegetable and cutting garden visible from the kitchen is that if I see some weeds, I can’t help but run out and remove them!” Due to the size of the garden Alison and Charlie are grateful to have the help of two gardeners to help keep things ticking over.

Alison and Charlie’s garden source book

The planting budget was managed with a mixture of pot plants, the majority of which came from Hortus Loci for the initial planting (opting for smaller litre sized pots where they could) along with homegrown from Sarah Raven seeds and a few bedding plants from BM Stores. Alison is also very fond of Hardys Cottage Plants in Hampshire.

The bamboo cloches came from Andrew Crace Gifts and the Kinsbury wooden rose supports came from The Lichfield Planter Company

Lighting in the garden was installed by Julian at Lighting Alfresco.

Alison starts off seedlings such as Nicotania in the greenhouse at The Old Rectory, Lower Basildon. May 2021. Photo: Charis White

Art reflecting nature

A Styling Box favourite: ‘Cloud Garden’, handprinted on linen fabric by Rapture & Wright, reminds me of some of the drifts of beautiful planting at The Old Rectory, Lower Basildon.

A Styling Box favourite: ‘Cloud Garden’ handprinted on linen fabric by Rapture & Wright,

Thank you

Thank you so much Alison and Charlie for giving readers a preview of your beautiful garden. There are so many inspirational ideas at every turn.

The pictures I am sharing were taken over a couple of years and will hopefully give visitors to the garden a snapshot of how the planting evolves from Spring through to Summer.

Thank you so much for reading. Please don’t forget to put Sunday 23 May 2021 from 2 – 5 pm in your diary for a visit to the gardens at The Old Rectory, Church Lane, Lower Basildon, Berkshire, RG8 9NH.

View through wysteria from the front door of The Old Rectory to St Bartholomew’s Church, Lower Basildon. Photo: Charis White

The £6 National Garden Scheme entrance fee can be paid on the gate which also gives entrance to Church Farm House garden nearby. Children go free and there will be an Old Rectory Garden quiz for them that involves the famous Egyptian geese!

Tea and cakes will be served in aid of other charities by friends of St Bartholomew Church adjacent to the Rectory.

With best wishes,

Charis x

Charis White, interior stylist/writer. Photo: Fiona McLean Photography.

5 thoughts on “The Old Rectory garden opens for The National Garden Scheme in Berkshire

  1. LoveLizzie Riches portraits. An absolute delight. Wonderful photos of Alison and Charlie’s beautiful
    garden. Will be lovely to revisit.

    Liked by 1 person

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