Theatre in the round

King­ham Hill House, King­ham, Ox­ford­shire Cir­cu­lar ge­om­e­try in­spired the late Rose­mary Verey dur­ing the mak­ing of this ex­em­plary Cotswolds gar­den, but spring now brings in other di­men­sions, finds Vanessa Ber­ridge

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by An­drew Law­son

Cir­cu­lar ge­om­e­try in­spired Rose­mary Verey when she cre­ated the gar­den at King­ham Hill House in Ox­ford­shire, re­ports Vanessa Ber­ridge

The gar­den at King­ham hill house in Ox­ford­shire holds onto its se­crets. Around ev­ery cor­ner is a sur­prise, with walls, hedg­ing, shrub bor­ders and av­enues of trees all help­ing to stage the drama. The set­ting is in­com­pa­ra­ble, too: the Cotswold stone house stands on the side of a south-fac­ing hill, with the ground slop­ing away from the house and then up again to Churchill on a ridge. The vil­lage’s church tower is the gar­den’s fo­cus.

Ge­or­gian in style, the house was built in the 1880s by Charles Bar­ing Young, de­scribed by the pre­sent owner as ‘a very won­der­ful man and a great Vic­to­rian phi­lan­thropist’. Young set up King­ham hill School here, aim­ing to ed­u­cate poor chil­dren from the Mid­lands about food pro­duc­tion and give them an un­der­stand­ing of na­ture. The six-acre walled gar­den (now en­tirely or­na­men­tal) is a legacy of this act of 19th-cen­tury ped­a­gogy.

The pre­sent own­ers bought the es­tate 25 years ago, two years af­ter it was sold by the school (which still ex­ists nearby). The in­te­ri­ors of the house had been gut­ted by fire in the 1930s and sim­ply re­stored for in­sti­tu­tional use. A ma­jor project was needed to re-cre­ate the orig­i­nal pe­riod de­tail and it was three years be­fore the own­ers turned their at­ten­tion to the gar­den.

Tow­er­ing by the front door of the house is a cop­per beech, be­lieved to be the largest and old­est in Ox­ford­shire and vis­i­ble from all over the gar­den. Its lower branches, once al­lowed to touch the gravel, were a hid­ing place for the own­ers’ chil­dren, who de­lighted in a gar­den full of se­cret cor­ners. The gar­den has grown up with the chil­dren and, now, more than 20 years on, its ma­tu­rity makes it seem as if it has been there since the house was built.

Its suc­cess is, in ma­jor part, due to its orig­i­nal de­signer, Rose­mary Verey, who was re­spon­si­ble for the gar­den’s lay­out, its three main av­enues and its so­phis­ti­cated ro­man­ti­cism. Since her death in 2001, Cotswold-based de­signer Ru­pert Golby has con­tin­ued to ad­vise the own­ers and has in­tro­duced some con­tem­po­rary touches.

Planned very much with the chil­dren’s long sum­mer hol­i­days in mind, the gar­den peaks from May on­wards, yet

there is in­ter­est year-round, from its frame­work of trees and the use of box and yew through­out. The gar­den is strongly ge­o­met­ri­cal, with cir­cles be­ing a key theme. In­spired by the stone balls on the en­trance walls when the own­ers bought the house, they ap­pear in the shape of the lawns, in stone cir­cles, roundels of box and shrubs clipped into spheres.

Box is also seen in pyra­mids, cones and banks of clipped, waist-high hedg­ing, which flanks the dra­matic rill of the walled gar­den, one of the gar­den’s three main vis­tas. Cen­tred on the church tower, this se­ries of stepped pools was based on the Harold Peto wa­ter gar­den at Lord Far­ing­don’s Bus­cot Park. They drop down from a for­mal, clover-leaf shaped pool to a nat­u­ral pond at the bot­tom, framed by two av­enues of maples on ei­ther side, and mag­no­lias and straw­berry trees (Ar­bu­tus unedo) al­ter­nate along the red-brick wall of the gar­den. Pyra­mids and cones of yew here echo the yews along the south ter­race of the house.

Above is the swim­ming pool, its en­trance marked by two weep­ing myr­tles clipped into mop­heads and by more yew pyra­mids. The pool has been de­signed to be all but in­vis­i­ble from the rill (as well as from the ten­nis court above), but has plant­ing com­ing

into its own in sum­mer, when it’s most in use. Fra­grant roses, in­clud­ing Lit­tle White Pet, fill beds edged with teu­crium.

