Feat of clay: A top ad executive reveals his ambitious country garden in Herefordshire

Brockhampton Cottage, Herefordshire. It sounded such a cosy address. I imagined black and white timbering, a box-edged path to the door. Hollyhocks even. And the garden, opening today for the first time, a retirement project perhaps for its owners, Peter and Ravida Clay. Instead, I found a thruster, once deputy managing director of the aggressively successful ad agency BMP, stitching together a landscape so big you can scarcely see to the end of it. "Cottage" is an ironic misnomer.

But this isn't a case of city money buying up country acres. The house belonged to Clay's grandfather, who left it to him 13 years ago. He remembers it imprisoned by high thuja hedges, which filtered the wind, but blocked out the view to the sweeping, undisturbed views beyond. When he first took over the place with his wife, an interior designer, and their two children, now aged 13 and 10, what he most wanted to do was to connect the house with its landscape again.

Getting rid of the hedges was easy. But thinking what to do next, wasn't. He had a vague memory of his grandmother's garden, made elsewhere in the hollow of a chalk down. "It was a billowing sort of place. Romantic. I wanted it to be like that." But what happened then was unexpected, irrational even. He puts it down to the male menopause and a curry date with his school friend, Mark Fane.

Fane had started his working life as a venture capitalist, but then switched to landscaping. By the time he and Clay met for their curry, he had already put together half a dozen gold medal gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show. Both, in different ways, had been seduced by the garden dream. By the end of the meal, Clay and Fane had sketched out on the back of a paper napkin the ideas that in 1999 came together in Crocus, a new sort of nursery and landscaping business, aimed at people like them. Crocus is like a fashion outlet. The plants you can buy there are glamorous, smart and snappily presented via a design-conscious website. Clever marketing (and a clear understanding of who their customers are) has made it a huge success.

The birth of Crocus brought Clay in touch with Tom Stuart-Smith, just then at the beginning of his glossy career as a garden designer. Tom suggested a vision and made long lists of desirable plants. For Clay, the green "Go" light suddenly shone bright and for the past 10 years he's been obsessively engaged with the garden and its Herefordshire setting.

All this is a long preamble to a garden visit, but I was intrigued by Clay's vision (as well as envious of his access to a first-rate designer). It can't be bad, either, to part-own a nursery that you can dip into for the odd hundred oaks, or a herbaceous border's worth of veronicastrums and spurges, geraniums and thalictrums. But there were problems, too. The site is not an easy one, with the house perched high and the land sloping steeply away in two directions. Once the corset of thuja was taken away, the house seemed to balance slightly uneasily on its summit, like a hat not fitting a head.

Stuart-Smith's first suggestion was to anchor the place into its setting by means of a series of level spaces. The sloping ground was pushed up to make a big stone-paved terrace, with generous herbaceous borders below, backed by a stone retaining wall. The Clays put few restraints on the scheme – "We only said we didn't want orange or yellow" – and the borders are planted in big drifts of grey and purple, blue and deep pink. Delphiniums the colour of melting icebergs pierce through mounds of deep-blue salvias. The leathery grey-green foliage of Helleborus corsicus jags into feathery masses of Selinum wallichianum, one of my favourite plants. There's white willowherb, lots of dark-flowered astrantia, great anchoring masses of spurge, towering verbascums, oregano – in short, all the must-have plants you'll find on the crocus.co.uk website.

Behind, the house is tied to the stone terrace with great webs of climbing plants: hydrangea, honeysuckle, roses such as the coppery-pink rambler 'Francois Juranville' plastered with purple Viticella clematis (the clematis are particularly spectacular). Parthenocissus clutches at the windows, fumbles into the gutters. To the side, an equally exuberant vine covers the pergola that shades an outdoor dining table, scented by big pots of lilies. Clay wanted billow. He's got it. Beautifully.

Nevertheless, I'd guess that his heart lies the other side of the railings that mark out the garden proper from the land beyond. To the south, the land drops away steeply and Clay has planted the whole of this huge pasture with perry pears, well-spaced in the old way, standing on impressive six-foot trunks.

And wandering east from the front of the house, with its pots of tobacco flower and neat box parterre brimming with lavender, you are led into wildflower meadows laid out on an astonishing scale. There's another irony. The earth in Herefordshire is generally rather good, but Clay had all the topsoil stripped away to create this landscape where purple knapweed and white yarrow bloom among the remains of moon daisies and yellow rattle.

Below the meadows and their waving grasses, wide mown paths lead through newly planted woodland. Here is Clay the Collector, amassing special sorts of oak: Quercus pyrenaica, Q. rubra, Q. palustris, Q. pontica. Like the perry orchard, it's a magnificent gift to the future. At the foot of the valley, the path winds round a lake, where once again, the planting is on an astonishing scale: swamp cypress, alder, hickory, wild cherries with swathes of miscanthus, hemp agrimony and a beautiful flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus) set along the banks. Clay falls silent and we watch a family of swans coast over the water, the cygnets all in line. "This is where my strength is restored," he says eventually. Mine too.

The garden at Brockhampton Cottage, Brockhampton, Herefordshire HR1 4TQ is open today (10am-4pm), admission £5, children free

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil