The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Monday, May 18, 2015

Visiting Pettifers Garden

If Piet Oudolf’s garden and Helen Dillon’s garden had a child, it would surely be Gina Price’s garden, Pettifers. I had the good fortune to visit Pettifers Garden while in England for The Best of English Gardens Tour. I took a day away from the group to do reconnaissance for next year’s tour. 

Pettifers Garden, in Oxfordshire, has been on my radar for several years now. I have spent many hours surveying photographer Clive Nichols' luscious photographs of the garden throughout the seasons on his website. Gina’s head gardener, Polly Stevens, took me on a tour of the garden and it became immediately clear this is a plantwoman’s garden. Gina has lived at Pettifers since 1984, but became interested in gardening after learning about The New Perennial Movement which championed grasses in borders. Over time, grasses and perennials have replaced roses and shrubs. Interestingly, several shrubs, like various Cotinus species, have been slowly added in recent years.

Nothing is sacred in the garden and plants are constantly being moved or replaced if the garden picture isn’t pleasing. Gina has combined grasses, which will peak in the late summer, with flowering perennials in an engagingly loose formality.  To my eye, she combines the best of Oudolf's naturalistic style with Dillon's gorgeous plantings; reinterpreting and combining each style in a unique and fresh way. Gardening friends had recommended that she enclose the garden with walls dividing the garden into rooms which Gina resisted. The result is a garden that has the open feeling which talks full advantage of the magnificent views of the countryside. I would love to visit this garden many times throughout the year and hope to include it in next year's tour.

The view from the house. Cornus alternafolia ‘Variegata’ to the left in the foreground. I hadn’t expected to such an open space in the center of the garden. In the distance, the borrowed landscape of the far hills makes the garden seem much larger than its one and a half acres.

A long border backed by a formal yew hedge.

A stunning foliage combination of epimedium, euphorbia and rodgersia.

The formal, yet contemporary, Parterre Garden has become as iconic as Oudolf’s waved hedges at Hummelo or the central canal at Helen Dillon’s garden in Dublin, Ireland.

An allee of Malus transitoria, the cut-leaf crabapple, was at its absolute peak while I was visiting.

A close up view of the flowers. The almost willow-like foliage was particularly fresh looking.

Cornus controversa ’Variegata’ to right in the lower garden.

Looking up at the house through the Parterre Garden.

A cross-sectional view of the house and retaining wall.

The tulips in the Parterre Garden are a color echo the magnolia that can be seen through the yew ‘chimneys'.

The dark purple of the 'Black Parrot' tulips contrast with the lawn and the chartreuse-foliaged plant at the edge of the border.


  1. What beautiful images you've captured of this world-class garden! I've thought it was one of the most beautiful gardens in the world ever since I saw it in The New English Garden by Tim Richardson -- I mention Pettifers as being among the best gardens in the book, in my review of the book on Amazon. I envy you having been able to visit it in person and hope to do so myself some day. Until then, I'll content myself with glorious photos, like the ones you've shared with us here. Thanks! -Beth

    1. Thanks, Beth, for the compliments about the photography. Pettifers is one of those select gardens where good pictures come very easily. It says more about the garden than the photographer, I'm afraid. I highly recommend a visit. Take a look at Clive Nichols' photographs of the garden in the meantime. They are lovely in every season.

  2. The effect of borrowed views, and knowing when to toss well-meaning, but cluttered advise, all work wonders in this garden. Great tour!

  3. Thanks, David. I agree. Not taking the advice was an act of courage. Knowing when to trust yourself is an important skill.

  4. I visited Pettifers a few years ago on a dull rainy day. Your photos make me want to re-evaluate my impressions of the garden -- I wasn't overwhelmed. LOVE the neatly edged borders.

    1. Pat,
      I'd give Pettifers another try.There are so many factors (time of year, water, lighting, etc) that effect a garden visit. I loved it. Everything is very tidy. I thought was elegant yet exciting. Really nice plants in excellent health. Unusual but lovely design.



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