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There will come a point when I can’t show you this bit any more: it’s been cut flower heaven this year after a sowing frenzy in spring, but now I’m clearing the flowers to make way for a little demonstration garden for a magazine series. I could tell you what it is, but then I’d have to shoot you. Sorry.

The terraces are a practical solution to a recurring problem here: how to get the garden down the hill. We live 200m above sea level (that’s a shade over 600 ft – or the height of a respectable cliff) in the Blackdown Hills, a gentle landscape of undulating fields, lanes and hedgerows and long views across hills blueing into the distance.


Clearing away the flowers is a long, slow process, as many are perennials and need painstaking potting up to keep over winter till they can be replanted again. Here are my Achillea ‘Summer Berries’; I’m also rescuing some sweet rocket, lupins, verbena and coreopsis.

Everywhere is either up, or down. There are two flat patches in my garden: the vegetable garden, and the bit directly around the house. Linking the two is yet another slope. Or at least, it would be if someone way back in the annals of the house’s long list of owners hadn’t built walls and terraced the whole slope into three broad plateaux.


There are still flowers here: these gaillardias have hung on till the bitter end, though they’ve only just beaten the zinnias, coreopsis and verbena to the line.

I fret, sometimes, about what to do with my slopes. In places, they’re precipitous: the house sits in a bowl, as it used to be a quarry. Maps dating back well into the early 1800s show our quarry once stretched around the side, where there’s still a bit of rough ground in the cow field behind, and up the hill into what’s now a smooth sheep pasture with not a hint of earthworks to be seen. In our garden, though, the scars of mining gravel and limestone, as well as the chertstone rock (a kind of fractured flint) from which our house was built, mark deep into the earth.


It may not look much, but this is my little triumph this month: this is a Rosa mundi, a fact I only know for a few pathetic flowers bravely peeking through a thicket of bramble six feet across and as much tall (it covered all you can see in the picture above) and so rampant it had grown thickly into the clematis hedge alongside. I spent a good couple of hours hacking out the brambles with a mattock and some riggers’ gloves until finally – at last – my poor smothered rose bush is breathing once more.

The hedgerows in the back garden grow on top of these near-vertical slopes, and I have been known to trim them while hanging, monkey-like, by one hand from the lower branches and wielding a petrol hedgetrimmer with the other. Don’t try this at home, folks.

I could take my cue from the terraces and turn them into a series of narrow (but flat) ribbons, stepping down the sides of my garden like paddyfields. But I baulk at the major work involved: I could bank up sleepers, perhaps, but I don’t much like the idea of forbidding walls of wood.

Stone walls would be more in keeping – and god knows there’s plenty of stone to build them with – but even so, it’s a huge job and I’m not convinced the end result wouldn’t look a bit… well… over-engineered.

Just now I’m thinking the softly softly, sympathetic approach is needed, and all that’s required is to cut paths winding through and up the cliffs, and maybe landsculpt more manageable, plantable slopes in between. We’ll see.


The view down the terraces: the top terrace I’ve just cleared of a year of Pictorial Meadows loveliness, full of poppies and mignonette and cornflowers. Wonderful. I’ve just planted a seed-sown hedge here too, though it’s so tiny you can barely see it yet: it’s hyssop, and you can’t buy it bare-root in this kind of quantity but you can raise it from seed.

Here’s how the same space looked when we moved here in 2010…