18 St. John’s Avenue “The Magnolias” has been the Hammond family home since the 1930s. Prior to the Hartswood Estate being built, we understand the land was grazing meadow, occupied by the cows of a Mr Cowling! We also believe that there existed ponds and streams, which account for the comparative ease with which one can create a ‘natural’ pond in some areas. The first hundred feet or so of the garden is a lighter soil overlaying extremely compacted gravel, stones and sand. The remainder is a good heavy topsoil of about neutral reaction, overlaying sticky London clay.
When the estate was first built it was proposed to build a cul-de-sac from Headly Chase between St. John’s Avenue and Mount Crescent, and the original gardens were only the length of our right-hand neighbour’s. Subsequently the powers that were decided in their wisdom that this would not give adequate gardens to the proposed properties, so they offered the plots to the mid-line to residents in the two roads for £5 each. My father bought his, plus the plot to the right that the then occupant did not require.
In 1966 I struck up a friendship with a Mr Disney who owned an 80′ x 40′ plot abutting the end of the garden and diagonally to the left of his own garden. A year or two earlier he had suffered a mild stroke and thinking that the extra garden was perhaps a little too much to cope with, sold it to me for £30 plus half the cost of conveyancing.
In 1988 a further purchase of a 40′ x 40′ plot on the far end of the previously purchased plot extended the garden further still towards Mount Crescent.
My mother died in 1967 and my father remarried the following year. He moved to his new wife’s home at Kirby-le-Soken, leaving me to live at St. John’s Avenue. Whilst my parents lived here the garden was a mixture of fruit orchard and 1930’s style formal rose garden. On taking over the garden, I dug up and gave away to friends and relatives, the majority of the roses and began to create a garden of a much more informal style.
I married Linda in 1975 and the rate of development of the garden accelerated considerably, with the building of the concrete ponds and raised beds etc. The pond nearest the house was designed and build in 1980 for the keeping of Japanese koi carp. It is 6′ deep and initially was filtered by an arrangment of homemade external filters housed in the workshop. Starting in 2001 additional more modern filtration has been added.
There is a half glazed greenhouse to the left of the garden which was erected on top of a disused outdoor reptile enclosure. This had been built by my father and I when I was a teenager on top of the 2nd World War air raid shelter. This greenhouse has been used for assorted bulbs and choice perennials.
The amphibian house was built in 1987 after the greenhouse was offered to us cheaply. As well as animals it contains a mixture of plants, some of which are slightly tender.
Our most recent land acquisition was made in 2007 when we bought the bottom 90′ of our left-hand neighbour’s garden. This brings the total area to around half an acre with a length of about 320′. Starting at about 40′ in width, it increases to over 100′ at it’s widest in the centre section.
Much of the original garden has developed into a woodland with tall Magnolias etc. under-planted with Camellias and other Spring flowing shrubs, ground-cover perennials and bulbs. On purchasing the new plot we decided to try to create a garden of Summer interest. We have build a sizable waterlily pond with Summer perennial beds and rose beds.
Now that the construction of the Summer Garden is completed, we have been spending our time on the oldest areas. Here some trees and large shrubs were not earning their keep and have been removed. this has allowed us to put in a good few new plants adding greatly to our interest. Also artifacts such as the pagoda and bridge are showing their 35 plus years and will need replacing when time and funds permit.