Tag Archives: Frank Lawley

STEPPING INTO A BANNERMAN GARDEN EN ROUTE TO VAUX-LE-VICOMTE

THE DREAM GARDENS OF LE NÔTRE AND JULIAN & ISABEL BANNERMAN

img_3140View through an old glass pane at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte: forest, box parterres (‘broderies’), stone balustrade, moat.

I would like to bet that André le Nôtre and also Isabel and Julian Bannerman would enjoy this view through one of the side windows of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte about an hour south of Paris. The reflection in the old glass gives the image the slightly burnt-out quality of an old photograph. The ordered parkland, the painstakingly curvaceous broderies of clipped box, the restrained, light-catching pallor of the gravel, the perfectly proportioned balustrade of local stone, now blotchy with lichen, and the serried ripples on the shiny blue-green water of the elegant square moat that makes Vaux-le-Vicomte appear to float on water are even more tantalising because they are seen from the inside and make you want to get out and explore the garden for yourself.

img_7461Vaux-le-Vicomte – the approach.

I am on the Eurostar to Paris, and onwards to the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, checking my facts with a certain amount of trepidation: Vaux-le-Vicomte is the precursor to Versailles, an estate of 1235 acres, 8 miles of surrounding wall, 81 acres of French formal garden, 17 acres of water, 1.86 miles main axis, 26 basins in 1661 of which 20 remain, 12 miles of pipework ….

I let the miles go by and allow myself to get lost again in the gloriously enthusiastic new book by Isabel and Julian Bannerman about their ambitious, inventive and heart-on-sleeve approach to garden-making over the last 25 years: Landscape of Dreams.

img_7611Landscape of Dreams by Isabel & Julian Bannerman.

Landscape of Dreams is the finest, most intimate, most generous book about garden-making I have read since Frank Lawley’s Herterton House and a New Country Garden .  It is also fundamentally infectious. Isabel Bannerman takes you step by step through the reading and looking and learning that has evolved into the couple’s personal, ambitious and dream-filled approach to garden making, and you immediately want to follow. “Looking across the shelves here there sit a broad range of heroes: John Aubrey; Inigo Jones; Charles Bridgeman; Thomas Wright; Batty Langley; William Blake; Eric Ravilious; Barbara Jones and Hylton Nel. Books about all the decorative arts as well as architecture and gardening have been pivotal in shaping the way we both think, along with of course observing the real world closely at all times”. You are sent off in so many directions, making lists of who next to find out about, and you feel safe in this exciting, brilliantly layered world where nothing you might find out about will ever be wasted.

There is a French connection in stories of Julian’s childhood. Holidays spent at Tours-sur-Marne staying with the Chauvet family who ran a small champagne house ‘opposite Lauren Perrier’ (a playful pleasure in all things more glamorous than less glamorous is a constant theme). Here Julian absorbed the ‘cyclical and studied way’ of living in France but, although his spoken French remained excellent, the impossibility of passing his Maths O Level ‘put paid to his ideas of becoming an architect’. But you don’t need a Maths O Level to be inspired by everything around you and to put it all to wonderfully good use. Inspiring images, such as American landscape architect Dan Kiley’s description of his long driveway in Connecticut where he had planted so many lilac shrubs that ‘when they flowered in May it resembled a puffing steam train’, were the sort of romantic inspiration that Julian would store away and never forget.

img_3121The entrance facade to Vaux-le-Vicomte – you can glimpse the main part of the garden through the three central arches.

We are crunching along the fine gravel to the entrance of the château itself. Le Nôtre’s great idea was that the central axis of the garden should start with the approach, travel through the house and continue without stopping to the main garden on the other side. I look back at the achingly huge entrance courtyard with unfinished almost Egyptian 17th century stone figures, looking dangerously white against the dark forest and stormy sky beyond and I begin to get excited.

img_7468Entrance Courtyard with unfinished 17th century stone figures at the boundary wall.

Suddenly we are in the Grand Salon, built by architect Louis Le Vau and decorated with paintings by Charles Le Brun, looking out on Le Nôtre’s garden, the whole commissioned as one integrated work of splendour by Louis XIV’s Superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet.  Key to understanding the significance of this commission is that Fouquet brought the three men together for the first time and invited them to take the empty land stretching before them and work together to create something splendid. Fouquet’s rise had been rapid and extraordinary, but his fall was more dramatic still. An extravagant party was held for King Louis XIV on August 17, 1661 – a new play by Molière was just a fraction of the delights on offer – but weeks later Fouquet was imprisoned, and the King requisitioned the entire contents of the château (except for a pair of extremely heavy marble topped tables you can still see in the dining room) and brought Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre to Versailles to transform his hunting lodge along similar lines. Versailles the TV series – with its infamous offer of  ‘sex, violence and intrigue, sometimes simultaneously’ (The Telegraph) –  was filmed mostly at Vaux-le- Vicomte rather than Versailles as there is so much at Vaux that has remained in tact and unchanged.

img_7471View of the garden from the Grand Salon.

Taking my eyes off the view spread out before me for a moment, I am smitten by the glittering candle stands (the château is famous for its magical candlelit evenings every Saturday from May to October when the house and garden are lit by hundreds of candles), the way the black and white stone floor is further chequered by light and shadow from the enormous windows, by glimpses of the garden to the front, back and to both sides, and by the arching sky blue oval ceiling painted with a soaring eagle.

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One of the handsome tiered candle stands catching the light in the Grand Salon.

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img_7472Shadows and light falling across the black and white stone floor.

img_7511 View through to the garden at one of the sides of the château.

img_7476View from the Grand Salon back out to the entrance to the château.

img_7473 img_7489Windows everywhere framing a tempting view of lawn, topiary, and statuary.

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The gorgeous domed oval ceiling painted in the 19th century.

Before I am let loose in the gardens I explore the house. Although richly decorated on almost every surface – my visit coincides with a major restoration programme for many of the painted areas, unusually and imaginatively the restoration is taking place in situ, in full view of the visitors – everything is somehow on a manageable scale. So different to Versailles where to enter the house you have to pass through airport style security and the density of i-phone wielding visitors is overwhelming.

The newly restored Games Room is extremely beautiful with every surface painted, and mirrors and gilt to add depth and glamour. There is a charming table with candle stands and an open game of backgammon which you could almost sit down to play:

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The Games Room with backgammon table and exquisite shutters.

More brief snatches of garden – broderies, water, brick wall and stone figures – through a richly textured series of shuttered windows and patterned floors, and then we are out on the roof top looking down. I love the contrast of chalky grey-blue paint and skinny gold edging with the bright blues and greens of the garden beyond, and I love the promise of light and air in a room so dark that even its shiny floor cannot warm things up.

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Glimpses of garden through a series of windows.

So at last the garden and the opportunity to drink in the scale of ambition and let yourself be fooled by the brilliant tricks of perspective designed for the visitor by le Nôtre. I am not often excited by a cool mathematical approach to gardening, but I do marvel at the cunning and sheer effort involved in making the garden seem longer by increasing the size of objects the further they are from the château –  the circular pool at the centre of the photograph below may seem the same sort of size as the square pool behind it but the square pool is in fact eight times as big.

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From the roof top looking down – the main garden extending into the distance.

img_7520You can start to see that the square pool is considerably bigger than the round pool closer in the foreground.

The square pool turns out to be designed as a reflecting pool, Le Miroir d’Eau, easily and magnificently embracing the reflection of the entire château on a calm day:
img_3181img_7533                                                  The château reflected in the Square Pool, Le Miroir d’Eau.

And then a third surprise, the ‘pool’ beyond the Miroir d’Eau turns out to be a section of canal that extends substantially to the West and East.

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                                                        View to the East along the canal.

img_7539View to the West along the canal.

The path around the garden then splits and takes you up through drooping avenues of plane trees towards the statue of Hercules –  rather staggeringly  Hercules is nearly 2 miles away from the front entrance to the house.

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Hercules at the top of the hill at the centre of an avenue of drooping plane trees.

Hercules was a 19th century addition by Alfred Sommier who bought Vaux-leVicomte in 1875 and spent his lifetime and much of his fortune restoring house and garden. His descendants, the de Vogüé family, still live in the château buildings and run the place passionately, which explains why Vaux feels warmer and more intimate than its state run rivals. Over the winter of 2017 the bronze Hercules will be gilded once more to add another layer of lure and sparkle to this extraordinary garden.

I would love to return and spend more time exploring the garden. On this visit I am invited to whiz around in one of the Vaux-le-vicomte golf buggies and although time is tight (and some nameless people naturally derive a ridiculous amount of pleasure from driving the buggy around the slightly lethal/steep pathways ) I would love to spend another day here, in the Spring with a picnic, and maybe a bike, to do things at an easier pace with time to discover the wilder parts, to appreciate the deft and shifting balance of stone, water, topiary, perhaps even to return to see the fortnightly Water Show – when fountains and cascades are switched on for a couple of spectacular hours. I find myself extremely excited by the idea of the whole thing taking place with no electricity, just brilliant engineering and the pull of gravity.

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Horse Chestnut trees in bloom at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Photograph by Bruno Ehrs from the book A day at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte by Alexandre, Ascanio and Jean-Charles de Vogüé.

img_7531Stone and topiary across water.

img_7523The moat and outbuildings seen from the top of the château.

img_7546Lichen on a stone balustrade.

I would love to come back too to see the filled urns and flower parterres (to the right of the garden as you look down towards the canal) at their height in summer. Here is a golf-buggy-hazy October impression of the flower parterre:

img_7529And here is a photograph of the slightly lost and curious-looking pelargoniums in diminutive pots (well diminutive in such an enormous space) – could there be another approach, I wonder, to this kind of border planting once the resoration to interior painting and garden statuary is complete?img_7518                      Curiously small pots of pelargoniums next to the broderies parterre.

But it is Mathieu Lespagnandel’s statue personifying the Anquiel River which runs through the estate which brings me back to Juilan and Isabel Bannerman:

img_7609Mathieu Lespagnandel’s statue personifying the Anquiel River, photograph by Bruno Ehrs from the book A day at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte by Alexandre, Ascanio and Jean-Charles de Vogüé.

The statue transports me powerfully to the image I have just been looking at of the beautiful, muscly Rother God sculpture constructed of bath stone and Whitstable oyster shells by Tom Verity as part of a Bannerman scheme for Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw at Woolbeding.  

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Tom Verity’s Rother God (bath stone and oyster shells) for Woolbeding, photograph from Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

Isabel and Julian’s verdict on the woodland garden there, particularly the area around the painted Gothic pavilion designed by Pip Jebb, was that it ‘lacked mystery and needed ‘lifting’. Lightness of touch is an intangible quality, something we all always seek to achieve and can never be sure of finding’. The Bannerman proposal was to dramatically cut away the river leading up to the pavilion so that the house would sit on a cliff and ‘for the entrance we lighted upon the idea of a raggedy ruin, a whisper of Northanger Abbey, fragments in the grass, a gothic portal and tracery window’. There followed a thatched rustic hut intricately lined with hazel wands and fir cones, an ‘oozing fountain’ of tufa, a swooping chinese bridge in a rich yellow (to replace the ‘sticky chocolate brown things they had chosen in haste and regretted at leisure’) and an uplifting, contemporary, almost mediterranean garden for National Trust visitors at the house entrance.

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Images of the Rother God, Pip Jebb Gothic Pavilion, Tufa Fountain and yellow Chinese Bridge at Woolbeding from Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

I love Isabel’s storytelling about the way the Bannerman approach to gardens – and indeed houses – has evolved and become an unstoppable way of life. Falling in love with old, derelict, houses has been a long standing addiction. Julian’s first major purchase was a 1727 crumbling pile, The Ivy. The great age of the house ‘sparked in Julian and, later me, a crush on the formal gardens of England, Holland and France in the 17th century, the canals and terraces in Kip’s birds-eye engravings which were heartlessly, ruthlessly rooted out by Capability Brown’. The challenge involved in rescuing such a demanding building ‘appealed to all Julian’s natural love of the underdog and glamour’ and their priorities will always be upside down in the eyes of some. Their great friend, David Vicary, described Julian as impulsive saying it was ‘impetuous for the impecunious’ to plant ‘two avenues of lime trees’ when there was ‘barely a flushing lavatory on the premises’. It was the same friend who ‘taught that nothing is new, nothing is original and nothing comes wholly formed from the imagination. It is all observed and logged and then drawn on and altered, adapted or amended to a particular situation.’ Drawing constantly on all they have learnt, their goal is to create quiet settled spaces – ‘we like the kind of dreamy ‘left alone’ quality that allows the garden and the person in it to be.’

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The Antler Temple at Houghton Hall from Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

After the absorption of history comes the need to make and invent. The temples at Highgrove were inspired as much by Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta as by a souvenir cork model of the Temple of Concord, Agrigento, Sicily which they had bought in the visitor’s car park. Scouring for old building materials or the right plant requires a constant eagle eye – they spotted the spreading fifty year old mulberry tree for their 1994 Chelsea garden driving back from a Sunday lunch with Julian’s parents, their car full of young children. A small but perfect example of their tirelessness and attention to detail is their solution for a 70th birthday present for Paul Getty, for whom they had been ambitiously and painstakingly transforming a garden in the Chilterns. ‘At a loss for a present we gave him seventy little oak seedlings in a box which we had grown from acorns picked from the veteran oak at Hanham Court, a tree under which James II had dined on venison in an act of reconciliation with the owners following a misunderstanding during the Monmouth Rebellion’.

