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Our Green Story : Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens



Our Green Journey started in 1975 when we bought Stillingfleet Lodge, then an unloved farmhouse that had been empty for over a year. There was very little garden, mainly a vegetable plot with no shrubs or trees. The remaining three acres was grassland.

Our aim then was to live "the Good Life," by going organic and self-sufficient. I had read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and we wanted to do our bit to change the way food was produced. For 10 years the land produced our own meat, cheese, yoghurt, butter, cream and vegetables. Our family grew too, with two of our children being born here: it is still a family home and we love it when the grandchildren are here enjoying the space.

One of the first things we planted was a shelter belt of native trees to protect us from south-westerly gales – this allowed us to grow a wider range of plants. Once the children were at school I went to the local horticultural college and started propagating plants and opening a few weekends a year to sell plants. This was the start of the business I now have.

Over the next 10 years or so the garden began to develop as I opened the plant nursery on a regular basis. We always wanted to make the garden as wildlife friendly as possible. The trees and shrubs we had planted early on were established and the next step was to add a pond. With help from the Farm and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) we were able to find a suitable location for a pond without using pond liner and started digging this in 1989. It is now an established wildlife pond providing homes for many invertebrates, including damselflies and dragonflies.

The FWAG also told us that field we used for grazing sheep was an ancient wildlife meadow and they advised us to look after it. Our meadow is a typical lowland hay meadow, or ancient grassland. This was once the ubiquitous type of old meadow in the English lowlands, but due to drainage, ploughing, re-seeding and fertiliser use there is now less than 6,000 hectares remaining in England. We continue to manage the area for wildflowers, which also makes it a haven for butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other pollinators, including the day flying chimney sweeper moth. The meadow is not cut until the end of August and the hay is left for a day or two to make sure the seeds disperse.

For the last twenty years the garden has been evolving to become a visitor attraction in its own right. We added the formal Rill Garden in 2007 and that winter converted the old cow barn into the tea room. We have continued to manage the entire enterprise sustainably and with a view to attracting wildlife and we spread the message through our Annual Wildlife Day, various courses and in all the literature that we produce, including our website and social media pages.

It has been a truly rewarding journey that has led us from a 1970s dream to being able to make a difference to the local wildlife, support conservation groups and pass on knowledge and passion to future generations.

Picture: Vanessa Cook, Garden owner of Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens