Planting details at Great Dixter
This was the home of one of the last centuries greatest garden thinks and writers, centred on a property remodelled and extended by Edward Luytens for his parents this was the lifelong home of Christopher Lloyd. Though initially he inherited the garden from his parents it became the practical extension of Lloyds thought experiments in horticulture. Christopher Lloyd was a plantsman first and foremost and this is demonstrated by the gardens reliance on plants with little importance in its layout to hard landscaping. His parents were very much of the Arts and Craft movement but he took this forward creating a plant centred garden at odds with the “outdoors Room” style which tends to prevail with its heavy reliance on paving and gravel.
With his death in 2006 the house and gardens passed to a charitable trust, he never married or had children, and his head gardener is now responsible for the garden. The nursery he ran from the garden is still trading and there is a continuity so the gardens future financially seems very sound. The question has to be what happens to the garden in the longer term, during Christopher Lloyd’s life it was in a constant state of development as he tried out new ideas but with his death that driving force has gone so is it to remain preserved as a lasting monument and national-trustified or will some very brave individual take it on evolve it into a new form; something a trust could never do.
The reflecting pond at Hidcote
Few gardens have had the impact that Hidcote Manor has had and this is reflected in that not only was it the first garden to be acquired by the National Trust on the garden alone merit but it passed to the Trust prior to its creators death. Divided into compartments by hedges to form individual gardens it could become claustrophobic and inward looking but this is prevented by the use of vistas and borrowed views of the surrounding open countryside.
Much is said of the structure of the garden but Lawrence Johnson was a plantsman at heart and this structure was merely there to display the plants he gathered around him. Like all great gardens this was very much one man’s obsession; Johnson never married and was a quiet man about which little is known. His gardening philosophy he never discussed or recorded so why he design the garden in the way it is we can only speculate on bases in the garden he left.
Hidcote is very much a one off which you can comfortably spend hours exploring and which no one has successfully reproduced. It is often held up as an example of how dividing up a garden makes a small garden bigger but this shows a lack of understanding of how the garden works. For a start the gardens cover about 10 acres so each room can be on a human scale, which a smaller area would not allow. Also the garden makes use of long vistas out into the surrounding countryside.
Bog garden detail at Hillier garden
This garden started out as a small garden around the home of the late Sir Harold Hillier, of Hillier Nurseries. Here he set out to create as large a collection of woody plants that could be grown outdoors in southern England as he could and as the head of Hillier Nurseries, with its vast plant list, he had a good start. The garden has now grown to 180 acres and is now run as a trust by Hampshire County Council.
Initially referred to as a garden and arboretum it is far more than a living collection and covers all forms of ornamental plants. The gardens were very much Hillier’s belief of what a garden should be and that was to show off the beauty of plants. The garden is therefore the result of the rare combination of a passion for plants, a vast horticultural knowledge and the resources to bring his vision to reality.
The garden manages to be both a stunning garden and a valuable horticultural resource full of rare and important plants, holding several national collections.
Vegetable garden detail at Inverewe Garden
In 1862 the Mackenzie family purchased the 2000 acre Inverewe estate on the North West coast of Scotland and the 20 year old Osgood Mackenzie started to make himself a garden. He chose his site well; though 57° 46’ north, and so north of Inverness, the location benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This wasn’t its only advantage as located at the southern base of the sea Loch Ewe providing shelter from the surrounding hills. To augment this McKenzie planted extensive wood lands to the east to shelter the site, an area which is now an important wildlife habitat.
This wise choice of location and its improvement allowed the garden to grow a vast range of plants that would not have otherwise survived the winters. This was helped by the early construction of the walled garden and the improvement of the land with large amounts of topsoil. The garden outside the walled area uses the shelter of trees which shelter the larger shrubs and these shelter smaller plants and so on down.
This garden demonstrates how both the local surroundings and careful improvement can be as big an influence on the potential of a site of a garden as the physical location on a map.
Built in the 1620’s, the hall it is typically Tudor in appearance, and occupied up to middle of the 20th century by which time the house and gardens were derelict. The gardens themselves did not appear to be developed until the end of the 18th century when the road was moved away from the house and the parkland to the north and east of the house was screened from the road by a wall of knapped cobbles. The wall is still present and cobbles, knapped or not, are a common building material in the area.
A map 1839 shows the house and outbuildings set in parkland with woodlands and a lake formed from damming the Kiplin Beck to form fish ponds. By the1860’s the garden boasted an extensive plant list and the 19th centre also saw a new drive leading through the parkland to a lodge which is still on the Scorton to Nothallerton road, although the drive has long gone. The entrance to the front of the house was further improved by the addition the existing grand gate way and lime avenue. Most of the hedging also date from this time and by the end of the century the garden had probably reached its peak.
Like many Victorian gardens it was to prove unsustainable and by the 21st century only the major structural elements could be found. Fortunately a local group of volunteers where able to take charge of the property and with help from the grants and the earnings from the gravel rights have begun to return the gardens to their Victorian appearance.
At present the gardens are still in the early stages but are showing great promise notably in the walled vegetable garden and the front of the house. The rear now has a large lake formed from the extraction of gravel but this has been sympathetically landscaped and the gothic styled folly, believed to date from the mid-18th century or early 19th century, has been preserved now looks over the lake.
Ludwig Messel’s Sussex garden was and still is more about plants than design. When Ludwig purchased the estate in 1890 the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway had built up a large network of railway lines covering the Sussex making the area an easy weekend commute from London and a depressed agricultural sector (caused at least in part by the improved transport infrastructure of the time) made land affordable. The Messel family had been Jewish financiers in Germany and Ludwig had come to England in the hope of making his fortune in what was one of the great financial capitols of the world. Being one of the nouveau rich, and an immigrant as well, Ludwig Messel naturally sort acceptance in the circles of established wealth. At the same time the British Empire had spread over the globe bringing with it discoveries back which in turn fuelled the search for more – not least in the form of plants.
This all came together so that by the latter part of the 19th century you had:
- Rural Sussex with very good transport links to London.
- Relatively cheap land.
- An influx of new garden plants from abroad, notably the Far East.
- An established wealthy class with a long history of horticultural innovation.
- A class of new very wealthy and socially ambitious individuals.
This lead to a cluster of fine gardens in the area, but Nymans has two other advantages. One a new owner who not only rapidly developed a passion of gardening but who also developed an excellent horticultural knowledge and in addition an exceptional head gardener in James Comber who guided the garden from 1895 until his death in 1953 at the age of 87.
The garden benefited from advice and help from wide circle as a result of friendship, connections and marriage. This together with, in the early days at least, a ready supply of money created a melting pot of ideas. The many of new plants from around the world found a ready home in the garden where their hardiness and garden worthiness were assessed. This with the active plant exchanges with fellow garden owners and hybridisation created Nymans fame.
Ultimate the depletion of the family’s finances and the lack of skilled staff after the world wars meant a few months after James Comber’s death the house and gardens came into the possession of the National Trust. His successors have taken on the role of maintaining the garden rather than its development. The house is presently a boarded up ruin following its near complete destruction in a fire in 1947 and is likely to remain so without a very generous legacy, but the gardens remain as an excellent example of late Victorian gardening at its best.
The white garden at les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac
The most remarkable thing about this garden is how young it is. I have often been faced with the modern demand for instant gardens resulting in the only hedges being of the much over used leyandii conifers and the problems they can cause. Yet in the early 1960s Gilles Sermadiras de Pouzols de Lille, with no formal horticultural training, decided to replace the English style garden around the family’s hereditary home with one in the French style. I’m sure if someone was to decide to replace an original English landscape garden today there would be an uproar, but then again that only replaced an early garden in the French style, but I am glad he did.
This is not an original garden 17th century garden reconstructed but a 20th century garden created in the style of a formal 17th century French garden. This is a modern garden, which the owners continue to develop, that just uses and re-interprets the underlying design principles of this style garden. To this end a very limited range of plants are used and they are controlled to create a very artificial environment.
