The original house was built in the mid 1930's and named Martins. Back then it was a relatively small house, half the size of what is now Havoc Hall and with a small garden surrounded by the best part of 4 acres of paddocks. By all accounts, the main reason for the lack of garden was the heavy and unworkable blue clay; fertile in the summer but often a quagmire for the rest of the year.
We bought a house that had been substantially extended and improved by the then owners, the parents of 6 girls, hence the name! Originally from the North of England but London based for most of our adult lives, including 21 years at our family home on the northern fringes of London, we had decided the time was right to move away from the capital. Our check list for a new property comprised a village or small town location, preferably on the edge of a village and with great views, and, vitally important, space to make a garden. Havoc Hall ticked all the boxes. It was love at first sight and after 4 months of packing and planning the move from London, we headed north for good in early March 2008.
For the first twelve months, we mainly focussed on the interior of the house but observed what appeared in the garden and started to plan for kick starting the redesign in 2009. We had a one third of an acre terraced garden in London and had initially thought that a sufficient grounding to embark on a grander design but, the more we got into the detail and the enormity of the project, the more we realised just how relatively shallow our horticultural knowledge was. We needed help and we found it in the shape of Andrew Williamson, proprietor of Vertigrow Plant Nursery just outside York. And after several months of planning and working together with Andrew, work on the structure of the gardens commenced in early 2009. To begin with, the plan comprised a knot garden, herbaceous garden, south lawn and small lake in the meadow area. And on a snowy February 1st, a 10 tonne digger arrived together with ancillary dumper trucks and a smaller digger. Chaos ensued for the next three months as hundreds and hundreds of tonnes of clay and topsoil were excavated and moved. In the pond area, a 5 metre deep crater slowly took shape and the clay lining was “puddled” to create a leakproof lake. The plan was to use the surplus excavated clay to build the subsoil levels for the knot and herbaceous gardens but, in the event, all of it was needed for the banks of the lake. As a result, we had to import wagon loads of subsoil, as well as topsoil, to create the formal garden areas; for a week or so, we had 20 tonne lorries arriving on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day. And, if there is one real regret from that period, it is that we didn’t install more land drains. We have subsequently put more drains in but, on heavy clay subsoil, you can almost never have enough. On top of all that, a 10 tonne digger levelling the lawn and garden areas (and compacting the soil), does nothing for drainage!
With the arrival of Spring that year, we had a structure in place with box, yew and beech hedging in situ together with some specimen standard Portuguese Laurels and Pyrus Salcifolia. It was planting time and, as well as Vertigrow, there were visits to specialist plant fairs and just about every other nursery within a 50 mile radius of Oswaldkirk and, pleasingly, all the flower beds started to take shape and actually look quite striking within a short period of time.
There were, of course, plenty of disasters: the large lawn to the south of the house started life with two avenues of 8ft yew cones all of which died as relentless wet weather literally drowned the plants; an established 10 ft high inherited yew hedge, which separated the main lawn from the herbaceous and knot gardens, also suffered the same waterlogged fate, albeit the damage was exacerbated by our accidentally blocking a land drain during landscaping of the knot garden. And then we had two of the worst winters in memory to contend with and we soon found out which plants can withstand -15 degree temperatures, not least of which were four 9 ft tall lollipop bay trees that adorned the courtyard to the front of the house. All have now been replaced by the tougher but equally attractive Portuguese Laurels that have the significant added advantage of producing scented white flowers in Spring.