Please walk this way

Nu­mer­ous care­fully con­ceived paths lead Ge­orge Plumptre on a jour­ney through a re­mark­able gar­den made in the last quar­ter cen­tury, which cel­e­brates its in­her­i­tance of an­cient park­land while rel­ish­ing new and con­tem­po­rary flour­ishes, ex­e­cuted with fi­nesse

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

Ge­orge Plumptre vis­its Far­leigh House’s Hamp­shire gar­den

‘One of the gar­den’s strengths is the use of paths to lead you on

ACou­ple of years ago, I pub­lished a book en­ti­tled The English

Coun­try House Gar­den. us­ing a se­lec­tion of ex­am­ples, its pur­pose was to demon­strate how the past few decades have seen a resur­gence in the cre­ation of out­stand­ing large gar­dens that suc­cess­fully com­bine early fea­tures with orig­i­nal and con­tem­po­rary de­sign. A sec­ond vol­ume would cer­tainly in­clude Far­leigh Wal­lop in Hamp­shire, where a gar­den of skill, qual­ity and thrilling bravado has been cre­ated in the past 25 years.

early on, fas­ci­nat­ing el­e­ments of Far­leigh’s past were un­cov­ered, which have been in­cor­po­rated into the new de­signs. It also in­volved some brave de­ci­sions when Lord and Lady portsmouth, whose fam­ily have owned Far­leigh Hall for three cen­turies, de­cided to move back into their home af­ter it had been a school since 1953. The three­acre site that would be trans­formed into a se­ries of walled gar­dens had been filled with a se­ries of class­rooms and other un­sightly school build­ings.

First, the portsmouths con­sulted the lead­ing land­scape his­to­rian and Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown ex­pert John phibbs. Far­leigh isn’t a Brown site, but Mr phibbs was briefed with map­ping the his­tory of the house and its land­scape. out of his re­search came the rev­e­la­tion that the house had been a hunt­ing lodge in the 17th cen­tury, with a patte

d’oie of for­mal, hedge-lined paths stretch­ing into the land­scape.

With some un­known el­e­ments of Far­leigh’s past un­earthed, the portsmouths next com­mis­sioned the gar­den de­signer Ge­or­gia Lang­ton to cre­ate a new gar­den.

This was in 1992, when there were still class­rooms in the walled gar­den. At an early stage, the cru­cial de­ci­sion was taken with her clients that they would be happy not to have the gar­den im­me­di­ately around the house. She re­calls: ‘This en­abled me to plan the main ar­eas in the walled gar­den and to al­low the house to re­main linked most closely with its his­toric land­scape.’

The trans­for­ma­tion of the three-acre walled gar­den has been spec­tac­u­lar. School de­tri­tus has been swept away and re­placed by a se­ries of for­mal spa­ces, en­closed by yew hedges and linked by gravel paths to cre­ate an over­all or­der­li­ness, com­ple­mented by plant­ing panache. Be­side a large glasshouse, brim­ming with ten­der exotics, is a for­mal potager whose pat­terns of ornamental veg­eta­bles al­ter­nate with flam­boy­ant sum­mer flow­ers, such as pale-blue Iris pal­l­ida

dal­mat­ica. Next is the rose gar­den, with a glo­ri­ous whale foun­tain as its cen­tre­piece and heady with shrub roses, un­der­planted by pur­ple cat­mint.

You’re very quickly aware of the level of de­tail—in both hard land­scap­ing and plant­ing—and how it builds up in lay­ers to present an over­all pic­ture of rare rich­ness. The gravel paths all have gen­er­ous stone edg­ing margin­ing the beds and bor­ders. Some of the stone finials are orig­i­nal 1790s Coade stone and so all the new or­na­ments in the walled gar­den are ter­ra­cotta of a match­ing shade, made by Philip Thoma­son: urns and ea­gles on gate piers, the Cam­pana urn at the end of one yew hedge-lined grass path and—most strik­ing of all—the whale foun­tain in the mid­dle of the rose gar­den.

The var­i­ous ornamental iron gar­dens have been made by Richard Bent and, as you progress round the gar­den, their beauty and in­ge­nu­ity be­come in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent.

Be­yond the rose gar­den, the se­quence con­tin­ues into the ‘wild rose gar­den’, where mown paths lead be­tween ar­eas of long meadow grass. Here is a pic­ture of con­tem­po­rary in­ge­nu­ity, straight ahead, where Far­leigh’s head gar­dener An­drew Wool­ley has cre­ated a bank of top­i­ary box waves, above which hov­ers a flock of steel seag­ulls by Diana Maclean. It’s a won­der­fully deft and imag­i­na­tive cre­ation. Else­where, species and sin­gle-flow­ered roses spread with aban­don be­neath an or­chard of ap­ple trees and a num­ber of plants stand out, such as a large Elaeag­nus an­gus­ti­fo­lia and a spec­tac­u­lar Rosa moye­sii Hil­leri.

