Celebrity Gardeners: Prunella Scales' garden
Dead-heading roses keeps actress Prunella Scales busy in her otherwise low-maintenance garden.
When I saw this house I immediately said, “What a shame it’s far too big”, and Tim said, “We must have it.”’ Prunella Scales, 78, and her actor husband, Timothy West, have lived in this Victorian house in Wandsworth, south London, with its 2,000 sq ft garden for more than 40 years. When they moved in Scales was pregnant with their son, the actor Samuel West, and the garden was one large vegetable patch: 'Not quite what we wanted,’ she laughs.
'Being actors, we wanted a quiet bit out at the back and we couldn’t exactly sit in the front with the traffic noise.’
Initially they moved the vegetables to the front garden. Scales grew beans and peas, potatoes, carrots and onions using skills learnt on her mother’s allotment in north Devon, where the family moved during the war. But the vegetable patch was short-lived: 'People started nicking the beans,’ she says.
So instead she had a box-hedged knot garden planted, which now contains herbs.
'It’s attractive and useful, but without so much work.’
In the centre of the knot garden is a yellow standard rose. There is a small laburnum tree at the roadside edge and a white wisteria covering half the house.
'This house used to be painted yellow and white, and so you had white racemes against the yellow walls, and then yellow racemes keeping the colour scheme. It was my great horticultural joke.’
In the back garden the lawn is flanked by borders filled with Choisya ternata, loosely clipped box, pyracantha and rosemary. The trees, which Scales planted herself, range from a Japanese acer, apple and cherry trees to an elderflower, and are full of climbers, either star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) or clematis. All are underplanted with euonymus and ivy to keep weeds at bay.
For Scales it is the whole effect that interests her rather than individual plants, and she has deliberately created a low-maintenance, mostly evergreen garden. There are no perennials, apart from a few white Japanese anemones, and she has forfeited annuals entirely. Her favourite plants are those that tell stories. She points out a Victoria plum, planted 10 years ago – each year her husband climbs up a ladder with one of her make-up brushes to fertilise the flowers by hand.
The roses are manifold and keep her extremely busy.
'I’m a compulsive dead-header,’ she says.
From shrubs in the borders to ramblers on her pergola, all save one are shades of either yellow (her favourite garden colour) or white. The exception is the orangey-pink 'Prunella’, named for her by the breeder David Austin and much treasured.
'I love it but they discontinued it because it didn’t sell very well.’
Two huge sycamores create shade, but Scales has placed variegated ivy and pots of variegated aucuba strategically in corners to lighten the mood. Like most gardeners, Scales likes to avoid bare earth, and even as we walk out, spying a small gap in the border she stops and says, 'I must find something merry to put there.’