A host of golden daf­fodils is a sight to warm any heart op­pressed by win­ter’s chills. See them at Kent’s Mere House

Renowned for its spring-flow­er­ing trees and bulbs, el­e­gant Mere House has en­joyed a suc­ces­sion of keen gar­den­ers to drive it for­ward, finds Ge­orge Plumptre

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Mar­i­anne Ma­jerus

Gar­den­ing has been deeply em­bed­ded at Mere House in Kent ever since it was built in the late 18th cen­tury as a rec­tory, as suc­ces­sive cler­gy­men and their wives proudly cre­ated and tended the gar­den.

an­drew Wells, the present owner, is de­scended from Wil­liam Wells, who, at the turn of the 19th cen­tury, cre­ated a renowned gar­den at redleaf Park in west Kent. redleaf is long gone, but, in its time, it was cel­e­brated.

Wells was a suc­cess­ful Thames ship­builder, pa­tron of the arts and found­ing mem­ber of the RHS and the gar­den he cre­ated was eu­lo­gised by his fa­mous gar­den­ing con­tem­po­rary, John Loudon. in one ar­ti­cle, in The Gar­dener’s Mag­a­zine (which Loudon founded in 1826), he wrote in awe of the redleaf rock gar­den. its ‘most sin­gu­lar fea­ture… to­tally dif­fer­ent from any­thing else of the kind in eng­land’ was the rock gar­den on the ‘rocky lawn’ south of the house, com­pris­ing stacks of rock, ‘not lit­tle pigmy im­i­ta­tions… but large blocks… mea­sured by the cu­bic yard’.

Mere House was built as the rec­tory for Mere­worth vil­lage by its cel­e­brated pa­tron, Sir Fran­cis dash­wood, Lord Le de­spencer, renowned for his Hell­fire Club, which met at Med­men­ham abbey close to his Buck­ing­hamshire home, West Wy­combe. He had in­her­ited the Mere­worth es­tate from his ma­ter­nal un­cle, John Fane, earl of West­mor­land, who built the present cas­tle as a domed Pal­la­dian villa and re­built Mere­worth church in the english Pal­la­dian style, its tower and spire mod­elled on el­e­ments of dif­fer­ent Lon­don churches, such as St Martin-in-the-fields.

With such a spec­tac­u­lar church in the vil­lage, it was hardly sur­pris­ing that the rec­tory was re­built in the style of a small coun­try house and that suc­ces­sive rec­tors of Mere­worth were all con­nected with the Le de­spencer fam­ily. How­ever af­ter an in­ter­lude in the mid 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing a pe­riod of oc­cu­pa­tion by the mil­i­tary dur­ing

the Sec­ond World War, Mere House was pur­chased by John Wells, whose wife was de­scended from the Fane fam­ily.

In 1959, Wells be­came the lo­cal MP and was later knighted, but, over a pe­riod of some 30 years, he and his wife cre­ated the present gar­den, care­fully in­cor­po­rat­ing the finer trees—such as the cop­per beech and cedar—planted by their cler­gy­man pre­de­ces­sors.

The Wellses planned their gar­den to fill the area slop­ing gen­tly away from the house, down to­wards the long, nar­row lake that it­self dates from the 18th-cen­tury land­scap­ing. They cre­ated a se­ries of beds that now makes a gen­tle pro­gres­sion and they were es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in plant­ing trees and shrubs for var­ied fo­liage ef­fect. To­day, well-es­tab­lished ev­i­dence of their work in­cludes a weep­ing ash and a holm oak (the lat­ter grown from an acorn planted in 1953), as well as a fine group of

Vibur­num pli­ca­tum to­men­to­sum.

The Wellses’ mas­ter­stroke was to make the main fea­ture at Mere House a spring gar­den and to de­vote the main slop­ing area to in­creas­ingly broad drifts of daf­fodils. Their num­bers, hav­ing in­creased from one year to the next, now have the ap­pear­ance of a flo­ral sea, with waves of in­te­grated shades of yel­low-and-white flow­ers.

