Blight, battles and bold beginnings
The laburnum arch at Barnsley House with its golden racemes of flowers hanging down to meet purple alliums below is a picture familiar to garden-lovers the world over. So it came as a surprise to see the garden without the original.
True the last time I met up with head gardener Richard Gatenby we talked about the need for replacement but that didn’t prepare me for the difference it has made.
What had been, even this early in the season, a fairly shady spot is now wide open, changing the dynamics of the planting and giving hitherto unseen views across the garden, created by the late Rosemary Verey.
Revelling in this extra light, things under the arch and in nearby borders are lush and full; leucojum no longer strains for the light and Geranium tuberosum now needs no staking. When I visited red Tulipa ‘Apeldoorn’ was in full blaze but the alliums were showing, promising a good display, and there were tiny flower buds on the new laburnum.
The five-strong Barnsley House team decided against replacing the laburnums, planted in the 1960s, with specially trained trees. Instead they bought what Richard describes as “normal nursery trees” and hand-tied them into a new metal arch, made by blacksmith Michael Clifford from nearby Birdlip, in much the same way that Mrs Verey did.
It’s a method that will give a less polished finish but one that Richard, who has been at Barnsley for nearly 17 years, believes was “part of the charm of the laburnum arch”.
“You get this lovely gardenesque character to it as opposed to something precise.”
Now in its second season, it will probably take another four before the arch begins to approach the display of the original but the signs are good.
Barnsley House, former home of Mrs Verey, a designer who contributed to Highgrove among others, is now a boutique hotel and normally open only to guests. There are some charity days though and this weekend sees the garden, along with several others, open for the village’s 28th annual festival with the gardens competition being judged by Sir Roddy Llewellyn.
As well as changes to the laburnum arch, regular visitors will be able to detect other alterations in the garden, albeit not on such a dramatic scale.
Removing the laburnums gave the team the chance to lift and divide the understorey of planting, while tackling some of the perennial weeds. It’s a battle that is being slowly waged across the garden with a determined campaign against wild chicory and, in particular, ground elder.
Richard admits this had been approached in a rather ad hoc fashion: a bit of digging up; some general spraying of weedkiller; the occasional more targeted application. Now they have decided to work systematically through each bed during the autumn and winter, lifting all but established shrubs and thoroughly clearing the ground and leaving time before replanting with perennials.
Mindful of the need to maintain a good display for Barnsley House guests, Richard will plug any temporary gaps with annual colour including cosmos and dahlias.
Plants they want to keep, such as peonies, are being propagated so that they can replant with young, vigorous replacements and don’t have the hassle of trying to store the originals.
“We won’t have the bother of worrying about transplanting them.”
It’s a big job but one that Richard feels is necessary.
“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” he comments.
He is also taking the opportunity to research Mrs Verey’s original planting and reintroduce things that may have been lost, including more clematis, particularly viticella types.
The other major concern is one common to gardens I see across the region: box blight. The famous knot garden is showing signs of disease and there is blight in many of the garden’s iconic clipped box.
Already the herb garden and some hedges in the potager have been dug up and the team are trialling Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ as a replacement for the low box hedges. Meanwhile, the large box balls are being sprayed regularly with Topbuxus Health-Mix. It will be interesting to see if they can be salvaged.
Elsewhere, the vegetable garden, created in the adjacent ridge and furrow field, is getting a new planting of bulbs and meadow flowers to make the immediate impact more appealing.
“It’s not quite an orthodox meadow but something that will have colour through a lot of the season.”
Rethinking and renewing are important in any garden and something that Richard feels is a major part of his role: “We’ve trying to keep the garden young, vigorous and youthful.”
• Barnsley Village Festival runs from 9.30-5 on Saturday May 14 with a ‘garden passport’ providing access to the gardens. There will be guided tours at Barnsley House and Herbs for Healing.
The festival also includes The Salvation Army Band, maypole dancing, an organ recital, morris dancing, jazz, a juggling show, a BBQ and refreshments.
For more details, visit Barnsley Festival
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