By Hayley Pugh
A green-fingered couple have transformed their modest Wolverhampton back yard into a magical garden, complete with folly, pergola and Japanese tea house – attracting hundreds of visitors a day.
Anne and Brian Bailey have spent 28 years transforming the once mundane plot of land behind their 1930s house just over a mile from Wolverhampton’s city centre.
The couple, who were faced with nothing but grass and a few conifers when they moved in, have since divided the 120-foot-long garden up into different sections so that you can’t see the entire thing all in one go – hence its name the Garden of Surprises.
Anne, 69 and her husband Brian, 66, have planted hundreds of flowers, shrubs and trees and have even installed structures in areas where nothing would grow including a folly, a pergola, a summerhouse, a Japanese tea house and a shell grotto which used to be an air raid shelter.
The pair, who are both retired, now open up their garden for charity through the National Open Garden Scheme and welcome hundreds of visitors from all over the world on each open day. Anne said: “When we moved into the house in 1990, the garden was all grass and conifers, with the fence at the bottom visible from the house.
“We were both working then, so had limited time, but we developed our ideas about what we wanted to do through visiting other gardens and RHS shows and reading books on plants and garden design.
“We gradually started nibbling away the grass, expanding the borders and removing overgrown conifers, with the idea of dividing the garden up into different sections, which couldn’t all be seen at once.”Much of the garden was very dry and shady, so we had to learn how to work with that and one of the solutions was to put interesting garden buildings in the very worst places, where nothing would grow.
“Brian loves working with wood and his first effort was the Japanese teahouse in the farthest dark, dry corner of the garden, so the area around that grew into a oriental garden, screened off by large bamboos.
“Things really gathered pace when we retired eight or nine years ago. And things then got a bit out of hand and the surprises got more and more surprising.
“Brian built a stone folly to link the fernery to the oriental garden and we turned on old underground air raid shelter into a shell grotto, with the entrance hidden behind a gothic summerhouse.
“The sunny borders near the house are all colour themed and the paved terrace was reorganised with an open veranda, raised lion’s head fountain and lots of pots and hanging baskets.
“Every year we say we won’t do as many baskets and then every year we end up doing even more.
“There was lots of trial and error, both in terms of design and planting, but we just learnt as we went along and changed the things that didn’t work.”
The couple have found a clever way to water the garden by installing large, hidden water tanks, which collect rain water off the roof and distribute it through leaky hoses snaking down the borders.
But Anne admitted the garden still took hours of pruning and deadheading each day.
She said: “We are such plantaholics that the beds are stuffed with plants, so there is no room for weeds, but we have to do a lot of refereeing, to save the shyer plants from the bullies.
“Managing the trees, so they don’t overwhelm the garden, also requires constant vigilance, as does the ongoing battle with slugs and snails.
“One visitor said ours was a Tardis garden – bigger on the inside than the outside and another even claimed to be lost once.
“We wanted to create a garden that has something unexpected around each corner and we seemed to have done that.”