And at its best, despite the hard work, they manage to make making gardens tremendous fun. ‘Building Euridge’ (for Jigsaw founder, John Robinson) ‘was probably the happiest thing we have ever done. It involved many children, dogs, stonemasons, chippies, hippies, builders and project managers, drinking, dancing, fancy dress, head-scratching, problem solving …’ or at Highgrove ‘The Prince himself would sneak out whenever possible and help, chat, despair of Julian’s Coca-Cola drinking and send for tea and sandwiches to be shared by everyone among the roots’.

img_7617Wisteria against the house wall at Hanham Court from Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

But the pair’s approach to planting, their deeply knowledgeable, tried and tested, passionate understanding of how plants work together to create atmosphere is perhaps the most uplifting element in the book. I remember visiting Hanham Court near Bristol whilst the Bannermans still lived there. It was possibly the only time I have been truly blown away by the scent of wisteria which hit you as you entered the garden through a darkened gateway and stepped into the sunshine under the south facing walls of the house which was completely smothered in the most voluptuous purple flowers. I remember fantastic, simple, but astonishingly effective, combinations of yew mounds, Euphorbia characias, Iris pallida subsp. pallida and Erysimum Bowles Mauve, and elsewhere yew, Iris pallida subsp. pallida, with the silvery Eryngium bourgatii. I remember being introduced to their new passion, the yellow magnolia (I am now completely hooked), I remember the louche, comfortable, faded Riviera feel of the planting and ‘ruined’ buildings around the swimming pool and, most of all, I remember a deep romantic enthusiasm for a certain kind of enduring English garden plant (NB my copy of the book is already covered in notes).

img_7621Yew, Iris pallida subsp. pallida, Hanham Court from Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

img_7631The swimming pool Hanham Court, from Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

There is huge generosity here and so much to learn – why Isabel will choose Noisette roses for a house wall ‘because they are long-flowering, tend to be exquisitely scented and have a great ‘garlanded’ quality forming natural swags of flowers ‘and  how they might use ‘ferns, ash sapling, ivy, primroses, cowslips, rambling roses, valerian and acanthus’ to create an ancient feel to a newly built structure. Do not dismiss her throw away description of the outer ring of the Rose Garden at Houghton Hall ‘mixed Sissinghurst-like planting, shrubs and shrub roses underplanted with delights. Just the usual favourites, philadelphus, lilac, old fashioned roses washed about with pinks and aquilegias’ – it is this insistence on plants like philadelphus, lilac and old fashion roses (and plenty of them) to make a garden feel lived in, that can be too often missed in the more calculated contemporary planting plan. Isabel describes visiting ‘Queen of Hellebores, Helen Ballard’ where they learnt about north-facing borders and the winning combination of snowdrops, hellebores and species peonies. For Houghton Hall they are keen to create ‘a peony border mixed with regale lilies, a pairing we had seen in Vaux-le-Vicomte and vowed to reproduce’.

And so we are back at Vaux where I feel that the current châtelaine, the ever glamorous Comtesse de Vogüé, has not a little in common with Julian Bannerman and his pleasure in high standards, celebration of the past and the all round delight of living.

img_7608The Comtesse de Vogüé in the black and white tiled Grand Salon at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Photograph by Bruno Ehrs from the book A day at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte by Alexandre, Ascanio and Jean-Charles de Vogüé.

img_7606The Comtesse de Vogüé’s Floating Island with Pink Pralines and Green Tea Custard – a family recipe. Photograph by Bruno Ehrs from the book A day at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte by Alexandre, Ascanio and Jean-Charles de Vogüé.

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Julian Bannerman in the Smoking Garden with black and white tiled floor and shell fountain they designed for ‘private members’ establishment’, 5 Hertford Street. From Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

My second bet is that this splendidly outrageous scene from the Bond movie Moonraker, with the elegant Vaux-le-Vicomte as a backdrop, has all the theatrical, fun, immaculately executed ingredients to please Julian and Isabel Bannerman immensely.

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Scene from Moonraker, shot at Vaux in 1978 with Roger Moore playing James Bond,  Photograph from the book A day at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte by Alexandre, Ascanio and Jean-Charles de Vogüé.

HERTERTON AND CAMBO: TWO LUMINOUS GARDENS FOR A DAMP OCTOBER DAY –

(AND A HOUSE TO TOAST YOUR TOES IN)

IMG_2818Cercidiphyllum japonicum, brilliant and toffee-scented at the entrance to the Walled Garden on the Cambo Estate, Fife

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Crocosmia x crocosmiiliflora ‘George Davison’ with Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’, Herterton House, Northumberland

It is early October and we are finally travelling up the M1 to deposit one son at Durham University and visit his twin brother at St. Andrews, another long 175 miles further North.

IMG_2643The road North, October 4th 2015

We pass Hatfield House, where only the day before at the Garden Museum Literary Festival I had fallen for the avenue of glowing storybook medlar trees laden with fat yellow quince:

IMG_2638IMG_2629IMG_2640                                Medlar and Quince trees, laden with fruit, Hatfield House

Deep in the car boot, under duvets and trumpets and carrier bags of cereal and chocolate bars, I have not forgotten the book that has recently taken over my life, my study, my entire approach to making a garden, (and indeed a home): Frank Lawley’s inspiring ‘Herterton House and a New Country Garden’ newly published by Pimpernell Press.

