In Full Bloom
Much to the delight of their Lockwood Folly neighbors, Ray and Andrea Shead are perfecting the quintessential British cottage garden in the coastal Carolina environment.
Although the vast majority of Lockwood Folly’s 460 acres lies covered in hues of green and brown, look closer and you’ll find a rich kaleidoscope of colors nestled inside the lush golf community.
Residents Ray and Andrea Shead have spent the past year transforming their home’s one-third acre into a vibrant, charming English cottage garden. To the delight and surprise of neighbors, the British couple dedicates hours each day plotting, planting and pruning more than 50 species of flowers and plants.
Having spent years creating a variety of whimsical home gardens in England and the United States, the Sheads have chosen Brunswick County as the location for their final, and most beautiful, living work of art.
Originally from England, Ray’s career as a marketing manager in the technology sector led him and Andrea, a now-retired teacher, to the United States nearly two decades ago. Over the years, the couple lived in Massachusetts, Ohio and both Northern and Southern California, and each of their homes shared one requirement — it had to have room for a garden.
“We’ve lived in nine different homes with gardens, all special in their own way,” Andrea says. “We’ve never lived somewhere without a garden.”
When the Sheads relocated to North Carolina in late 2018, they came across a home in Supply’s Lockwood Folly and immediately fell in love with the layout of the property and size of the grounds. They purchased the house knowing, however, that they would need to start from scratch in order to create their new garden. Although beautiful, the lot, like so many others in the development, didn’t have much color.
“The garden here was nonexistent, so we had to design something we loved that would also fit with the style of the house,” Andrea says. “We have a different style because in England, you have really tiny plots, so you work with what you’ve got and fill it with flowers. Our priority was to bring as much color into the garden as we possibly could with lots of different shades and levels.”
One of the first things the Sheads noticed was the impact that sandy soil and the humid climate had on some of their initial plantings. While a few endeavors were unsuccessful, Andrea was pleasantly surprised to find that other favorites of hers, like hollyhocks, begonias and coleus, preferred the area’s conditions. Working through trial and error, the couple has spent the past year learning how to cultivate a quintessential British cottage garden on the Carolina coast.
“When you come here, you have your ideas of what plants you’d like to put in, but what you find is that the climate won’t handle it,” Ray says. “Some of our favorites, like lupines, won’t grow here. This past year we’ve had a few failures, mostly because we didn’t yet understand the climate or the soil, but then we’ve had other things, like Mexican petunias, growing like crazy. You learn as you go, because that’s gardening for you.”
Andrea’s biggest focus has been on ensuring that the garden is eco-friendly and inviting to all sorts of native wildlife species. Sharing her vision, Ray created a garden pond surrounded by natural stone. The garden’s center features an elegant Italian cypress flanked with blossom trees. Daily visitors include an array of insects, butterflies, frogs, turtles and birds, and the biodiversity is more than welcome.
“We’re letting nature do the right thing, so we don’t use insecticides,” Andrea says. “We have creatures that eat the insects. We have caterpillars like crazy, which I love, and the birds absolutely love them. It’s a cycle really, and you can watch it and learn from it every day.”
With so much outdoor space, the garden is a continuous work in progress. The Sheads focus much of the year on planting, nurturing and designing, while winter months are spent cutting, trimming and documenting all the plants.
“Owning an English garden is a bit like owning an old English sports car,” Ray says. “They’re lovely to look at, lovely to sit in, but a bit of a maintenance nightmare. That’s an English garden for you, always something to do.”
Although the Sheads might call on a gardener for an occasional tree removal, the couple does all the shoveling, planting and cultivating themselves. Having recently completed construction of a winding natural stone path, Ray says his next project will be to build a large gazebo for garden parties.
“We don’t use contractors, much to the amazement of our neighbors who see us chipping away all year, bit by bit,” Andrea says.
Hoping to share a little English tradition with the Lockwood Folly community, the Sheads used their garden as the backdrop for an afternoon tea party last summer. Friends and neighbors dressed up and came out to socialize among the flowers. Aside from the party’s requisite tea, the Sheads also set up a tent where they offered guests a taste of the popular British cocktail, Pimm’s Cup. The party was a huge success and something the couple hopes to make into a recurring neighborhood event.
Ray and Andrea agree that of all the gardens they’ve grown, this one has by far been the most rewarding. Despite the hard work, the Sheads find joy in spending their days outside and sharing a bit of nature’s beauty with the people around them.
“It’s a labor of love, really,” Andrea says. “It’s giving us pleasure, but people walk past and tell us that our garden is giving them so much pleasure too. In these difficult times we’re having now, if we can give people a bit of happiness, then that’s surely what life’s all about.”