Getting To Know Lady Paula Darrington

Lady Paula Darrington has always had creative flair and an eye for detail. Claudia Robinson finds out how Paula’s garden grew from a disused paddock to a stunning horticultural masterpiece...
Lady Paula Darrington

Paula and her husband, Sir Michael Darrington, former Chief Executive of Greggs, moved to their home near Hexham 28 years ago.

Back then, the property had only a paddock. Unappealing to many but for Paula, a blank, half-acre canvas where she could create her perfect garden.

When they arrived, all that was growing on the land was an apple tree and plenty of weeds. “We first set about planting hedges for shelter because we are right on top of a ridge, so the north easterly wind can come whistling across,” says Paula.

“We also immediately dug out a ha-ha to prevent the view from the conservatory being spoiled. On a clear day you can see the Cheviot, with our horses grazing in between.

“One of the other jobs we did early on was to dig a pond, because we wanted to encourage some wildlife, and with that we put in a curving belt of bamboos.”

Paula reflects, “I don’t think we have any straight lines in the garden, apart from the boundaries. I find curves more pleasing to the eye.”

When it came to digging up the paddock, they discovered all sorts of rubbish underneath, so they piled it up, paved over it, built a wall and put a bandstand on top. Paula says the garden grew very organically.

“It evolved into something fairly substantial over the next five years. This really isn’t the way you’re supposed to develop a garden and there are certainly things I would do differently now. It has changed enormously from when we first laid it out.”

Gardening has always been a love of Paula’s. Creativity runs through her veins and before retraining as a garden designer she ran a successful business designing and making wedding dresses.

“I love gardens, and making gardens, and I’ve had the privilege of designing some very special projects for private clients over the years,” says Paula.

“Before I retired, it was certainly a case of cobbler’s children when it came to my garden! A lot of my time was taken up with work, and now, l still have plenty to distract me, including six grandchildren! But I have a very good gardener who helps me keep on top of things here and I spend as much of my free time as possible looking after it.”

There are so many different areas to Paula’s garden, and indeed, such a wide variety of plants, shrubs and trees that she finds it difficult to choose a favourite part.

“I think it depends on the season,” Paula says.

“The garden is divided up into various areas so as one area blooms and looks its absolute best, you can always be sure there’s another area just about to step into the limelight. We have a lot of roses, lavender, agapanthus, peonies, alstroemeria, I love them all.

“Earlier in the year, around May time, the pergola by the terrace, outside the conservatory, is covered with white wisteria, which is breathtaking. The bandstand is planted round with Gertrude Jekyll roses and lavender, which during the summer months look absolutely glorious. About the same time of year, the terraces look fantastic, the cobbled area looks great with an abundance of primulas, and then the gravel garden comes into its own towards mid-summer.”

Paula says one of the greatest things about gardens is that you’ll sometimes get some nice surprises, where plants seed themselves in pleasing combinations.

“As we head into autumn we may get a second flush of roses, and the heleniums make an appearance. I also adore the grasses that we see this time of year. There are so many ornamental grasses from quite short ones to very tall ones. Some of the miscanthus are absolutely magnificent when they start to flower. The stipa gigantea is one of my favourites as well.

“What’s so great about ornamental grasses is that there are so many to choose from. They mix so well with perennials and are often something people don’t consider. The way they move in the wind, which tends to pick up by this time of year, is stunning.”

Garden jobs for autumn Paula says: “We have a wildflower area which is full of spring bulbs and once they’ve finished meadowsweet comes up, which is lovely. We leave this area to cut down late, as there is yellow rattle in there which we encourage to seed to suppress the grasses.

“We try not to cut back much apart from anything that’s finished flowering, just tidying up really, to keep as much colour going as we can. September is an ideal time for keeping an eye on things, making notes about what needs moving, adding or dividing and planning ahead. Then, as we head into October, that’s when you can start with all of these jobs.”

In Paula’s words, there isn’t a lot about late autumn to love when it comes to how the garden looks, but it’s certainly the best time to get organised so that everything can look its absolute best come next spring and summer.

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