Carving a slice of paradise
A divided estate provided interesting challenges for one designer, finds Kathryn Bradley-hole
The divided estate at Frensham Court House in Surrey provided challenges for one designer, finds Kathryn Bradley-hole
Frensham Court House, Frensham, Surrey
HE Surrey Hills region, designated an AONB in 1958, is an area of richly diverse countryside, embracing large tracts of woodland, open farmland, heaths, rivers and lakes. It was especially popularised in the 19th and early 20th centuries by exponents of the Arts-and-crafts movement, as the area’s natural resources of plentiful timber, sandstone and ironstone provided immediately available materials with which to continue building in the time-honoured local style, in undulating landscapes of exceptional quality.
Foremost proponents of the area and its vernacular included, of course, Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, so much of whose work is represented in the archives of this magazine and so much of which is located in the Surrey Hills and what Miss Jekyll termed ‘Old West Surrey’.
With its proximity to London, good transport infrastructure and important, unspoilt landscapes, the region remains one of the most desirable and expensive in the country. Perhaps it was always desirable: even the people of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age are now known to have lived in the vicinity of Frensham, one of the charming villages hereabouts. Remains of old axes and implements have been found among the teeth and bones of mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses, in the deep sand and gravel pits.
From the Tudors onwards, numerous country houses were built and supported by their estates, but agricultural slump,
followed by two World Wars in the 20th century, meant that many such places were sold and carved up in recent decades. One of them—or a portion of it—is featured here. On the outskirts of Frensham, a long drive winds up through a valley ringed by woods around its rim, passing several houses set among gardens and paddocks, towards what used to be the ‘big house’ on the hill, where some of its outbuildings and glasshouses still survive and have been made useful to modern life.
Garden designer Christopher Moss was called in by the owners of part of the big house to sort out their share of the grounds, which amounts to some two acres. What he found was a high conifer hedge marking the long boundary with the adjoining neighbour; parking had been laid out directly in front of the house, separating it from its garden, and expanses of lawn dropped away in two directions, the longer side falling quite steeply where it was bordered by the drive.
Mr Moss’s treatment has made a profound difference to the garden and the owners’ enjoyment of it; there was also the consideration of their three dogs—all dachshunds—to be taken into account. ‘We needed to be able to get from A to B without any steps,’ he advises, ‘so we created a long, curving pathway that leads you down through the garden, but we also made the gradient more workable by creating three separate terraces.’
The top terrace, known as the magnolia terrace, named after an existing M. soulangeana tree, includes the old parking area that had been by the house. Repaved and opened up with areas of planting around an informal dining table, it’s an inviting entrée to the garden proper.
‘Mr Moss’s treatment has made a profound difference to the owners’ enjoyment ’
‘An engaging use of local geology has been made on the top terrace’
The second terrace is even more luxuriantly planted and seamlessly links to existing stepped access down to a small sheltered kitchen garden and an annexe building. The third ‘terrace’ is a great sweep of lawn, out of which rises an old cedar of Lebanon that, like one neighbour’s towering Wellingtonias, speaks of the days when the house was all of a piece, set in its own park.
The remodelling of the ground makes everywhere accessible, but another challenge was presented by the tall conifer hedge, which serves its purpose in providing privacy, but required careful disguise.
‘The owners really like Frank Gehry’s architecture and their appreciation of its curves was introduced into how the garden was laid out,’ says Mr Moss. Fins of hedges were introduced at intervals, roughly perpendicular to the line of the tall hedge, and curvy beds were filled with interesting floral and textured planting, including much use of flowering perennials and wellbehaved grasses. Characterful trees, such as multi-stemmed, white-trunked birches, have been deployed as accents here and there and, from time to time, a model cow— acquired during a Cowparade charity auction some years ago—is moved around the garden to ‘graze’ a new location. Mr Moss is a great believer in repeat planting, to keep a theme running through the garden that provides a sense of continuity and an undercurrent of calm. Repeated (but not repetitious) short runs of beech hedging, trimmed box used in cubes and rectangular chunks, waves of Miscanthus Flamingo grasses and the aforesaid birches all provide the background theme or base notes, against which the top notes are the comings and goings of seasonal flowers.
The latter include various salvias in purple shades, cranesbills, spires of creamy verbascum and orange foxtail lilies, sultry day-lilies and crumple-leaved Phlomis
russeliana. Everything has been thought about to make the best use and gain the most pleasure out of the garden. An engaging use of local geology has been made on the top terrace, where the small, flat pieces of dark-brown ironstone that just comes out of the ground in this part of the world have been laid to make a textured pavement.
Miss Jekyll herself was fond of using this stone to make patterned pavings in her gardens and Mr Moss’s modern take strikes a touching chord, further linking this new garden with the region’s time-honoured Arts-and-crafts ideals.
The bovine resident, acquired some years ago at a Cowparade auction, admires foxtail lilies, phlomis and salvias among the beech hedging
Above: The house now enjoys a floral outlook. Below: Wands of Verbascum chaixii Album and Salvia x nemorosa Caradonna. Facing page: The lower garden and its cedar tree
The pavings include an attractive textured section made from local ironstone cobbles
Informal seasonal planting includes drifts of the dark-red scabious Knautia macedonica, the golden oat Stipa gigantea and, in the foreground, long-flowering Geranium Rozanne