The dominant feature of the garden is the topiary which uses the traditional plants hornbeam, box and yew and is all hand trimmed by a team of 6 gardeners repeatedly through the growing season. This may seem laborious and I do not believe a more plant oriented garden could justify this much labour being spent on hedge trimming. That said I have seen the same thing in other gardens in the same region and it is indicative of the essence of the garden and further more French believe in artisans working in traditional ways.
At close to 10 acres this is a large garden filled with clever and complex topiary and using many tricks of light and perspective. The colour palette is deliberately very restrictive, and there is a particularly nice white garden, though in a very different style to the famous one at Sissinghurst Castle. Eyrignac is not a plantsman’s garden but a celebration of the gardener’s art and what can be achieved with foresight and imagination.
The stables garden at le Château de Losse
The château and garden are situated on a rock outcrop which forms the west bank of the river Vézère and the château and stables are protected on the remaining three sides by a deep dry moat as fits its original purpose as a fortress. The hall of the château dates from 1576 and has remained unaltered since the 16th century.
The gardens are principally in three areas one to the north in what was the area for the stables, one to the south of the courtyard and one immediately south of the moat. The gardens rely on careful pruning to form a controlled ad inward looking style with little regards to the countryside or views of the river.
The stables garden is dominated by four symmetrical shapes each a reflection in the cardinal axes using clipped box with lavender and cotton lavender. This simple design is lifted by a simple rill running north/south from a wall fountain at the south end. What would be a rather flat design is then lifted with carefully placed fastigiated conifers and by clothing the soft gold stone wall with green foliage.
The area to the south of the moat is a simple design using hornbeam hedging with some areas of colourful planting in the enclosed space. By this area is an unusual pleached hedge with a conventional low hedge at the bottom and then three tires of pleaching above it.
The Palm House Kew Gardens
Formally called the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew the gardens are said to have begun in 1759 when Princess Augusta started constructing a 9 acre garden around Kew Palace, though there may well have been some garden around the palace before this. It has now grown to over 300 acres in one of the world’s biggest cities.
Kew is where horticulture and botany overlap and merge. As well as being a stunning garden this is a vast living collection of plants from all around the world many of which reached the west via Kew. If you are looking for to find what a specific plant looks like you can go onto the Kew Gardens website and see if they are growing it and where, alternatively you can trust to serendipity and allow the garden to inspire you.
Although not really a “garden” it is one of the finest living collections of plants in the world and therefore worth several visits by anyone interested in plants.
Sculpture at Brodsworth Hall
Situated just 6 miles North West of Doncaster this is a garden you will find or hear little about which is a great shame as it is an excellent example of a garden of a wealthy English gentlemen in the mid-19th century. Funded as a result of a most peculiar will, the house and grounds were created for Mr Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson in the 1860s and as a result of remaining the house remaining in the same family, all be it with a decreasing ability to afford it upkeep, meant it remained virtually untouched from the manner Charles Thellusson left it in.
This unusual history means we are left a rare glimpse of what a mid-Victorian garden might of look like. I say “might of” not as a criticism of its present owns English Heritage, who have done an excellent job of restoring the house and gardens, but because it is just one person’s garden and therefore their personal view of what a garden should look like at that time.
As it was Charles Thellusson chose what has been described as an Italianate style, with grass terraces linked by steps to the north and west elevations of the house along with the extensive use of statuary in the classical style. The house is not visible from the gates and is revealed as you approach it along a sweeping drive through a large lawn, in the manner of the early landscape movement but greatly scaled down. The majority of the garden lies to the north and east with a rose garden, rockery, bedding, topiary and wild garden each in its own allotted area. 50 years later the idea of compartmentalising a garden into areas or rooms fully matured with the creation of Hidcote.
Bodsworth Hall therefore shows a step in the evolution of the English garden from the sweeping vistas of the landscape movement towards what would become the arts and crafts gardens in the early part of the 20th century as gardens sort to accommodate the influx of plants from around the world.