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Frank and his wife, Marjorie have spent forty years steadfastly creating a personal, multi-layered garden and a deeply comfortable home out of an acre of Northumberland and a dilapidated stone barn – the whole of which is rented from the National Trust. Frank’s story of the evolution of Herterton is a book to be read in so many different ways – it is a rare and intoxicatingly honest autobiography of a life stretched to great things by industry and imagination, it is an illuminating history of gardening covering the still rather veiled period of Post War Britain and the second half of the Twentieth Century, and it is a precious practical guidebook, manual even, taking the reader with extraordinary thoughtfulness and generosity through every step of the creation of the garden and house.

I am inspired by the couple’s decades of hard work. ‘It is remarkable to discover what can be done if it has to be done and how absorbing it is to do it’ writes Frank, describing his approach to their disciplined year-round approach to developing the house and garden. ‘Holidays have not featured’: there is outdoor work when it is light and needlework, seed sorting or researching until nine ‘oclock at night. But the hard work is always driven by an enormous sense of satisfaction and pleasure in what has been created. The couple met as art students in Newcastle –  ‘while Newcastle had many Chinese restuarants there was only one Jazz club – and there was Marjorie!’ – and they spent their first few years together in Marjorie’s home territory of the Wallington Estate, which had been the vibrant, generous home of the socialist MP, Charles Trevelyan, where learning about design, plants, furniture, porcelain was to be had if you opened your eyes to it.

As Frank Lawley describes the avid way the pair went about scanning the world around them, trying to work out what sort of world they might want to create for themselves, you cannot help learning too. They fall almost accidentally into a love of gardening – knowing that there must be something beyond a strip of lawn and a straight border for flowering plants, but genuinely not being sure what. They hitchhiked their way around Britain – Frank points out that Post War Britain was a perfect time for free travel, the generosity of drivers an enduring legacy of a system that evolved for off-duty soldiers to find their way home – and they read books on garden and architectural history painstakingly ordered from the mobile library. As they visit Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, they look hard and take notes (of Dixter: ‘when we looked inside the house …the furnishing was perfect and masterly’). Alongside the once in a lifetime visits, they drink in the wisdom of books by Nathaniel Lloyd (‘The History of the English House’ (1931) and ‘Topiary, Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box’ (1925)) and Ralph Dutton (‘The English Garden’ (1937) and ‘The English English Country House’ (1936)). As I read about Herterton, a small pile of wonderful second hand books forms on my own study table in an attempt to keep up with the Lawleys:LLOYDIMG_0001

81LWsdyE02LOn visits to local churches and to Ely and Durham Cathedrals, Frank and Marjorie Lawley observe that church gardens ‘offered hollies and yews, sometimes beautifully clipped … and that they were often ‘surrounded by reassuring stone walls.’  The great step forward –  ‘perhaps our greatest discovery’ came when they visited the Elizabethan Anne Hathaways’ Cottage and Gardens and Mary Arden’s House at Stratford-upon-Avon. At Anne Hathaway’s cottage ‘the garden planting was unsophisticated, here were the daisies, thrift and pinks we knew. The house border had clipped yews and ivy …glorious  furniture inside …pieces of vernacular character’ which ‘all looked so comfortably at home.’ At Mary Arden’s house they were delighted to see how the box hedge ‘bulged and spread, denying any entry by path’ and the interior of the house struck them both deeply ‘you could have toasted toes there’. Crucially they had discovered that ‘making small houses and gardens come to life seemed important’ and, despite the huge challenges of money, labour, exposed situation, this discovery, as well as a joint life-long love of the notion of home expressed in WInd in the Willows, propelled them forwards.

I will leave you to read the step-by-step account for yourself and to enjoy Marjorie’s beautiful, utterly idiosyncratic, garden plans, as well as the garden itself when it is open again next spring. (The house is not open to the public, but the garden is open daily, 1.30 -5.30 pm, except Tuesday and Thursday, from April to September).

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Two of the Marjorie Lawley’s hand drawn plans for the garden at Herterton

The slow pace with which this garden has evolved is extraordinary a world which is speeding along ever faster. Except for a number of more mature shrubs acquired in the 70’s from Matheson’s nursery which was sadly closing down, Marjorie has propagated everything for the garden herself. Who else will you find just beginning a garden of this this size and ambition, noting happily that ‘Marjorie had now a good collection of yew and holly seedlings, already six inches high’? Equally, when Frank very generously walks us around the garden on our pilgrimage forty years later, who else is likely to look at the roof of the yew ‘Sitouterie’, which is not yet joined at the top, and calmly advise that ‘it’s about to happen’ – meaning, on closer questioning, that the yew will join in two or three year’s time! (A ‘Sitouterie’, if you do not know, as I did not, is a sheltered place, usually created from a single shrub, with a space carved out at the base to ‘sit’ ‘out’ ‘in’).

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The ‘nearly finished’ yew Sitouterie

It is so wet during our walk around the garden that all photos are, I am afraid, rather dank-looking iphone images, but you will, I hope, get the idea.

We enter the garden via a luminous arch of golden yew supported by a simple, beautifully clipped hedge of Euonymous – possibly ‘Silver Queen’ – with a stretch of the handsome male fern Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Cristata’ below and a pair of Spanish stone urns flanking the gate:

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IMG_2667The entrance to the Flower Garden – Golden Yew arch, Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’ and Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Cristata’ below

You know from this simple beginning that you are in safe hands, that everything has indeed been carefully thought through and immaculately implemented.  As Frank writes with such fond assurance in his book, ‘Marjorie has cooled everyone down before they walk under the golden yew arch into the flower garden’. But there is another layer to this simple combination – when the ferns are cut to the ground in midwinter they reveal a dense swathe of snowdrops to light up the entrance until the new fern leaves unfurl again.

The Flower Garden itself, even on this miserable day, is an extraordinarily deft, three dimensional tapestry of a garden which delights whichever way you look:

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IMG_2754IMG_2751IMG_2728The Flower Garden at Herterton, offering colour and texture , pattern and detail in every direction

From the outset the Lawleys’ plan was to use different forms of the ‘four native evergreen, yew, box, ivy and holly’ to ‘create different effects of colour and light’. The use of golden yew, is especially effective in their year-round mission to ‘create our own sunshine’. In most of the garden the use of different shades of green adds depth and subtle layerings, but occasionally the volume is turned right up. Here a flamboyant swathe of the yellow and green variegated ivy Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’ drapes itself against the house, contrasting dynamically with the exuberant fiery bronze autumn fronds of the Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis:

IMG_2740                              Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’ and Osmunda regalis

But despite the years of preparation and careful planning, this assured combination of shape and form, colour and texture was not instantly achieved. As well as the Lawley’s determination to use clipped evergreens and beautiful stone paths and walls, they were keen to learn as much as they could about flowering plants and to work with colour in the garden in a painterly way. They had been inspired by the work of the gardener and writer about gardens, Margery Fish, and they had visited her and her home and nursery at East Lambrook Manor  in Somerset, bringing back with them as many plants as they could carry.

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But although Marjorie Lawley had found the way plants were used together in the garden at East Lambrook Manor ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘unkempt’, Frank was shocked when visitors who arrived as a result of the garden’s entry in the influential 1981 book, ‘The Englishman’s Garden’, also described Herterton as a ‘riot of colour’  The pair resolved ‘urgently’ to ‘compose in terms of colour too’: ‘you needed to have clearly defined sections with separate policies, and you should not have any repeat planting’. The revised Flower Garden found its natural – and brilliant – balance and their feeling that a relatively ‘tight’ formal structure might still leave ‘scope … for an element of frivolity to fit in’ has lived on successfully ever since.61D-MQHcOcL._SX392_BO1,204,203,200_

I am completely resolved to return to Herterton in midsummer to see Marjorie’s carefully graded Impressionist-inspired colour schemes in full flow, but for now, at the beginning of autumn, the balance between strong shape and brilliant colour, solid velvety background and fine texture is exhilarating enough.

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IMG_2721IMG_2724The Flower Garden, Herterton, with tightly clipped hedges a foil for late summer colour and a close up of the brilliant blue willow gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea 

As well as the overall feel of the gardens, one of the many details I would love to witness in June is the trough and plinth pictured below which, densely planted with clipped ivy and two different kind of London Pride (the tiny Saxifrage cuneifolia within the urn and Saxifrage x urbium forming a mat below), have a subtle sculptural presence in autumn but will soften into a foam of pink in early summer:
IMG_2749IMG_2747IMG_2745                          Trough and urn with clipped ivy and two forms of London Pride

We walk through to The Physic Garden which is dominated by  ‘one of the garden’s largest topiaries’ – a splendid storybook version of a weeping silver pear, Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’. This is the ‘only topiary’ says Frank, calmly, ‘that needs to be cut twice a year – in early July and early October.’

IMG_2674Topiaried weeping silver pear at the centre of The Physic Garden

In this scented garden each bed is edged with soft, sculptural planting – thrift, Armeria maritima has a particularly successful plump, velvety quality – to contrast with the soft grey-pink ‘river sand’ underfoot.

IMG_2686                                                           View of the Physic Garden

IMG_2682Close up of Armeria maritima used to edge some of the beds

The house wall forms one of the sides of this courtyard garden and around the front door is a magnificent ‘Romanesque’ arch of the tiny ivy, Hedera helix ‘Spetchley’.

IMG_2678The romanesque arch of Hedera helix ‘Spetchley’ around the front door

Here again Frank and Marjorie Lawley have been inspiring beacons of patience – the ivy is so tiny and so slow growing that the arch has taken over thirty years to complete – the top edge was only joined up for the first time in 2013!

