A brilliant plantswoman, Joyce Robinson travelled to Greece in 1969 for a transformative month’s holiday.
She was captivated by the rampant plants and climbers which grew abundantly on the island of Delos and the way they cascaded “over and through ancient urns and pillars, down deep wells and water holes, covering steps and the stairs to homes long forgotten.” She loved it so much, she was the last person on the boat when it was time to weigh anchor.
By the time she returned to Denmans where she had been living, gardening, and farming since 1946, Mrs. Robinson was determined to incorporate gravel into her garden’s design. Gravel was a little used medium in gardens in the 1960s and 70s, but she was convinced it would be an exciting alternative to lawn and paving.
A year later, she retired from farming and began her experiment. Her laboratory was the Walled Garden in which she’d grown veg for the Covent Garden market for years.
Rejecting gravel that “has been graded and cut by machine” she settled for local gravel dredged from the harbour at Littlehampton. It was of a colour and texture that worked well with the brick and flint walls at Denmans.
Ploughing under vegetable beds, Mrs. Robinson festooned the walls with unusual climbers and roses, many of which still flourish here. Knowing she didn’t have enough time to maintain a “conventional, patterned herb garden”, she let her plants self-sow and ramble, pulling the ones she didn’t want and nurturing the rest. Selecting plants that varied in height and bloom time, she achieved the naturalistic effect she was aiming for.