TWO years ago Sue Hockney would admit she knew next to nothing about gardening.
This year, working entirely from her wheelchair, she grew 2,000 flowering plants in her conservatory and planted them in beds, borders and 500 ornamental containers.
The display she created was so spectacular that her garden qualified at the first attempt for opening to the public under the prestigious National Garden Scheme (NGS).
Sue, from Crosby, Merseyside, worked as a hairdresser before moving with husband Robbie to a cottage in North Wales 16 years ago. The cottage was picturesque but the garden very ordinary – until Sue arrived on the scene.
“That was when a friend gave us two beautiful hanging baskets for the front of the house,” said Sue, 56.
“It really got me interested and the next year I started growing flowers. Begonias were my favourites at first and I still grow them – about 120 this year.”
She started sending away for seeds, collecting unusual pots and planning a transformation of the garden. Robbie made garden structures, re-laid paths and fitted ramps to improve access round the plot.
The resulting garden is both dazzling and intriguing with vivid flower displays leading to formal corners, rustic seats in secluded shade and humorously stagey features framed by climbing roses and sweet peas.
Some garden designers consider there are strict rules for plant combinations. Sue, an experienced amateur artist, ignores any such constraints.
Blue echiums sprout by multi-coloured petunias; pink antirrhinums merge with maroon and lilac cosmos daisies; and a mix of purple heliotropes, red dahlias, and blue scaevola create glorious chaos.
The trailing branches of Lysimachia nummularia Aurea, the golden-leaved creeping jenny, trail elegantly from containers.
For coolness there is a border of creamy-green Hydrangea paniculata Limelight and for contrast clipped topiary, tall groups of ornamental kale, the serene foliage shrub Persicaria Red Dragon and the unusual Dianthus barbatus Green Wicky which has spiky emerald flowers.
Diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy at the age of 14, Sue has needed a wheelchair for the past six years. “I have a basic Flexmobil wheelchair which enables me to do most of the sowing and planting using standard tools, though my Helping Hand grabber comes in useful, too.
“There are 87 species and varieties in the garden this year and I grew most of them from seed.
“I had so many plants that they filled the conservatory. When it came to planting out, there were too many for the garden so we have given a lot away but also planted them in containers along the lane beside our house and my son Chris has a collection of pots outside his hairdressing salon in Ruthin.”
The garden, at Neuadd Wen (White Hall) in the village of Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, between Ruthin and Bala, was open by appointment throughout July and August.
Admission charges and teas – served with irresistible cream-and-jam scones – have raised well over £400 for the NGS. She plans to open again next year.
The NGS, which started more than 100 years ago, has donated £58m to nursing and health charities, including £3m from 2018 alone. This year 3,500 gardens opened to the public. Main beneficiaries are Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and the Queen’s Nursing Institute.