An open-sided stone barn forms another side of the Physic Garden. Here simple, silvered oak benches and salvaged medieval figures are joined by a rill of mounding wild ivy. The Lawley’s tried to grow ferns here but the position was too dark – the exuberant ivy is a clever solution.

IMG_2668A wave of wild ivy softens the stone arches

A favourite lichen-encrusted witch-hazel guards the exit of the Physic Garden. Frank Lawley writes beautiful about why it was chosen for this position – ‘for its mass of yellow flowers … a winter delight, always catching the sun or making it.’

IMG_2684                                                       Lichen encrusted witchhazel

We visit the Formal Garden at the front of the house next. Again Frank writes beautifully of his original hope for the way this vibrant topiary garden might function – ‘a gesture of respectful hospitality…splashes of yellow may be the first indication to the traveller that there is a garden ahead.’

IMG_2694IMG_2810 (2)The Formal Garden, Herterton

I am completely smitten by the mounded ‘bee skeps’ (based on the traditional domed basket-style bee hive). Frank says they are of ‘japanese box’ – perhaps Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem’?

Beyond the field wall the landscape is ‘flamboyantly informal’ – I admire the way the wall is so thickly draped in ivy that the stone itself has disappeared and I love the view through the tightly clipped topiary and wooden gate to the soft grasses beyond:

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IMG_2710Views through to the wilder landscape beyond the garden

As we return to the house, Frank points out the bright-leaved thyme at the foot of the box hedge. In the book he captures the way ‘the luminous colour’ of this ‘ribbon of lemon-yellow, citrus-smelling, non-flowering thyme (Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus)’… ‘is a pleasure in all seasons.’  It would be excellent to return in early spring to see the thousands of Crocus tommasinianus planted here, followed by a display of crown imperials in April and May ‘yellow and one end, red at the other, with the best a fine orange in the centre section.’IMG_2707                        border edged with Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus’, The Formal Garden

Finally, with the rain now soaking into us, we reach The Fancy Garden – a formal box parterre only planted in 1999 with a gazebo on the boundary. The idea was to have a garden with less colour (‘now we must return to green again’, writes Frank), as the garden meets the landscape. I had not understood before that the original function of a gazebo is to offer a view onto the surrounding countryside on one side and back into the garden on the other. The Lawleys learnt about this from Ralph Dutton and I am now learning from them.  Frank Lawley’s design for the gazebo – as an echo to a slim elevation of the house – came to him in a ‘eureka moment’. The stone lavabo at the centre of the garden was hard won – you will have to read the book – and it is now believed to be Roman.

IMG_2767                                             View to the gazebo and Fancy Garden
IMG_1115                                       The box parterre in The Fancy Garden
IMG_2771                                                     The stone lavabo, Fancy Garden

But again, the idea of simple and green is not quite accurate. Frank explains that in the spring, the darkly serene yew ‘Sitouterie’ is invaded by hosts of aquilegia, then white martagon lilies and finally Campanula lactiflora. Now at the beginning of autumn, it is the end of the garden that gets the sun for longest, and Frank and Marjorie Lawley have naturally made the most of this late opportunity with vibrant combinations of apricot, salmon pink, magenta and lilac flanking the gazebo:

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IMG_2778      Crocosmia crocosmilliflora ‘George Davison’ with Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’, ferns and pinks

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Tritonia disticha subsp. rubroluce with another Colchicum,  possibly byzantinum and Nerine bowdenii

IMG_2774Nerine bowdenii

Just occasionally, even Frank and Marjorie Lawley will take a few minutes off to sit on the covered bench in the open ground floor of the gazebo and enjoy a cup of coffee in this immaculate stone chamber:
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Bench within the open ground floor of the gazebo

Through the lovely stone gateway there are the nursery beds where you will find ‘our last group of topiaries, mostly variations upon pyramids in yew and domes in silver holy which conceal our wooden sheds and a heap of sand.’ I would expect nothing less than a beautiful and ordered working area from this amazing garden. IMG_2785

                                        Stone doorway through to the nursery beds

 We say a fond goodbye to Frank and I remember a line from his book which makes me smile because of its almost outrageous modesty: ‘one acre has been perfectly sufficient, for we have a very intensive style.’IMG_2794

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Frank Lawley, Herterton, October 2015

We drive further North and arrive at St Andrews on the East coast of Scotland at dusk. The rain has faded away and the handsome stepped roof of the St Andrews Castle is silhouetted against a clear evening sky.