Be­yond the lake, Mr Wells re­sponded to ex­ten­sive road-build­ing projects around the vil­lage of Mere­worth in op­por­tunist style, ac­quir­ing spoil from the con­struc­tion sites to build a long em­bank­ment, on which he planted trees. Now that the trees have grown to ma­tu­rity, they have the com­bined ef­fect of dead­en­ing noise from the new roads and cre­at­ing a tree-lined bound­ary, seen across the lake, which have been im­mensely suc­cess­ful.

A pos­si­bly even greater chal­lenge was pre­sented within the gar­den by

‘The Wellses’ mas­ter­stroke was to make the main fea­ture at Mere a spring gar­den’

the great storm of 1987, when many trees fell and great dam­age was wrought. Despite the im­me­di­ate de­struc­tion, Mr Wells con­firms that the long-term ef­fect has been pos­i­tive, with new vis­tas opened up and an ex­ten­sive pro­gramme of tree-plant­ing un­der­taken for the ben­e­fit of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Af­ter tak­ing over the gar­den from his par­ents, Mr Wells and his wife, Tessa, took up the chal­lenge of care­fully and sub­tly con­tin­u­ing their work, adding a sec­ond em­bank­ment, which stretches at right an­gles to the first. Following long-term silt­ing up of the lake, the field be­yond had de­te­ri­o­rated into semi-marsh­land, but, with the lake re­stored, it is now prop­erly in­te­grated once more into the gar­den.

One of the best views looks from the front of the house across swathes of daf­fodils and be­tween dif­fer­ent trees to a Clas­si­cal urn, po­si­tioned at the head of the lake, its pat­tern re­flected in the wa­ter. Be­yond it, the grassy bank of the field stretches away to the young perime­ter trees.

The present own­ers have also added quan­ti­ties of snow­drops, both in the main gar­den and through the wood that leads from the old kitchen gar­den, and planted nu­mer­ous au­tumn-tint­ing trees, such as Liq­uidambar styraci­flua, Nyssa syl­vat­ica and a spread­ing Par­ro­tia per­sica. Now, it ap­pears that the fam­ily’s gar­den­ing en­thu­si­asm, stretch­ing back for so many gen­er­a­tions, has been passed on to the next one. In 2012, Mr and Mrs Wells’s daugh­ter, Au­gusta, de­signed the plant­ing for a new bed close to the house and, with her hus­band, Robert, she has es­tab­lished a whole­sale nurs­ery, Ar­ven­sis Peren­ni­als, in Wilt­shire, and sup­plied to her par­ents’ gar­den per­haps the favourite plants of my visit: two ex­quis­ite minia­ture tulips grow­ing on a raised bed: pink-striped Tulipa

clu­siana Lady Jane and dark-pink, scented Tulipa hageri Lit­tle Beauty.

There are early in­di­ca­tions that the en­thu­si­asm and dis­cern­ing plant choices of two gen­er­a­tions at Mere will con­tinue for a third.

Mere House, Mere­worth, Kent. The gar­den is open on a num­ber of days in spring and for groups by ap­point­ment. For full de­tails, visit www.mere-house.co.uk Ge­orge Plumptre is Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of the NGS

Above: Glimpsed be­yond the flow­er­ing boughs of one of the ma­ture mag­no­lias, a fine old cedar lends a sense of en­clo­sure.

Facing page: The for­mer rec­tory stands proud on its em­i­nence, now en­hanced by seas of mixed daf­fodils each spring

The lake has been dredged and re­stored to its tran­quil, wa­tery state, with an urn placed as a fo­cal point

A vi­sion of the English spring: chal­ices of Mag­no­lia soulangeana open above a sweep of daf­fodils. Tree plant­ing on the bound­aries and the cre­ation of long banks have given the gar­den greater seclu­sion

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