Bella Wright has Transformed Her Dorset Plot into a Mediterranean Haven Filled With Flowers and Butterﬂies
When Bella Wright moved to the coast to escape urban life, the change of pace didn’t extend to her garden. After relocating from London to a Dorset end-of-terrace semi, she spent just seven weeks over the course of 18 months whipping her once bare and unloved plot into the characterful space it is today. “Gardening is a big part of my life, and I’m always thinking what to plant next,” smiles Bella. “It wasn’t a chore.
It was more a labour of love!” The blank canvas Bella inherited came courtesy of a recently completed house extension, which halved the size of the original garden. “It was just a small lawn and patio, forming a triangular point,” explains Bella. “That was a bit of gift for me because it meant I could make my own mark.” Bella wasted no time in calling in builders to erect a sturdy fence on the left-hand side.
Although situated on the mild south coast, sheltering the plot from seaside breezes was a priority, as well as providing structural support r the climbers Bella planned to plant. After ick of paint (Cuprinol Garden Shades in Muted Clay), that fence was a worthy omplement to the original stone wall on the ther side of the garden, still in place due to onservation laws on the old manor estate. The feature wall is lovely because it gives he space character,” says Bella.
Bella’s plan was to create a garden that eminded her of Mediterranean holidays. “The idea of bringing a bit of Italian style to Dorset really appealed,” she says. First to go in the borders were three Italian Cypress trees. “I’ve always loved them,” she says. “To me, they epitomise the Tuscan landscape, which is where I used to go on holiday. Those tall Cypress trees looked effective by the fence, especially alongside an olive tree I planted. I added topiary trees too and their height and weight gave instant structure to a bare space. Even now, it’s my favourite part of the garden.” However tempted Bella was to increase the size of the borders, she understood the need for restraint. “It’s easy to make the mistake of deepening the borders in a small space,” she says. “Although I’m a plantaholic, I didn’t want to fall into that trap.
I had to be strict with myself!” But there was still room for self-pollinating damson, pear and cherry fruit trees. And while they evoke Mediterranean sunshine, they were sourced from somewhere closer to home – Aldi. “It’s so satisfying to be able to grow your own fruit,” Bella says, “and down here we have the best climate to encourage ripening. The only snag is having to pick the fruit before the birds get hold of them!” But even the mildest coast isn’t immune to the odd cold snap. When the Beast from the East struck in early 2018, just weeks after Bella moved in, it was touch and go as to whether the plants would survive. “That stalled my plans a bit!” she admits. “I made sure they weren’t derailed, though. The big stone wall and the new fence came into their own, and I grouped plants together there for protection. I’d brought lots of potted cuttings from my old garden and managed to huddle them together under the pergola roof outside the back door. Thankfully, all the plants made it.” A storm was no match for Bella’s enthusiasm, and she ploughed on with the planting, adding nemesia and pelargoniums, perfectly suited to the typically mild Dorset climate. Evergreen star jasmine and climbing roses were also included for their colour and scent. An insect hotel provides a safe home for all the pollinators drawn by this feast of nectar. “I use open-cupped flowers, which have the stamens sticking out, so that the butterflies and bees can reach the nectar,” Bella adds.
Bella also found room to make a small kitchen garden, cultivating mangetout, green beans, tomatoes and cucumber. “The only snag was preventing the slugs and snails from eating them,” she admits. “A stream used to run under the old wall, and it’s still very damp, which encourages them. I’m an eco-gardener, so instead of using harmful pesticides, I try to be one step ahead. I use a natural biological control called nematodes, which I add to the watering can. It’s great at controlling the pest population.”
Waiting for the huge tree fern to come to life has been the biggest hiccup, though. “I had to hold my nerve,” she smiles. “It arrived looking like a dead piece of bark, which I planted in a pot. But after lying dormant for about a year, it started producing the most amazing fronds!” The striking fern, as well as sweeping prairie grasses, lends a modern textural touch to the more traditional greenery. Further texture comes from obelisk structures and plants in wicker baskets (bought from crocus.co.uk). And it’s this combination of modern style and classical Italian influence that makes this garden such a joy. Looking up the garden sets a large water feature statue (bought from primrose.co. uk) against a backdrop of uber-modern tree fern fronds. A Mediterranean-style mini fountain (Bernini from qvc.com) sits alongside a sleek line of festoon lights.
To most people, the journey from bare to blooming in just 18 months – and without spending a fortune – is an impressive gardening feat. Yet Bella is unassuming. “To me, this is normal!” she jokes. “It was only when I started posting on Instagram that I began getting compliments, and I even had people asking for my gardening tips.” Relaxing in the sunshine on her sheltered patio, amid baskets brimming with agapanthus, delphiniums, scabious, lavender, echinacea and verbena, which in turn attract many different species of butterflies, Bella couldn’t be happier with the garden she’s created.
“I have to admit that, when I have friends round for drinks in the summer, it feels like the perfect intimate Mediterranean spot.
But there’ll always be something else to plant, move or add. I’m proud of what I’ve created, and I’m looking forward to the next garden challenge.”
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