A Secret Garden

I have noticed that even those that don’t show the slightest interest in things horticultural love exploring walled gardens, especially if they are overgrown and forgotten.  Perhaps it stirs memories of the children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett published in 1911 in which she shows that when something unloved is cherished and cared for it can become beautiful and healthy, be it a plant or the human spirit.

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Photo Credit: AC85 B9345 911s, Houghton Library, Harvard University

I have been fortunate over the years in caring for a number of walled gardens in different stages of development yet, regardless of their state, there is something magical in placing the key in the lock and pushing open the door – as nasty, little Mary Lennox discovered in the novel.  As she returned the garden to its former glory so, she too, grew into a loving and loveable child.

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Perhaps even more so than the plants and trees within, the beauty of a walled garden comes from the walls themselves.  The brickwork over time has mellowed and seems to release the warmth of a hundred or more summers, even on the greyest of days.  Search the walls and they reveal secrets – a date scratched into a stone, old lead labels revealing the varieties of long-disappeared fruit trees or, occasionally, the name of a much-loved pet buried at its feet.

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The walls in this deserted garden date back to the late 17th/early 18th centuries

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Recorded for posterity: the trees may have disappeared but the record of the varieties remain

One of the most rewarding to explore yet emptiest of walled gardens has to be that of Dunmore Park.  The house no longer stands but the garden walls remain crowned by that most eccentric of British garden room follies, the Pineapple.  Here the walls are hollow, fires were lit at its feet and the walls warmed to promote early growth.  Sliding stone blocks could be opened to release the smoke which, filling the garden at night helped to keep frosts at bay.  Clever, those early gardeners.

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Walled gardens when not open to visitors are more often a place of silence, the only sound to accompany the gardener is that of birdsong and the hum of insects.  It can be a place where your mind can be free from the everyday cares of the outside world.  It can also be a place where your design ideas can run riot either in your head or, if lucky enough, in reality.  The images below show before and after photos of a border I created many years ago, the idea for the colour palette coming from an Imari plate belonging to the owner of the garden.  The border is living proof of an imagination run riot!

Blue & White Border - before watermarkImari Plate   watermark.jpgBlue & White Border - after watermark

Far from the Madd(en)ing Crowd

The title of this blog is actually rather a misnomer for the picturesque village of East Hendred is, in reality, quite close to both London and Oxford.  Nestling at the foot of the Berkshire Downs, its charm and ancient houses give it the appearance of a place far from civilisation and today’s frenetic pace of life.

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A traditional English village centres around the ‘big house,’ the pub and the church and East Hendred can boast that its manor has been owned by the same family, the Eystons, for over six hundred years.  It has three pubs thereby bucking the trend in recent years of the many pub closures elsewhere that often sees the social heart of a community destroyed.East Hendred (18) copyright

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There has been a village shop for very many years for a book published in 1922 (English Country Life & Work by  Ernest C. Pulbrook) shows it in a photograph.  Today, the shop is still “thriving and well-accustomed” although it is doubtful if it now sells the wooden hay rakes that are lined up outside on the early photo!  The building has remained unchanged over the years although the village changed allegiance in 1974 and is now in the county of Oxfordshire.  The shop is easily recognisable in my photograph as being at the far end of the row.East Hendred (1) copyright

East Hendred 1(a)

The church, dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury, dates from the late twelfth century although its tower is later, built around 1450.  East Hendred (17) copyright

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At the other end of the village is the former Chapel of Jesus of Bethlehem also built around 1450 by Carthusian monks.  Now known as Champs Chapel, it houses a small museum dedicated to the history of the village.  It is opened and maintained by volunteers.

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Despite its historic past, the parish of East Hendred which is crossed by the ancient Ridgeway path (now a National Trail) is also firmly fixed in the modern day for it also houses the Harwell Science and Innovation Centre where the Diamond Syncrotron Facility is located.

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