For me, the con­sum­mate skill in these new ar­range­ments is ex­em­pli­fied in the cool walks along­side the walled gar­den and the wild rose gar­den, in par­tic­u­lar, the pear walk. It sounds such a sim­ple idea: a straight, mown grass path with, to one side, a low, stone-capped flint-and-brick wall; to the other, a row of pear trees (Pyrus com­mu­nis Beech Hill). Rounded clipped-box ‘skirts’ en­cir­cling the pear trees, bal­anced by cor­re­spond­ingly stout semi-cir­cles of box, march­ing along­side the wall, add the elu­sive

de­tail that gives the walk a sense of move­ment as well as quiet tran­quil­ity. The over­all ef­fect, which­ever way you look—to a Richard Bent gate­way at one end and a view out to fields at the other—sug­gests to me a Con­ti­nen­tal gar­den, not an English one.

An­other strength the gar­den demon­strates is the use of paths to lead you on. In the area of the walled gar­dens, they are pre­cise and for­mal, but, in one di­rec­tion, a path

leads en­tic­ingly away be­neath the shade cast by tall trees and emerges dra­mat­i­cally into the large, bright space of a square lawn in front of the house. Here, you’re cel­e­brat­ing Far­leigh’s past as a hunt­ing lodge and Ge­or­gia has re-cre­ated the orig­i­nal patte d’oie shape with yew-lined views out into the park­land.

The house faces roughly east across the lawn and, on the shel­tered south side, Ge­or­gia cre­ated a ter­race gar­den for se­cluded pri­vacy. Be­yond it are the gar­den’s most enig­matic ar­eas, pre­sent­ing a se­ries of con­trast­ing moods. A ser­pen­tine path that is de­lib­er­ately nar­row be­tween yew hedges leads away mys­te­ri­ously, but you emerge to the sur­prise of a pond gar­den in which Ge­or­gia con­verted a dew pond into a for­mal rec­tan­gu­lar pool.

Its cen­tral pure white sculp­ture by Jessica Wal­ters is called Hoku­sai’s Boat, re­call­ing the fa­mous orig­i­nal wood­cut by the Ja­panese artist. En­closed by yew hedges and with fur­ther blocks of clipped yew po­si­tioned to dis­guise the two en­trances, the pond gar­den is peace­ful and con­cep­tual.

Find­ing the exit on the far side, a path leads away onto a broad grass ter­race that forms the bound­ary be­tween gar­den and park­land and Mr Bent’s most am­bi­tious and dec­o­ra­tive pair of gates, dec­o­rated with deer and flow­ers. Be­yond them lies the scene in which Ge­or­gia merged gar­den and land­scape most em­phat­i­cally with the cre­ation of a new lake, cov­er­ing 1½ acres. Twenty-five years on, the lake has merged into its sur­round­ings, edged with yel­low iris and with tall trees around.

Walk­ing back to­wards the house, you can take a dif­fer­ent path and fol­low a cool, shaded wood­land walk be­neath tall, ven­er­a­ble sweet-chest­nut trees. This nat­u­ral, re­lax­ing set­ting is a good place to con­tem­plate the var­ied qual­ity of what you have just ex­pe­ri­enced through the dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the gar­den at Far­leigh: the qual­ity of its de­sign, ma­te­ri­als and plants and the way in which it man­ages, on an im­pres­sive scale, to evoke its his­toric past and yet at the same time be ex­cit­ing and mod­ern.

En­joy in­for­ma­tive pri­vate gar­den tours with Head Gar­dener An­drew Wool­ley from June 26 to 30, in­clud­ing a home­made tea. Group tours by prior book­ing only. Far­leigh House is avail­able for ex­clu­sive-use stays so that you can en­joy the gar­den for your­self. Visit www.far­leigh­wal­lop.com or email info@far­leigh­wal­lop.com. Ge­orge Plumptre is Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of the NGS

Pre­ced­ing pages: Flight of fancy: avian sculp­tures by Diane Maclean hover over yew waves cre­ated by An­drew Wool­ley. Above: Ma­jes­tic trees frame the ap­proach to the house. Be­low: Fab­u­lous wrought-iron gates by Richard Bent

Layer upon layer of de­tail: a whale-and-mer­maid foun­tain by Philip Thoma­son is the cen­tre­piece of the rose gar­den

Water world: Iris pseu­da­corus fringes the lake, which was cre­ated 25 years ago and con­tains a shel­ter­ing is­land

Ar­ti­chokes and pota­toes help to fill the lush kitchen-gar­den beds in sum­mer

‘Heady with shrub roses’: abun­dance and fra­grance char­ac­terise the rose gar­den

Roses, nepeta and irises flank the path lead­ing to a Lu­tyens-de­signed bench

Let Na­ture take its course: a wilder part of the gar­den has paths mown through meadow flow­ers, among yew top­i­aries

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