I never meant the hippery to become as gardened as it now is. When I first wrote about it, two years ago, my idea was just to bring together a collection of trees and shrubs chosen for their hips and berries. As the flower garden gradually quietened down, so the hippery would wake up, providing an autumn treat at the end of the steep haul up the bank. I envisaged a roughish, wildish area at this far end of the garden, with the trees and shrubs dumped in among the docks and nettles, where, after a first year of nursing, they would look after themselves.
The idea first arose because of a magnificent old tree we inherited, a cockspur thorn (Crataegus crus-gallii), standing close to the back boundary. This is an American thorn, not a British native, but it fits into a wild setting as easily as our hawthorn. The leaves are bigger, though. Glossier too, and rounded, colouring beautifully in autumn in blazing shades of red and orange. Between the splayed-out clusters of leaves are bunches of red haws, again, bigger than the hawthorn's, rounded and a brilliant orange-red.
In one of the gales that now seem to come too frequently for a gardener's comfort, this vast tree lost one of its branches. So I planted another thorn, Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia', very similar to the cockspur and which I thought could take over from it if there should be a bigger disaster. Like the cockspur thorn, it will eventually be wider than it is high, and blooms at the same time in June, with clusters of white flowers.
The next addition was a group of three roses (Rosa moyesii 'Geranium') chosen for their hips, lovely flagon-shaped things, bright red, and rather more important in this context than the single flowers, which are like deep-red dog roses. When the roses settled in, the hippery idea began to take root. I decided to plant this rather wild area, with things that had good fruit and which, themselves, also looked wild.
So my next addition was a rose called 'Eddie's Jewel' bred in the US in 1962, with R. moyesii as one of its parents. With us, it has become a much taller, more vigorous thing than 'Geranium'. We've had to use a cradle of hazel stakes to support the stems; some of them are 300cm (10ft) long. The hips are not as profuse as the ones on 'Geranium' but they are much bigger – fat, globose things in a bright orange kind of red. They last very well, unlike those on R. davidii, the latest addition to the hip patch.
The roses, three of each kind, are planted together in a big thicket. Behind and alongside them, I put in two spindles. Another sub-theme seemed to be emerging: that I would plant things that had some native equivalent. Our wild spindle is a pretty tree, favouring chalk landscapes and producing with its pink-coloured autumn leaves, outrageous fruit in a Seventies mix of orange and bright lipstick pink.
Most spindles fruit well and the two I chose (Euonymus planipes and E.latifolius) are very similar with long, pointed buds breaking out into the greenish flowers (not conspicuous) that produce the astounding fruit. E.latifolius had a bad start as some benighted rabbit chewed the bark shortly after I planted it. Fortunately, it sprouted again and both have performed magnificently this season.
The fruit hangs on long stalks in little clusters, each one made up of four segments, like the overstuffed segments of a pumpkin. When these bright pink-red cases split, they show the brilliant orange seed covering inside. I had a dress like that once. It may sound awful, but oddly, that colour combination works. The spindles are tough, upright-growing creatures, unremarkable until they blaze into autumn with leaves turning pink, red and orange to match the eye-catching fruit.
Once the hippery theme was set, I began to look out for other trees and shrubs that looked their best in autumn and weren't too gardenesque. I put in a crab apple, Malus hupehensis, which has been so spectacularly successful that I've just ordered another. M. hupehensis has pink buds opening to white flowers, every one of which seems to have turned into a crab apple. The branches are weighed down with round red, cherry-sized fruits. The tree makes a broad, spreading shape, eventually 12m (40ft) high and wide, but that's years ahead. The new crab, ordered from the excellent Thornhayes Nursery in Devon, is Malus transitoria, similar in general outline, but at 10m (33ft) high and wide, slightly more compact. The leaves are deeply cut, unlike those of M. hupehensis and the fruits plentiful but tiny – pea-sized things, the colour of amber.
As for underplanting, I've added very little. There is more than enough herbaceous stuff in other parts of the garden. My original idea was just to keep circles of clear ground round each of the trees and shrubs I planted in the hippery. That hasn't turned out to be a practical solution. Finally, we cleared all the ground alongside the curving path where the roses and crabs are planted and made a proper border of it with a board edging sweeping round the back.
That delineation makes it much easier to keep on top of the creeping buttercup which covers a lot of the rough ground in this part of the garden. I had hoped the ivy would gradually creep down from the top part of the plot and suppress the wretched buttercup, but the buttercup grows so much faster. It constantly found its way into the supposedly weed-free circles and getting it out, especially from under the roses, was a hideous task.
That still left the thorns and the spindles prone to buttercup attacks, since they are planted as free-standing trees, away from the border. The answer has been to mow. That never occurred to me until this year, but it has transformed the look of this part of the garden. We no longer have problems with willowherb, or thistles or docks or nettles, all of which used to crowd in. The mower is set high and what it's creating is by no means a lawn (wouldn't want that) but a smoothness from which the new trees rise, splendidly untrammelled by weeds.
There's no shortage of trees and shrubs with good fruit: the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), the snowdrop tree (Halesia carolina), holly (but there are plenty of those in our boundary hedges), sorbus, such as beautiful 'Joseph Rock' with orange-yellow berries. Up in the hippery, the blackbirds and field fares are going to get very fat.
Thornhayes Nursery, St Andrews Wood, Dulford, Cullompton, Devon EX15 2DF, 01884 266746, thornhayes-nursery.co.ukReuse content