The view

A visit to the NGS People’s Choice Garden

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I was privileged in early July, as one of a small NGS group, to visit the garden of Sarah and Sal Pajwani. Sarah was the winner of the NGS People’s Choice Garden in 2021 and I looked forward to my visit with great anticipation - not least because she uses our plant supports and I was keen to see how they worked in her garden with its naturalistic planting and low-maintenance philosophy.

 Sarah introduced the visit with a short, information-packed talk on her style of gardening, ’The Beauty of Going Wild’, which detailed her basic principles for a garden to provide year-round interest that’s easy to manage.

An informal pond (see the video) provides a focal point for the garden.

The first thing that struck me was how very hands-on Sarah and Sal had been in the creation of their garden. The garden plan was drawn up by Acres Wild (I am a great believer in having the bones of the garden laid out by a designer and have had three gardens designed by designer Ali Brett) but the work and planting was done over several years by Sarah, Sal and a succession of mechanical diggers! This approach helps to manage time as well as cost and gives the gardener a chance to review and revise the balance of planting as the garden takes shape.

The view

The view up the garden to the front door at St Timothee with erigeron karvinskianus spilling over the pathway

The view

A formal corner of the garden provides a pleasing contrast to the less formal areas

Sarah has made a garden that provides year-round interest but is easy to manage.

  • First, an informal pond provides water, food and a habitat for wildlife – when I was there I was thrilled to see damselfly larvae on the stems of the reeds. The pond’s kidney shape has been softened with marginal plants and provides unexpected reflections in its surface

  • The garden is planted for year-round interest: winter cyclamen, aconites, viburnums and early bulbs line the borders and are succeeded by crocuses and pulmonarias before the increasing interest of wildflowers in the large areas of unmown grass gives way to the swathes of perennials that blaze in the summer beds. Sarah calls these perennials ‘good BET plants’ (beautiful, easy and tough). They have been chosen to thrive in her slightly alkaline soil – a mix of heavy clay and some chalk that is generally quite dry and include: gaura, perovskia, erigeron, Aster frikartii ‘Monch and sedums of all kinds

  • Areas of long grass are a boon for the lazy gardener (by which I do not mean Sarah!). They give a relaxed and natural feel and the early wildflowers offer a different kind of beauty as well as providing shelter and food for insects, birds and small mammals. In our own garden, we have a small flock of about 20 goldfinches that fly like miniature squadrons of Red Arrows to feast on the teasels and other seed heads in the wildflower meadow

  • Environmental awareness is a keynote of Sarah’s garden. She has four enormous compost bins (the envy of every visitor) that she uses in rotation. To my delight she is unfussy about chopping compostable material, putting twigs and tough stems back for another year if they fail to break down on the first round. Water butts, too, can be an attractive feature in themselves (here we saw large jars from Pots and Pithoi that had been converted into very attractive water butts) and are an easy way to save water

As well as my interest in seeing her garden, I wanted to see how Sarah has used the formal structure of some of our supports in her naturalistic planting schemes. She has found that as plants mature, they still need some support that allows them to spill out in a naturalistic way – our one-ring grids shows the peonies off well and a three-ring herbaceous support will soon be covered by a dahlia in the hot bed.


A pyramidal orchid established in the wild flower garden

A view across the garden shows the BETS in full flower

A view across the garden shows the BETS in full flower

The hot border begins to come into its own

The hot border begins to come into its own

The recent extreme heat has challenged all of our garden practices and I have taken careful note of Sarah’s philosophy of using beautiful, easy and tough plants and grasses; of conserving and minimising the amount of water we need to put on the garden; of composting as much as possible and of getting good supports in early enough to help the plant as it grows.

 I have visited a number of gardens with wonderful containers over the summer, as well as keeping a running record of my own large copper pots and I look forward to sharing some of my favourite plantings with you.

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