What is not to love about this hut at Bryan’s Ground? What you can’t see from this picture is that it overlooks a lake. And inside, it has loads of pretty pictures stuck to the wall – thank you notes, birthday cards, postcards etc – things that are nice to keep, but often hidden away. I have a box of exactly the same things at home, and I’ve stuck some of them on the wall in my study so that I can look at them every day – a little homage to this hut.
So Hidcote was lovely, but Bryan’s Ground was on another level entirely. The moment I clapped eyes on the first part of the garden – topiary with interspersed with lilies, lupins, foxgloves and tons of giant fennel, I knew it was something special. Naomi felt exactly the same.
This is a very personal garden, created by Simon Wheeler and Simon Dorrell over many years. It feels intimate, personal and wildly imaginative. Maybe a good way to describe it would be ‘controlled chaos’ – the layout of the garden is carefully thought out, with perfectly framed vistas at every turn, but it’s flamboyant, overgrown and heavily reliant on self-seeders. Even the topiary cones on the main lawn have hardy geraniums sprouting out of them them. There’s a real sense that the owners cherish it, nurture it – and let it do it’s own thing.
It’s shot straight into my mental list of my ‘Top 10 favourite gardens of all time’ – I must do a post on that someday…
When I did a garden design course years ago, we all had to do a project on a designer/plantsperson of our choice. For some reason I chose Rosemary Verey, who wasn’t strictly a garden designer – rather an extremely well connected ‘owner-gardener’. But I was fascinated by the idea of potagers and knew that she had created one in the garden at her home, Barnsley House.
The house is now a hotel but you can still see the garden by either going for lunch or tea, taking a pre-booked group tour, or by paying £10 (including a coffee and a petit four), which is the option we went for. It’s a pretty classy establishment and we weren’t exactly dressed for it, but the staff couldn’t have been friendlier – they urged us to make ourselves comfortable in the armchairs near the log fire (yes, in July – the weather was terrible) while we sipped our coffees.
Afterwards, we pretty much had the garden to ourselves. It is famous for its Laburnum Walk, which had gone over by the time of our visit, of course, and the Lime Walk. I’ve seen a couple of lime walks recently, and have to say that I’ve found them rather dark and oppressive. I’m sure they’re lovely in spring when they’re just coming into leaf, with spring planting underneath, though.
But of course, we made a beeline for the potager. It’s huge – bigger than most people’s gardens – but there were plenty of ideas that could be scaled down for a smaller garden. It’s intricately laid out to a design that is not dissimilar to a knot garden, and is full of structure – topiary, trained fruit trees, box edging, arches, attractive plant supports and so on. Interestingly, some veg, such as courgettes, squashes etc aren’t grown in the potager, presumably because they take up too much room and don’t look as attractive – they’re grown in a nearby veg patch. The potager is saved for the prettier crops – globe artichokes, tree fruit, alpine strawberries and herbs. Plus flowers of course – opium poppies added splashes of colour everywhere. I loved the living willow supports for sweet peas.
Of course, my own veg patch looks woeful in comparison. I did manage to divide it up with loose brick paths earlier in the year, and was full of good intentions, but I took my eye off the ball just when the plot needed attention. The runner beans and courgettes got eaten by slugs, so I had to buy plants from the garden centre (a very expensive way of doing things) and my autumn-fruiting raspberries went down with a virus. Many of my flowers for cutting just haven’t got going. I have resolved that there are going to be some changes next year…
Last weekend I went garden visiting with a fellow gardening anorak, Naomi over at Out of My Shed. It was great to be able to visit gardens for two whole days, without worrying about my companion getting fidgety and bored. Plus, Naomi has a van, which meant I didn’t have to hold back on buying plants – or heed concerns over a lack of room in the boot or getting the car dirty.
We went to some great gardens, more of which in future posts. I was blown away by how immaculate Hidcote was, and how beautiful. I was also blown away by the crowds. I was expecting it to be busy, but the garden was so packed that it was sometimes impossible to progress through it. I’ve heard Troy Scott-Smith, the head gardener at Sissinghurst, talk about the challenges of working in a garden that attracts such high visitor numbers – it must be a similar case for the team here.
I was also blown away by the behaviour of the visitors. There was no escaping a woman in mustard-coloured trousers who alternated between marching around the garden and standing abruptly still, talking very loudly on her mobile. With her free hand, she was waving her SLR randomly about, snapping photos without looking at what she was doing. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.
People were also manhandling the plants with gay abandon, and in one case, filching plant material. At neighbouring Kiftsgate, I witnessed a group of people speculating about the depth of the pool, then lowering their golfing umbrellas into the water to measure it (in case you’re wondering, it’s a couple of feet deep). They then walked off, umbrellas dripping everywhere, looking very pleased with themselves. (Also at Kiftsgate, a group of Germans were having a conversation about black stockings: ‘Black Stockings? Ja, Black Stockings! Black Stockings! I can only assume they were talking about a plant variety.)
But I digress. Hidcote was truly lovely, and if there hadn’t have been so many people there, I might have taken some nice photos. Here are two that I did manage to take.
Inspired by my neighbour, who has one in her garden, I planted a stauntonia at the back of the border last year. I was a bit disappointed with it – it was billed as ‘vigorous’ but didn’t grow much. In fact, it didn’t do much at all. I feared for it over the winter – it’s supposed to be planted in a sheltered spot, and I had planted it in an exposed, windy one (as has my neighbour).
This year, it has romped away, clothing several feet of fence, which is exactly what I wanted it to do. But it’s main virtue is its incredible scent, which comes from the tiny, insignificant flowers. It’s so intoxicating that I can’t tear myself away, and as a result the border has never been so well weeded.