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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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