Norfolk garden designer George Carter

PUBLISHED: 11:54 04 July 2017

George Carter in his garden at Silverstone Farm (photo: Simon Finlay)

George Carter in his garden at Silverstone Farm (photo: Simon Finlay)

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His portfolio ranges from the Jerusalem olive grove where Jesus was arrested to the grounds of Boris’ Johnson’s official retreat. Rowan Mantell talks to world-renowned Norfolk garden designer George Carter

George Carter in his Norfolk garden (photo: Simon Finlay)George Carter in his Norfolk garden (photo: Simon Finlay)

Apart from a recreation of the Garden of Eden, working on the Garden of Gethsemane must be one of the biggest gigs in garden design.

George Carter has been helping restore the Biblical garden where Jesus prayed as his disciples slept, replacing a 1920s design with plants which would have thrived at the foot of the Mount of Olives 2,000 years ago.

Between creating gardens around the world and across centuries of history, George returns to his own garden at Silverstone Farm, North Elmham, near Dereham.

It was at art college that his fascination with gardening began, as outdoor installations segued into gardens. He arrived in Norfolk as the first exhibitions designer for Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre gallery and found the county, with its level landscapes and Dutch-influenced architecture, ideal for his style of gardening.

His own garden, created over the last 26 years, is all smooth lines, clipped shapes and sculptured planting. Towering hedges enclose spaces lit in many shades of green. Corridors of topiary lead into new shade-dappled sections of lawn, leaf, sky and stone. Inspired by 17th century Dutch gardens, George has conjured serenity and formality from Norfolk farmland,

Away from the county he has designed lavish gardens in the United States and contemplative gardens surrounding some of the most venerated religious sites in the world. He has worked on huge stately home gardens and tiny town courtyards, the historic gardens at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, alongside the Chelsea Flower Show site (where he has won several gold medals), and the frivolous Garden of Surprises at Burghley in Lincolnshire which is packed with pools, jets, fountains and water-themed fun.

Clients include the Franciscan monks who look after gardens at holy sites in Jerusalem and Rome, Lord Heseltine, apparently a keen and knowledgeable gardener, and the trustees of Chevening House in Kent which was given to the nation and is used by the Foreign Secretary (currently Boris Johnson) as a country retreat. Here George is restoring a water cascade based on an 18th century engraving of the gardens. (Sadly the historic picture does not include a zip wire.)

George Carter's garden at Silverstone Farm near North Elmham (photo: Simon Finlay)George Carter's garden at Silverstone Farm near North Elmham (photo: Simon Finlay)

George is a maker as well as a gardener, and designs gates, urns, fountains, pools and planters for clients.

The virtually flower-free calm of his own garden is offset by a series of plant-related witticisms. A gate with a star-shape of garden tools is a homage to one of George’s landscape design heroes, Humphry Repton, whose first commission was Catton Park, just north of Norwich, and who went on to create parkland and gardens for grand estates across the country. In the former farm orchard at Silverstone trees have been marshalled into a circle and gilded apples sit on wooden posts. A segment of deep water designed as a canal doubles as a swimming pool, the classical-style Temple of Convenience is a toilet. The farm outbuildings have been incorporated too, one barn transformed into a banqueting hall with a galleried library, another a mini orangery, and outside are new farmyard gardens – with one even featuring some flowers.

Today he loves most aspects of gardening, except controlling weeds. “I think one of the most interesting things about gardening is the scale of it and how you can create an illusion of space, whether the garden is tiny or huge,” said George. “It’s a kind of architecture. And working in a garden is therapeutic too.”

Some of his favourite Norfolk gardens include those at Elsing Hall, near Dereham, at Holkham where he is working on the walled garden, and Sheringham Park, as designed by Repton. He is a writer too, specialising in garden history and design, and his next book, Setting the Scene, will be out next year to mark the bicentenary of the death of Repton, another great Norfolk gardener and writer.

See for yourself

Silverstone Farm Gardens are open through Invitation to View on Sundays, July 16 and September 10 at 2.30pm.

George Carter's canal pool at Silverstone Farm near North Elmham (photo: Simon Finlay)George Carter's canal pool at Silverstone Farm near North Elmham (photo: Simon Finlay)

Booking is essential

George also gives four lectures a year at Silverstone. On Friday, May 19 a day focusing on Baroque gardens will include talks on Portugese and Italian gardens, plus Dutch-style British gardens and a visit to Hunworth Hall near Holt. Two more lecture days will be held in the autumn.

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