Discovering new gardens

I’ve been venturing further afield with a Garden Media Guild trip to see two of Herefordshire’s notable gardens.

Not even icy air and occasional hail storms can dull the delight at discovering new gardens. Not that the two I visited last week were entirely unknown to me. I interviewed Sir Roy Strong and reviewed his book about The Laskett some years ago, while the country plot of Tamsin Westhorpe, former editor of The English Garden magazine, is well-known in gardening media circles. But I had never seen them and was intrigued.

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The Dingle is Tamsin’s favourite area

We started with the four-acre Stockton Bury, and what Tamsin describes as “quite a new garden”.

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White wood anemones made a lovely display

These include a working kitchen garden with beautifully shaped apple trees, shrub and perennial borders and a water garden, all set against some stunning old buildings: the dovecot with an entrance so low even I had to duck and barns that are now used for displays of old tools and as a restaurant.

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I’d not seen a white form of the skunk cabbage before
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Moss on walls and staddle stones gave the garden an established feel

Although horticultural standards are high with weed-free beds and neat lawn edges – helped by wooden edging boards – this is part of a working farm and the garden has to work with, among other things, moving stock.

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Tender plants were sheltering in the greenhouse

“It’s the scariest event when we have these sheep coming through,” Tamsin tells us.

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Tropaeolum tricolour

Among the highlights for me were the Dingle, a spring-fed water garden that Tamsin says is her favourite place to work, and the newly constructed auricula theatre alongside the farmhouse.

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The auriculas are a recent addition
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I also liked the informality of the garden with plants spilling out of walls

The Laskett is another relatively young garden, created by Sir Roy Strong and his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman.

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There’s topiary throughout The Laskett

Sir Roy describes it as autobiographical, not least because the garden was funded by the couple’s work in the arts; Julia was a designer, Sir Roy director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Colonnade Court replaced the kitchen garden in 2013.

The garden is like a four-acre series of stage sets, many named for events – ‘The Silver Jubilee Garden’ – or for the source of funding, such as the ‘Pierpont Morgan Rose Garden’, paid for with the fee for a series of lectures Sir Roy gave in New York. I particularly liked Elizabeth Tudor Avenue with its juxtaposition of pleached limes, swagged beech and clipped yew.

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Contrasting hedges in Elizabeth Tudor Avenue
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The pleached lime was much admired

There are numerous ‘props’: statues, urns, and rescued pieces of ancient stonework, including pieces from the old Palace of Westminster.

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Crowned rose from the old Palace of Westminster which burned down in 1834.

And, like any good stage set, there are multiple ways to enter and exit each space, with long vistas or tempting glimpses enticing you to explore.

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The Silver Jubilee Garden

The Laskett, once a purely private space, has opened regularly since 2010.

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The apple blossom was lovely

“It’s given me a new focus in my life,” says Sir Roy, who has bequeathed the garden to horticulture charity Perennial. “It’s such a delight to share it.”

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The Diamond Jubilee Urn at The Laskett

The Laskett is open to pre-booked groups from mid-April to the end of September. Details on the website

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Beehives at Stockton Bury garden

Stockton Bury is open to groups by appointment from April to the end of September. See website for details.

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Review: The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden by Roy Strong

Did Shakespeare garden? Visitors to Stratford could be forgiven for thinking so as the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust maintains five gardens at houses associated with the Bard, including New Place, which has just undergone a £6m transformation.

Yet, as art historian and landscape designer Sir Roy Strong outlines in his latest book, The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden, the New Place plot owes as much to nostalgia, patriotism and a dislike for Victorian bedding as it does to historical fact.

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Sir Roy Strong launching his new book in Stratford-upon-Avon

The recent revamping of New Place included an overhaul of its Elizabethan-style knot garden, first created in 1920 by Ernest Law.

It’s this knot garden, says Sir Roy, that occupies a special place in gardening history.

“. . . this recreated Elizabethan garden is not just sentimental curiosity but a milestone in the emergence of garden history and recreation,” he tells us and he describes the garden, created after a public appeal for funds, as “the first major public attempt in England to accurately recreate a garden of another age.”

The appeal of the past and, in particular, what was considered to be a golden age was shaped also by the timing of the New Place garden, coming two years after the First World War.

“Amid the turbulence of that era, security and tranquillity were seen to reside in recreating the past,” comments Sir Roy.

Part of the reimagined New Place garden

The knot garden was laid out ‘in accordance with authentic contemporary plans’ but these were not specific to New Place; although contemporary reports state that it had a ‘greate garden’ beyond that nothing is known about it, including whether Shakespeare altered what was there when he bought the property in 1597.

However, the book is not concerned so much with the building of this garden as with the emergence of the idea of garden history and the linking of Shakespeare with nature that together provided the impetus for its creation.

In his characteristic lively style, Sir Roy takes us on a journey through the past covering the influence of the 18th century actor David Garrick on Shakespeare’s popular image, the Victorian fashion for the ‘language of flowers’ and the beginnings of the study of the history of the English garden.

Along the way, we encounter the flower-obsessed novelist Marie Corelli, Daisy, Countess of Warwick, who planted a ‘Shakespeare border’, and Henry Ellacombe, who first considered the idea of Elizabethan gardening in his 1878 book The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare.

Ellacombe, we discover, was particularly attracted to the idea of Elizabethan gardening because he considered Shakespeare’s flowers to be ‘thoroughly English’ and hated the Victorian practice of planting tender annuals from Central and South America.

“ . . . it offered ammunition in the battle against mid-Victorian bedding out,” explains Sir Roy, former director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The New Place garden

Of course, much of the alliance between Shakespeare and nature comes from the many references to flowers in his plays and these are quoted throughout the book.

They, along with paintings depicting the plays, details from Elizabethan gardening books and old photographs, help to break up what is carefully researched text, sometimes literally as I found my train of thought distracted by an engraving or quote.

The book concludes with Francis Bacon’s 1625 essay in which he outlines his views on what a garden should contain, something he describes as ‘the purest of human pleasures’.

The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden by Roy Strong is published in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust by Thames & Hudson, priced £14.95 RRP. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Thames & Hudson.

Read Roy Strong on Shakespeare, Gardens and Hanging Baskets here and about my visit to his garden, The Laskett, here

More more of my book reviews here

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