Hookgate Cottage

After 6 months of house-sitting we're moving into our own cottage this week. Hurrah! Hookgate sits in about an acre and a half of its own land, which is just grass and undergrowth at the moment. The site has lovely views, and the plan is to demolish the existing house and build our own mini Grand Design. We're also going to transform the surrounding land. This part of the project is particularly exciting as we can use it to illustrate the kind of design we're trying to promote. Regular readers of this blog will know that I've got issues about what is happening in our gardens. They're important ecologically as they can provide several habitats which are increasingly rare elsewhere. Some species arguably even depend on our estimated 2 million acres of gardens for their continued existence here. And yet we are continuing to bow to commercial pressure and cover our gardens with decking and sheds. We buy expensive mowers and chemical treatments to keep our lawns likev immaculate and unhelpful bowling greens. Meanwhile, a style of gardening has developed called "wildlife gardening". Gardening for wildlife seems to be different to "normal" gardening. You can find "wildlife gardens" in special sections of horticultural shows, looking like woodland clearings or "artisan's gardens". Alternatively, they might make a feature out of walls of bug boxes. Good books are written about it, like the RSPB's "Gardening For Wildlife", which offer excellent advice and debunk some pernicious myths. "Wildlife gardening" misses the point, however. Most people don't garden for wildlife, they garden for themselves - and so they should. Gardening is a leisure activity and people have gardens to enjoy them. The knack is to persuade them that creating and maintaining a healthy ecosystem lies at the core of that enjoyable experience. Whatever the style of garden they like - formal, contemporary, funky, urban, whatever - if we can connect gardeners more with the natural world around them it will enhance the pleasure they get. You have to believe that bumblebees and butterflies are a more attractive proposition than decking and paving, particularly in an increasingly urban, stressed and overcrowded world. That connection has to be a core value of whatever style the gardener wants, rather than an option for a corner of the garden or style in itself. It's not too fanciful to suggest that the pleasure from connecting with nature can be further enhanced by producing your own food and, if possible, fuel - a sustainable approach to design. What does all this mean in practical terms? Well, Phil Brown, a local landscape architect who very much shares our ideas, is designing Hookgate to be a showcase. There will be many features you would expect - lots of water/wetland, interesting fruit, veg, meadow areas. We're also talking about a forest garden, which would be brilliant, and relatively small but distinct areas/rooms/habitats. The hard landscaping - such as it is - will be from materials salvaged from the existing house as much as possible, and will compliment the existing landscape. We will - needless to say - be championing native species, using them in formal and contemporary settings, and cheek by jowl with non-natives. Anyway, this is very much by way of an introduction to the project. You can follow it through its website, www.hookgatecottage.com, where I will be writing regular updates. In the meantime wish us luck this week with the weather!