While most gardeners concentrate on their single plot, Stephen and Paula Morgan have expanded theirs to create a series of 'garden rooms', each with its own distinct flavour

When Stephen and Paula Morgan bought Ralph Court, the three acres in which the house stood were effectively a blank canvas:
“The previous owner,” Paula explains, “was very fond of golf and the three acre plot was laid to undulating grass with some sand bunkers. It meant we could start with a clean sheet.”
The house was built in 1850 for the Reverend Arthur Lucton Childe, and the garden at the point was planted with really mature specimen trees as was fashionable, but the previous golf-loving owner had felled a lot of them when the Morgans arrived, leaving just a few around the borders.
Today, there’s not a hint of the golf course about the gardens at Ralph Court, which has been open to visitors for four years, and quickly became one of the county’s most popular visitor attractions.
But, when they first began work on the gardens, opening them to the public wasn’t something they’d thought about either. It was only as the work progressed and family and friends urged them to share their fantastically imaginative creation that the seed was sown.
With his background in horticulture, and a career as part of a Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winning team, it’s no surprise that the blank canvas at Ralph Court proved irresistible to Stephen. 
“He was used to looking at a plot and working out how to fill it and make it look established and theatrical,” says Paula. And there’s no doubt that Ralph Court Gardens thoroughly deserves to be described as theatrical.
The first thing Stephen did was divide the garden with lots of hedges, and he knew, too, that he wanted a pool. It was the dragon that provided the catalyst for the series of themed ‘rooms’ at Ralph Court, the dragon who now takes pride of place in her own garden, standing guard over her nest and breathing smoke as visitors pass by. Not that it’s bothering the moorhens using the nest as accommodation … 
“It was our private garden and because it had nothing, we asked ourselves what we should do with it and were inspired by the dragon, made by local artist blacksmith Neil Lossock.”
Not content with a dramatic dragon, the garden then expanded to include a Japanese garden, an Italian garden, a pirate ship, gardens that tell stories – Alice in Wonderland and Toad of Toad Hall – the latter complete with a genuine Romany caravan, washing on the line and chickens living in Toad Hall!
Alice in Wonderland’s fall down the rabbit hole is re-created as a descending gravel path shaded by a magnificent wisteria arch, while flamingos take up their stations in the croquet garden and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party takes place at a table with a floral tablecloth made entirely of plants! Adding an educational element the garden also features a giant book telling the story to anyone who isn’t familiar with it.
“Stephen’s gift is being able to set a scene,” says Paula. “He has a great imagination and can therefore work out the planting to complement the designs.”
The dragon’s impressive wing span, for example, is echoed in the leaves of the gunera, planted to create a maze that grows taller than a man (and which benefits from the water diverted to it when the couple’s koi carp pond is regularly flushed through), and in the African garden (inspired by more sculpture when the couple discovered some Fair Trade animal pieces created from recycled oil drums), a range of textures, shapes and colour harmonise with the crocodile lurking in the water. There’s a hint of the Indiana Jones, too, as water cascades from a giant tribal mask and drumbeats provide an atmospheric soundtrack.
While Stephen was steeped in horticulture, Paula has she says, ‘learned as we’ve gone along’. 
Together, they take inspiration from mythology, culture and the arts, as in the striking Medusa garden, where the myth of Medusa and Perseus is re-created in a striking water feature and planters dripping with bright trailing plants.
The Green Man garden sits beneath a stand of ancient yew trees, which Paula and Stephen wanted to preserve and therefore designed with shade loving plants, and beside it is Jack in the Green, constructed largely of cones from the garden, who spits at passers-by, bringing laughs from visitors young and old, as well as plenty of demands for repeat visits! “He’s the most popular thing in the whole garden,” says Stephen, as we leave Jack behind to walk up and across the woodland walkways, past the golden pheasant, the turkeys and ducks, and the striking Indian bean tree and the beautiful foxglove tree (paulownia tomentosa),
Water is a massive element in Ralph Court Gardens, with water features everywhere you look, including a musical fountain playing opera in the Italian garden and misters adding to the atmosphere throughout. 
“Initially I couldn’t find a musical fountain anywhere,” says Stephen before revealing that the one playing in the garden was finally tracked down in Gloucester! “It’s planted with lavender, vines, cupressus “to make it as Italian as possible.”
Ralph Court Gardens are popular with gardeners and non-gardeners alike, as Paula reports ”The Victorians put in two tanks and a well and 12 months ago, we also sank a bore hole.” Having done all the initial work themselves, the growth of the garden has led to two gardeners now being employed as well as two maintenance people.
Additional members of staff will join the team as the tea room and its newly roofed and extended outdoor decking opens for the season, which they’re hoping to extend to all-year opening, though the garden opening will be weather dependent. It will come as no surprise to learn that the tearoom continues the fantastical and imaginative theme – called the Phileas Fogg Tea Room, a reflection of the journey the garden takes its visitors on – with cakes including the Mad Hatter’s cake and a jungle banana cake.
Although it is not open to the public, Stephen walks me round the kitchen garden, which also offers a glimpse of the magnificent laburnum arch behind the house – I’d always wanted one, says Stephen. “And the bees love it.”
Here, a wealth of fruit and vegetables are grown, most of it destined for the café – and including heritage carrots, beetroot in an array of colours, asparagus, tomatoes, raspberries, leeks and butternut squash …. With pumpkins grown for the gardens’ annual Halloween extravaganza, and apples and pears from the orchard beyond the garden.
“We do propagate a fair bit,” Stephen says, but adds that it’s not always practical when designing a new garden which calls for a degree of maturity in the planting for its full effect, “When we started we needed to get as much maturity in as soon as possible but we do buy shrubs in and grow them on, too.
“We pack the plants in to fill the spaces,” he continues, “… and then we have to start pulling some out.” He explains that 95% of the planting throughout the gardens has been done by him and Paula.
The most recent addition is the Monet garden, though, as Stephen explains “We didn’t have the space for all the Giverny garden,” so he has recreated the Japanese garden, which is first glimpsed through a frame in a small gallery of Monet prints. “We’ve tried to plant as much in the colours he used – the green on the bridge, too, is the green he used.”
But there’s no standing still at Ralph Court Gardens and no sense, with a lot of land still uncultivated, that Stephen has exhausted his creative potential – there are two more gardens in the early stages of development but he’s not giving anything away … yet! 
Ralph Court Gardens
Edwyn Ralph, Bromyard
01885 483225