Burford in all its beauty
Hidden behind the closely packed rows of houses in a Cotswold town lie numerous interesting gardens, opened for just a weekend biennially. Jacky Hobbs explores
Jacky Hobbs takes a peek into the gardens of a Cotswold town, opened for just one weekend biennially
THEIR secrets are revealed, bienially, for just one weekend in June, to coincide with the Burford Festival. More than 25 gardens will open this year, displaying a matrix of shapes, styles and sizes. Built down or across a steep hillside of the Windrush valley, the gardens frequently slope or have been cleverly cut into deep terraces.
Like the houses, they butt and back onto one another, sometimes with huge drops or rises between, which give either spectacular views over rooftops to open countryside or the privacy gained by walls that meld with the town’s architecture. The medieval church spire pins many a vista in its place.
Which garden can claim the best outward view? Greyhounds is a worthy contender, home of Michael Taubenheim and his partner, Christopher Moore. From their garden’s uppermost reaches, you can look back along the 165 yards of the garden, over the low-lying rooftops and into the rising countryside beyond. With generously planted borders, the garden is a charming distillation of a larger country estate, condensed into a single acre.
A row of vintage metal-framed glass cloches attempts to fend off encroaching vegetation and other garden artefacts are tucked in around the garden and its
terraces. The house, a former coaching inn, has a hybrid passage, half-home, halfgarden, that funnels you from voluptuous garden back to the architectural stone of Sheep Street.
Adjoining Greyhounds, but quite different, is Calendars: an elegant, nicely but not overly manicured garden with a cool and sophisticated floral palette of white, blue and pink set against a vivacious green backdrop punctuated with Robinia umbraculifera lollipops and bobbins of topiarised
yew. A razor-sharp rill dissects the uppermost terrace, water splashes down to an arum-lily-lined pool below and re-emerges, bubbling through pebbles at ‘ground’ level. Four stylish terraces descend through lawns, borders and parterres to an enclosed and intimate courtyard that is cloistered by the house.
The owners, Jim and Sue Middleton, have created idyllic outdoor rooms in harmony with the outstanding Tudor-style architecture. White roses, fragrant lavender and scented jasmine rise above pockets of pungent herbs on the lower levels in this refined, restrained and elegant garden.
Across the road, step through the Tudor doorway of 9, Sheep Street to discover a manicured, small and verdant pocket handkerchief, its emerald lawn pegged out with wobbly box cones. Reminiscent of a petite cloistered Oxford-college garden, this peaceful enclave—a former bellmaker’s yard, enclosed on three sides—has walls that ring with an intricate latticework
of trained and trim flowering and foliage plants. Shadowed corners are lit with scrambling roses Madame Alfred Carrière and The Generous Gardener and brightened with pots of silver or lime-rimmed hostas and white foxgloves.
One side lies wide open to the hills, with no encasement; the land simply drops 10ft down to the plot below. Taking advantage of the open side, Peter Radford has planted what might be termed an ‘infinity’ border, packed with stout summer blooms. Its roses, delphiniums and campanula seem to stretch the 36ft square garden into the distant open countryside.
Elizabeth Ellis Rees’s garden is disorientating. Accessed via a warren of vestigial back lanes, the lofty, open views are difficult to reconcile with The Gable’s High Street position. Elizabeth recalls that, when Burford’s gardens first opened almost 30 years ago, the most curious visitors of all were locals, intrigued to see what lay within the walls.
Very much a plantsman’s garden, it boasts a long ribbon lawn fringed with subtle leafy borders, the walls garlanded with Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, two gnarled wisterias and a claret-leaf vine that were planted between the World Wars by her grandmother.
Elizabeth particularly enjoys foliage and has added layers of year-round texture to her grandmother’s imprint. Pots of feathered ferns, together with scented strewing herbs, jostle beneath textured and varie-
‘stream, Paths wend upwards past a fern-strewn fed by an old metal pump
gated shrubs that are pruned to create an airy, natural grace.
At the top of the High Street sprawls Pytts Piece, where Peter Higg’s three cottages meld into one with a corresponding trio of garden plots. A small raised rose garden and a charming stone folly, the ‘garden bar’, lead you up to a lawned area bordered with shade-loving shrubs, ancient mulberry and apple trees and curiously trained ornamental cherry. Nectarines, gooseberries, raspberries, black- and redcurrants flourish readily against the garden’s southfacing wall.
Stone pillars frame an almost Italianate garden vista and plump flower borders richly planted with peonies, poppies, lupins, delphiniums, roses and irises draw you down to a focal tiered fountain and pool. Ducks and woodpeckers have taken up residency at the remoter garden end.
The Lodge, an 18th-century house in Pytts Lane, is seemingly built ‘backwards’, like many in Burford. Its inward-facing side, clad with roses, wisteria and a fig, faces the flower-filled garden, rendering passers-by blind to its treasures. Here, Burford gardener and garden designer Susan Ashton works sensitively around her Edwardian-style plot, feeling she’s custodian of wider family memories. Her late father, an antiques dealer with a passion for breeding auriculas, and her mother, a botanist, ensured a rich garden legacy. The inviting glasshouse is a timewarp of perfectly potted geraniums arranged on benches, sills and stone pillars. Vintage wirework chairs huddle round an open fireplace as early-flowering Rosa Maréchal Niel shades and perfumes the glass-paned room. A stone terrace and lawn with flower-engulfed pots, obelisks, arbours and borders make a sizeable garden basin.
Concealed behind shrubs and plant pillars, paths wend upwards past a fern-strewn stream, fed by an old metal pump, to a small, painted ‘tea house’. Seated here, you can admire the small grid of raised fruit and vegetable beds, stuffed with the promise of artichokes, rhubarb, courgettes and sweet peas.
From The Lodge you may glimpse, two walls away, the more formal environs of The Great House, which was featured in
Country Life in 1948. The late Duchess of Devonshire resided here for a brief period with her mother after the elder Mitford sisters had flown the nest. This imposing late-17th-century house, one of the largest in Burford, once had extensive gardens that ran right up the hill and are depicted in the original oil-painted panels inside the house.
The owners, Mr and Mrs Suratgar, noted a stone pathway that, to their delight, was revealed when they dug up the lawn. The original 17th-century stonework is now flanked by chainlink, box parterre edging, each compartment studded with a standard rose. This sweeps you away from the lawned shade of a magnificent redwood tree, past herbaceous borders, right up to the wisteriaclad house walls. Other recently restored elements of the garden include a hornbeam archway and definitive yew topiary.
These are just a few highlights of the individual, yet intertwined, secret gardens of Burford, well worth travelling to see, although there are many other events during the festival that will also be vying for your attention.
The Burford open gardens weekend occurs on June 10 and 11 this year, with speakers Mary Keen, Clive Nichols and Helen Dillon taking part. The gardens aren’t open for the rest of the week-long Burford Festival (June 10–18).
Visit www.burfordfestival.org for details of its speakers and musical, theatrical and literary events
The flower borders of Pytts Piece include peonies, poppies and columbines
Above: One of the four terraces at Calendars in Sheep Street
Top: Peter Radford’s ‘infinity’ border is an explosion of colour.
Garden designer Susan Ashton’s glasshouse at The Lodge, with its range of pelargoniums and succulents
Box-edged beds, linked in a chain either side of the central 17th-century path, bring period pattern to the complex garden of The Great House
A view of Burford rooftops from the upper garden at Greyhounds