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The Barn Garden – Tom Stuart-Smith

June 23, 2011

{Info update, June 2012:  Tom’s garden is open for the NGS this year on Sunday 24th June. It is listed as The Barn under the Serge Hill Gardens group, Hertfordshire. You can find it on the NGS website here}

The Barn

As great as the gardens were at Chelsea this year I did miss the likes of Andy Sturgeon and Tom Stuart-Smith. So to fill the gap and as an antidote to the jostle and push of Chelsea I went the same week to the Garden Museum on the other side of the river for some peace, contemplation and to visit the gallery exhibition on Stuart-Smith’s work. I love going there. The museum is located in a deconsecrated church on the south bank of the Thames (John Tradescant, gardener and plant hunter from the turn of the 17th century, is buried in the churchyard). It is always quiet and restful (well, it has been on the occasions I’ve visited anyway). Plus the exhibitions are great, there’s an interesting little garden out the back and the food in the cafe is good too. I spent about an hour or so taking in the exhibition – it’s well worth visiting if you’re into Stuart-Smith’s work – and bought the book which Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith have written about their garden at The Barn in Hertfordshire. It’s an interesting read – thoughtful, intelligent and insightful. I read it before visiting the garden last weekend on an NGS open day. I’m glad I did as I always think knowing something about a garden or a place beforehand gives it so much more meaning when you are finally there. You feel as though you understand something of its roots and its back-story.

Anyway, I thought I would share some images from the visit. I won’t try to explain or describe it in any detail – Tom does that much better in his book. I found it quite a personal and idiosyncratic garden. On reflection, it reminded me a bit of visiting Highgrove which was also very much both of those things*.

The Courtyard Garden – incorporating the corten steel structures used in Tom’s 2006 Chelsea garden for The Daily Telegraph. Trying to take photos without anyone in them was a mission and a half so it wasn’t dissimilar to Chelsea.


The Yew Beds, delineated with low clipped box

The planting was dense and in places very deep – some of the beds were enormous

Abundant, verging on in-your-face with some areas towering over you.

One of Tom’s visitors once described his garden as ‘aggressive’. I could see where they were coming from.

Looking back towards the Barn over the spires and peaks of the garden

Much needed breathing space after the intensity and energy of the plants in the rest of the garden. Tall hornbeam hedges enclose plain lawn before the open meadow areas stretch beyond.

Beyond the hornbeam hedges and suddenly there is open space, meadow and horizon

Looking back at the enclosed garden

View up towards the Barn from the meadow

  • The Barn Garden by Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith costs £18.50 (all profits go to charity) and is available online from Crocus
  • The exhibition of Tom’s work at the Garden Museum is running until the 29th August 2011
(* Not that they are similar in any respect other than that. Just both had that feeling of peeking into someone’s very personal gardening space)
5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2011 1:44 am

    love the reflective surfaces. were the bottoms painted black or just rusted enough to absorb light?

    • June 25, 2011 9:12 pm

      Hi Greggo – yes, those rusted corten steel tanks produce such a beautiful effect don’t they? Unfortunately, I’m afraid I am not entirely sure how or what those tanks are lined with or how the water is so dark and reflective. If anyone else is able to shed any light please do!

      I think in some instances you are able to add a pond ‘dye’ to darken the water and make it reflective?

  2. Charles Hawes permalink
    June 24, 2011 10:20 am

    Nice blog and range of pics. Bet TSS won’t be over the moon about it reminding you of Highgrove. It would make me want to get the bulldozers in. X

    • June 25, 2011 9:25 pm

      Thanks Charles. Oh dear – It only reminded me of visiting Highgrove in that I was left with the strong post-visit feeling that there was really a lot of the owner – their vision, hand and soul in that garden – whether it was my kind of thing or not (!). If it’s any consolation, I enjoyed T S-S’s garden more! Def worth a visit. I’m looking forward to re-visiting too as he has sown a new prairie area this year – similar to the one he’s done round the back of the Wisley glasshouse. x


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