When Fiona and her family purchased Green Island in 1996, the property consisted of a bungalow, small overgrown garden and 20 acres of decimated woodland. Over the next 13 years Fiona developed the garden into a series of different themed areas all in keeping with the surroundings. Her professional eye has cleverly designed the gardens so they are highly structured but all appear totally natural and informal. They include terrace garden, Japanese, seaside, gravel, water, and extensive woodland gardens. Initially the gardens were maintained by Fiona and one part time gardener, now the Green Island team has grown to Fiona, Martin and Jules Woodman, and some of Fiona’s children in the summer. Initially the garden was therapy for Fiona while she was struck down with ME. As the garden flourished so did Fiona’s health. Inspired by her increasing strength, Fiona resolved to create a space for others to find relaxation and enjoyment as well as returning the previously destroyed woodland in the 1987 hurricane to its former glory for the benefit of future generations. Peaceful, and tranquil are now the 2 most commonly used words in the visitors book. In 1999 the gardens were opened to the public for one weekend for the NGS. Over the following years more weekends were opened for charity until 2009 when the gardens opened full-time.
The property has a unique ‘micro-climate’ thanks to the surrounding woodland. This permits Fiona to grow plants of borderline hardiness, and the acidic soil allows her to grow many of her favourite trees and shrubs for fantastic autumn colour. It is truly a garden for all seasons. Fiona is a plantaholic and has built up large collections of Hamamelis, Camellias, Acers and Galanthus, so with every turn there is always another one of Fiona’s treasures to see! Utilising local resources are important to Green Island, all garden beds are edged using timbers recovered from the fallen trees and mulched using the leaf mould and wood chipping from onsite. The fallen trees have also been used to create shelters, treehouse, decking across the pond, abstract art and seating within the grounds. Annual prunings from the Bamboo dell are used for staking plants in the garden and nursery.
Education plays a big part in Green Island Gardens. Skills and knowledge development for staff as well as visitors is a daily occurrence. In recent years Fiona has staffed her gardens with apprentices, working with local colleges the students have gained nationally recognised certification. The students work closely with Fiona, working through all aspects of gardening including maintenance, plant identification, garden design, propagation, weekly garden walks. Visitors also have the opportunity to gain new knowledge, staff are always on hand to answer questions, the unusual plants are highlighted at the entry, and Fiona regularly runs courses and talks on the gardens and how visitors can implement practices in their own garden. Future plans include an educational wildlife centre featuring birdlife, wildlife, insects and fungi that are important to maintaining the local eco-system, as well as South African garden.