Carv­ing a slice of par­adise

A di­vided es­tate pro­vided in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges for one de­signer, finds Kathryn Bradley-hole

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Mar­cus Harpur

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

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