Four cir­cu­lar stepped lawns, laid out in two fig­ures of eight, form the sec­ond ma­jor panorama. Par­al­lel to the walled gar­den, these lawns run down to the drive, fasti­giate oaks stand­ing like sen­tinels at each junc­tion. Herba­ceous and shrub plant­ing, in­clud­ing hy­drangeas, pen­ste­mons, cor­nus, deutzia, pur­ple cot­i­nus, ac­ers, weigela, weep­ing beech and vibur­num, gives a won­der­ful flow of colour through the sea­sons.

Another vista rises from the north­west-fac­ing ter­race where the fam­ily eats out in sum­mer. Steps lead to a lawn slop­ing up from the house. The lawn is en­closed by yew hedg­ing and framed by four semi­cir­cu­lar beds of hardy and semi-hardy plant­ing. The pal­ette of white, blue and soft pur­ple lasts into late au­tumn, with eryn­giums,

Cam­pan­ula lac­t­i­flora, del­phin­inums and phlomis, and, for later, Salvia ulig­i­nosa, Salvia in­volu­crata, Salvia turkestanica, Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis and Sour Grapes pen­ste­mons.

Vis­i­ble through a break in the yew hedg­ing is a cir­cle of pleached limes, six trees each in four semi­cir­cles, mir­ror­ing the lay­out of the beds. This opens onto a ris­ing av­enue of beech, oak, lime and ash, which cul­mi­nates in a group of limes ob­scur­ing tele­graph poles be­yond the ha-ha.

Else­where, there are more av­enues of trees, with robinias within walls of yew fram­ing a gate, fasti­giate pears cen­tred on a statue and horn­beams cre­at­ing an axis that leads into the ro­man­tic heart of the gar­den. Mrs Verey orig­i­nally planned this as a gar­den for all sea­sons, but Mr Golby has re­designed it to fo­cus on spring and sum­mer. The grass paths through the gar­den are lined with La­van­dula x in­ter­me­dia Sus­sex, with four di­ag­o­nal gravel paths ra­di­at­ing off through the plant­ing beneath tun­nels of white wis­te­ria.

The sight­line across the cen­tre of the gar­den, planned by Mrs Verey, has since been in­ter­rupted to makes this the most en­closed room of the gar­den. At its heart stands a pear tree in a stone cir­cle, sur­rounded al­most

ran­domly by stone balls and roundels of box. The cir­cle again reigns supreme, with ev­ery­thing here clipped into balls, in­clud­ing Os­man­thus burk­woodii, Prunus lusi­tan­ica, phillyrea, Syringa

pubescens subsp mi­cro­phylla Su­perba and the stan­dard vibur­nums by the en­trances to the gar­den.

The colour theme is blue and white, be­gin­ning in spring with White Tri­umpha­tor tulips, fol­lowed by blue Jane Phillips irises, laven­der and then blue aga­pan­thus in high sum­mer. The gar­den is sur­rounded by shoul­der­high walls with semi-cir­cu­lar niches along their course, each niche fram­ing a shrub rose.

Dra­matic, yet un­der­stated, this gar­den has been beau­ti­fully in­te­grated into the Cotswold land­scape by which it is sur­rounded.

‘The cir­cle again reigns supreme, with ev­ery­thing here clipped into balls’

Pre­ced­ing pages: Wis­te­ria magic: bil­low­ing tun­nels of the fra­grant climber are a key fea­ture in spring, un­der­planted with Jane Phillips irises. Cir­cles dom­i­nate in the gar­den’s de­sign. In­spired by stone balls on the en­trance walls, the ge­om­e­try is picked up in the top­i­ary and lawns

So­phis­ti­cated ro­man­ti­cism: in the walled gar­den, stepped pools make sense of the gra­di­ent. They were in­spired by Harold Peto’s de­sign for Lord Far­ring­don’s Bus­cot Park, also in Ox­ford­shire. Yew top­i­ary and stepped box-hedg­ing em­pha­sise the for­mal ar­range­ment

Fine views of the val­ley can be glimpsed through the char­ac­ter­ful trees

Left: A great cop­per beech tow­ers over the house, which was for­merly a school. Be­low: The gen­tle hues of Eryn­gium gi­gan­teum and acan­thus

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