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As with many imaginative landscape designers, Charles and Patricia get involved in the design and invention of everything that they create. They love designing gardens and enjoy the planning and construction perhaps more than the quiet enjoyment. A secluded arbour might be somewhere from which to watch wildlife, but it is the designing and building that provides the fun.

Charles and Patricia started collecting architectural pieces long before it became fashionable. The first set of cast iron pillars was discovered when a beautiful Regency lodge was being demolished for some ugly road works. The purchase price of £5 each delivered was a delicious bargain compared the prices such pieces would attract today. Their passion for stones and architectural salvage has resulted in a large accumulation over the years and this collection has provided them with a rich and diverse hobby. They started collecting interesting architectural pieces more than thirty years ago.

Gradually a seemingly abstract pile of stones and pilasters, balconies, gates, railings, chimneys and million windows, the odd railway bridge, slabs, steps etc. has been transformed into ruins and follies around their garden. Patricia first became attracted to eccentric follies when she used to cycle around the grounds of Stowe School in Buckinghamshire in her early teens hoping that there might be some leftovers. Boys forgotten - romantic notions of liaisons as any teenager might fantasise. Within the grounds of the school are a rich and diverse collection of fascinating garden buildings, temples, grottos and romantic secret places, classical bridges spanning the divides between lakes, the whole concept designed by Capability Brown in his timeless marriage of Arcadian simplicity and Romantic Classicism.

They belong to the Folly Fellowship, a society of people whose interest is in the appreciation, preservation, designing, building and subsequent enjoyment of the many eccentric buildings that are hidden around the British countryside.

The ruined chapel folly in the wooded part of their garden, was built around a typical Victorian Gothic porch bought from a friend, to this was added walls, tiny mullioned windows and a fireplace and chimney. This romantic ruin is used as a shady haven where they dine with friends 'al fresco' while overlooking the water garden, which includes a stream, waterfalls a weir and a large pond. This pond is filled with lively fish and lush vegetation provides many hours of amusement. It is fed by a temperamental stream that has to be boosted, in the summer months, by a pump which carries the water from under a dramatic Japanese style bridge and over a series of waterfalls contrived to cause as much sound and movement as possible. Charles whose skill in wood is an added bonus to feed their dreams is building the bridge.

The stream, once a dumping ground for rubbish, provides art trouve gems that are incorporated in their various creative ideas. Parts of ancient bottles, iridescent with age and corrosion, are restyled into interesting vases and unique art pieces by their daughter Georgina using her stained glass skills The many and varied pieces of broken pottery are lovingly turned into surrounds for mirrors and other interesting collectable and decorative objects. An area that might be scorned by most people is a family treasure-trove of interesting glimpses into the past flashing invitations to be remoulded into a new sculpted form.

The inside of the chapel floor is covered with pebbles, which fascinated Patricia and she started sorting them into various shapes. Strategically placed buckets allow the collection to be filed, for straight-sided pebbles are being turned into intricate paving slabs. Asked by a journalist how she made the slabs her reply came as a surprise: 'first you buy ten tons of pebbles - then you sort them out into the right kinds of shapes.' The journalist commented: 'I thought you collected them from a beach?' Considering that each 27 inch square slab takes about 1,000 pebbles it would be impossible and in fact illegal, to collect that many stones from the beach especially those of the correct shape and such collecting would seriously stretch one's pockets.

Around their garden are features that have been created from their stone collecting. There are flights of steps, a formal pond and stone walls giving shelter for the more delicate plants. Pillars support plant holders, chimney pots spilling ivy and trailing geraniums that fall like smoke on a still damp day.

The planting schemes include a lavender patch that provides lavender for the dainty herb pouches that they sell in their London shop. The plants they found in Jersey are a commercial variety called Grosso, which is a heavily scented species with glorious deep blue blooms. By growing their own lavender and herbs they can be sure, as far as is possible, that the product is organic. Plants grow in this garden with enormous energy and most have been started from seed or cuttings. With the garden covering several acres they realised that they could only fill it by developing large quantities of plant collections themselves. Like most gardeners they are happy and honest thieves, collecting, exchanging, growing , experimenting. Such experimenting with concepts and ideas takes them in many directions. Having read a feature on bamboo plantings they started experimenting with plants more readily available in this country.

Around the garden are some strange houses; built as shelters for their ducks and goose and another as a wildlife watching place. These living structures are made out of trunks of willow, planted deep they have rooted and grown and become moulded into solid and strange structures over the years. Patches of ornamental sweetcorn last year were grown for decoration but stolen by the badgers and the pleasure at their unseen company outweighed the loss of the corn.

This unusual garden is open to the public for only one day each year to help raise funds for the village hall. As part of the national garden scheme the village of Llanfoist have put together an interesting and varied group gardens that give glimpses into ideas and passions. Simple gardens filled to bursting with luxuriant bedding plants, sophisticated Mediterranean plantings that recapture memories of sundrenched holidays. Many creative ideas abound including a fantasy garden evoking inspiration of the sea where waves of hostas lap against the bow of a galleon. The Lester's is one of about a dozen village gardens, glorious in their variety and if nothing else it has helped Charles and Patricia and their gardening friends to focus and get jobs done that might have otherwise been left for yet another year. At the same time their involvement helps the village to raise funds for a new village hall that will be a social centre for all ages in the community.


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