Walled Garden at Mells
Jo Illsley, an ecologist and gardener and her husband Jon (an arboricultural surveyor) took over The Walled Garden in 2009, to continue their business of British grown cut flowers.
“The garden was originally for the Rectory which was demolished in the 1540s during the dissolution of the Monasteries. The Rectory was subsequently rebuilt on another site and the garden continued under a variety of stewardships whilst always belonging to the Mells Estate. It has probably had many years of productivity as a traditional kitchen garden - the walls are covered with old fruit and vine fixings - but also many years of dereliction. During the war, young evacuees from London worked the vegetable plots and almost everyone I have spoken to over the age of 40 who grew up in the village claims to have spent their youth scrumping apples from the trees.
I had known the garden since I was 22 when I started gardening. When it was a nursery I can remember driving there in my little blue mini with my small baby in the passenger seat to buy some plants and being too shy to go in because I didn't know how to pronounce the names of the plants and thought I'd embarrass myself. It was quite moving to see how much had changed in those years. The garden is special because it is unusual in that it is a walled garden but has a view over ancient meadows on its south side. This gives you the protected and sheltered aspect of walls without being closed in. The planting is very natural (almost too natural at times), soft and informal. It's not a status shouting garden, it seems to welcome everyone. Being almost entirely herbaceous it's like one big summer party. The last week of May is my favourite week of the year, that's when the beauty leaves you breathless. August can be a little like the late night drinker at a wedding reception... I'm kind of impatient for it to move along and then September and October bring gentle golden light. February is also a good month because the garden is closed to visitors and it's just me and a wheelbarrow full of tools.
We use the polytunnels to bring on young plants, revive tired plants, and grow cut flowers like Sweet Peas and Dahlias for the wedding flowers side of the business. Other hardy annuals like Cornflowers, Ammi and Dill grow outside along with herbs and perennials for cutting like Sage, Marjoram, Artemesia and Senecio. After seven years I feel we know each other now, I've learned when to put my foot down and when to give a little. It's almost a partnership and each year there are always surprises, a plant does unexpectedly well or another moves itself from one part of the garden to another. It's unpredictable, I never feel in control but it always keeps my interest piqued."