IMG_2805 (1)St Andrews Castle

The Chariots-of-fire-famous West Sands is pale and silvery in the evening light and stretches out before us, simple and open: 
IMG_2807                                                            West Sands, St Andrews

Our no. 1 mission for the next couple of days is naturally to bring (rather genteel) supplies to our student son – mattress topper, decanter, fine olive oil etc. – but we do manage to fit in a blustery rust-coloured walk along the coastal path picnicking on delicious smoked salmon and oat cakes from the East Pier Smokehouse in St Monans.
IMG_2854IMG_2855                                       The Coastal Path between St Monans and Elie

IMG_2866The East Pier Smokehouse

As the rain returns we call in to the Victorian walled garden on the Cambo Estate. The approach is traditional and formal with an enormous, heavily draped, Vitis coignetiae turning a brilliant shade of crimson.

IMG_2908Vitis coignetiae, The entrance to the gardens on the Cambo Estate

For me, Cambo is synonymous with snowdrops – the estate has a National Collection of Galanthus and is well known for sending out high quality snowdrops ‘in the green’ in the spring.  I have no idea, as we walk into the garden past a fantastically burnt-sugar scented Cercidiphyllum japonicum, that I am about to enter an end of season garden of such atmosphere and faded romance.

IMG_2818Cercidiphyllum japonicum in the woodland garden en route to the Victorian Walled Garden, Cambo Estate

As we peer in tentatively beyond the potting shed, we come upon a pair of gravel rectangles planted with elegant restraint – mauve Tulbaghia violacea, the white Galtonia candicans, and Gladiolus ‘Ruby’ (Papillo Hybrid) sing out in the low misty light.  It is an idea that could be lifted from this faded two and a half acre Scottish garden and transplanted successfully in a much smaller domestic space.
IMG_1150            Gravel beds with Tulbaghia violacea, Galtonia candicans and Gladiolus ‘Ruby’
IMG_2821                                                         Gladiolus ‘Ruby’ (papilio hybrid)

Only later do I find out more about the history of the garden, how it is perhaps in the last fifteen years, when Lady Catherine Erskine hired the current Head Gardener, Elliott Forsyth, that the garden began to evolve from its former guise of productive rows of vegetables, dahlias – and even Christmas trees –  into this hazy grass and colour-filled haven.

For now I enjoy the surprise and the simple intensity of the experience. This rich combination of scarlet-fruited apple tree underplanted with pale pink japanese anemone and the toad lily, Triscyrtris formosana:
IMG_2907IMG_2843                    Apple tree underplanted with pink japanese anemone and toad lily

Rosy apples are met with the fading wands of Lysimachia ephemerum and crisp green apples look wonderful with the clean white of japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’:
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                                       Apple tree with Lysimachia ephemerumIMG_2832                                 Apple tree with Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’

A huge stand of the brightest orange red hot pokers glows in the water-filled gloom:

IMG_2829                                                                   Red hot poker and yellow achillea

IMG_2827Red hot pokers taking centre stage.

You cross the burn that runs through the garden via a beautiful, lichen encrusted ironwork bridge:

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IMG_2915Victorian iron bridge, Cambo Walled Garden

Everywhere you turn there is something to catch the eye: rusty teasels soaring skywards from a sheet of yellow-green grass, the firework-white of Actea against the crumbling red brick walls and the rich dark red of rodgersia, its leaves edged in fast-moving claret.

IMG_1127IMG_2917IMG_1133Teasel, actea and rodgersia in the Walled Garden, Cambo

There are grasses everywhere, softly mound-forming or stormily turbulent in the pelting rain:IMG_1142IMG_1140IMG_2884                                     Turbulent grasses, The Walled Garden, Cambo

The lilac-purple of Verbena bonariensis, the orange of the Kniphofia and the lavender-blue of the asters are electric in the low light:
IMG_1146IMG_1145IMG_2889                                  Electric colours of Verbena bonariensis, kniphophia, asters and salvia amongst grasses, The Walled Garden, Cambo

As we turn to leave the garden there is a brilliant combination of spiky palm tree, orange poker and ruby-pink Persicaria amplexicaulis against a backdrop of an ageing greenhouse and darkening sky.
IMG_2890IMG_1149   Palm tree, red hot poker and persicaria against darkening sky, The Walled Garden, Cambo

In the shelter of the courtyard, the lights are burning brightly and there are tables laden with little piles of just-dug-up already rooting snowdrops ready to be packed in moss and newspaper and sent out in the post now, in October, to flower in the coming spring.
IMG_2920IMG_2919IMG_2813Piles of just-dug-up snowdrops, bowl of fresh moss, snowdrops wrapped in newspaper, ready to be posted out, Cambo

It is a cheering activity for a glowering day.

We call back briefly to see Frank Lawley at Herterton on our way home. It is still raining but lunch is over – and therefore it is time for work. Frank invites us to join a smilingly serious debate. ‘I almost got involved in making marmalade’ he tells us, ‘we live almost entirely on marmalade and we are facing something of a marmalade crisis. Do you think it is a marmalade day? No it’s a sowing day, I think.’

And off he goes to sow.IMG_2893

The road home