For green-fingered couple Margaret and Peter Hargreaves, gardening is like painting on soil rather than on canvas.
And it’s this artistic approach that sees the couple, who have been married for 35 years, create a picture postcard cottage garden that has hundreds of people flocking to each year.
Like an exhibition of a respected artist’s work, their idyllic English garden in Barton-under-Needwood, near Lichfield, is a visual delight. Over a handful of open garden days this summer, their dazzling borders, subtly-coloured summer blooms, old-fashioned roses, sweet peas and lilies attracted 800 people.
And they are already preparing for next year’s influx when they celebrate 20 years of taking part in the National Gardens Scheme. But Margaret and Peter don’t just open their garden to share the fruits of their labour.
The couple, who see their quarter of an acre garden as their “little bit of paradise”, do it for charity too – and their efforts are not to be sniffed at. In 19 years they have raised an impressive £44,000 for charities including Marie Curie, Cancer Research, Arthritis, the RNIB and this year for Alzheimers.
And while it’s accountant Peter’s job to help maintain the garden, it’s Margaret who creates the design and decides on the content of the intensely planted garden.
Mobile hairdresser Margaret said: “I just love gardening. But what’s probably endeared me more to it is that I’m very lucky in that Peter also loves gardening, otherwise I wouldn’t be out there quite so much. It’s something we do together after work – we make a good team.”
The 62-year-old’s passion for gardening began when she was just four years old after falling in love with her mother’s colourful Sweet Williams.
It’s also her mother’s talent as a seamstress that she attributes to her talent for subtle, colourful design.
Margaret, who describes her approach to garden design as similar to the art of creating a patchwork quilt, said: “I remember being fascinated with the colour of mother’s Sweet Williams and I just had to pick them.
“I knew I was doing wrong, but I couldn’t resist. My love of flowers grew from there. Mum gave me my own bit of garden and some flower seeds and I would grow things like nasturtiums and cornflowers. I also used to help my father in his vegetable garden too when I was about six or seven.
“So my passion for gardening has always been there.”
She added: “I paid a lot of attention to my mother. She had a good eye for colour and would spend hours at the shops matching cotton to different coloured fabrics to make sure it was just right.
“Latterly in her life she wanted to make a quilt and she spent hours working on to make sure it was just right and I think a garden’s a bit like a patchwork quilt.
“I remember mum would manoeuvre the templates around so the colours would not clash but complement each other and I try to do that in the garden. I think colour adds a different dimension to a garden.”
The self-confessed plantaholic looks for new inspiration from independent garden centres as she favours more unusual plants and is keen to support British growers.
The couple have developed their garden from just a lawn and a single apple tree over the last 35 years. It now features on cards and postcards as well as in Freda Cox’s Garden Styles.
For the 2011 summer open day timetable go to www.ngs.org.uk