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Amongst these have been a number of gardens belonging to period houses, especially in the UK. Period houses can prove to be the most challenging because they, like the houses they belong to, have succumbed to changing fashions over the centuries, and it is often very difficult to establish the original design, in indeed it remains relevant. It is always more exciting if these older houses still retain their own land. If that is the case, then it is always fun to broaden horizons.
On the very edged of the Cotswolds lies the peaceful village of Shutford in Oxfordshire. I was asked in by the owners of the manor house there to help them lay out the gardens. The house itself is seventeenth century, tall and imposing, build in red sandstone, with lawns and gardens lying to the south. It was all rather 'bitty', and so the first thing I planned was a cross vista in order to 'marry up' all the various ingredients with the simple introduction of a cross vista.
These gardens, almost imperceptibly, melted into the field beyond. However, because the dogs needed to be kept in bounds on the house side and horses on the other, a rather ugly fence had been erected, and so it was decided to build a ha-ha. For this you need a raft foundation with a breeze block wall strengthened with mild steel rods faced with natural stone, the two walls supporting each other with butterfly ties. Interrupting the ha-ha was an existing gate flanked by good, solid gate posts.
Annoyingly this gate did not line up with the main door of the house at an angle of 90 degrees. I linked the two with an allee of Golden Irish Yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aurea'), and as a result, no one is aware of this discrepancy on the horizontal plane.
Unless a drive is vast I think it a mistake to put something in the middle of it: it is an invitation for a motor car to collide with it. I did point this out to the client, but she was adamant she did not want her rather magnificent early, carved stone font moved. Sure enough, a week later one of her daughters drove straight into it, and so we moved it to the centre of the allee so that it lined up with the cross vista. The font is now planted up with agapanthus every year.
I also added a small round knot, with germander (Teuchrium chamaedrys) and dwarf box interweaving in straight lines, with gaps in-filled with colour gravels. The long border I also added was planted with hot colours, reds and oranges at one end, with cool colours, blues, silvers and whites at the other, with yellows and purples intervening at the appropriate stages of the spectrum. Made fashionable about 100 years ago by Gertrude Jekyll, this colour planting theme works well in any garden irrespective of period.
Roddy Llewellyn will be providing those of us who are keen gardeners with further hints, tips and period garden inspiration in forthcoming issues of Heritage Homes.