Sec­ond time around

The gar­den at Fel­ley Pri­ory en­joyed con­sid­er­able fame a gen­er­a­tion ago for its co­he­sive plant­ing and plants­man­ship, but Non Mor­ris finds its great­ness con­tin­ues with the present own­ers Fel­ley Pri­ory, Un­der­wood, Not­ting­hamshire

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Val Cor­bett

The gar­den at Fel­ley Pri­ory in Not­ting­hamshire is thrilling once more, finds Non Mor­ris

The gar­den at Fel­ley Pri­ory is the ul­ti­mate les­son in the value of plant­ing struc­tural hedges as soon you move into a new house. Now, more than 40 years since Bobby and Maria Cha­worth-musters first moved into their Not­ting­hamshire home, the gar­den, which wraps gen­tly around the pretty, many­chim­neyed, 16th-cen­tury house, de­lights as a richly lay­ered space. Its fine bor­ders are em­braced by per­fectly clipped hedges of yew and box, which pro­vide a breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful rhythm to this 2½ acres of gar­den, nestling in idyl­lic rolling farm and wood­land.

The trans­for­ma­tion of this lit­tle-touched site (when the own­ers ar­rived in 1973, there

was a sin­gle ex­ist­ing sec­tion of yew hedge, a high bound­ary wall and some pil­lars thought to be part of the orig­i­nal 12th-cen­tury pri­ory) has en­sured Mrs Cha­worth-musters a ‘place high up in the ranks of mod­est, un­trained but gifted ama­teur gar­den mak­ers who have made such a con­tri­bu­tion to the cre­ation of English coun­try house gar­dens since the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury,’ records Ge­orge Plumptre in his re­cent book, The English Coun­try House Gar­den.

Mrs Cha­worth-musters set out her young hedge plants—as well as her ever-grow­ing col­lec­tion of exquisite spec­i­men trees and shrubs—in the time-hon­oured way, us­ing her chil­dren to stand in for in­com­ing plants and move ‘two steps to the left’, re­counts the cur­rent cus­to­dian, her step­son-in-law, Thomas Bru­denell.

He tells me that his late fa­ther, Edmund Bru­denell (of Deene Park Northamp­ton­shire, Coun­try Life, Jan­uary 23, 2013) won­dered if the hedges were planted too close to the house. ‘I don’t think they are at all,’ he adds, go­ing on fondly to show me a cham­pion Cal­i­for­nian tree poppy (Rom­neya coul­teri) which is so happy in its sunny, west-fac­ing po­si­tion be­side the con­ser­va­tory that it ‘comes through the wall, into the draw­ing room’.

Cer­tainly, the prox­im­ity and shel­ter­ing qual­ity of the hedg­ing give each part of the gar­den the nur­tured and in­ti­mate feel that make it such a friendly place to visit and have surely en­abled the gar­den to move on and de­velop so com­fort­ably in the past few years, fol­low­ing the death of its in­spir­ing creator in 2010.

Of course, some things have barely needed to change. There is an ex­em­plary time­less­ness to the way the house it­self is clothed. Per­haps the spring-flow­er­ing Rosa banksiae Lutea has been ‘al­lowed to ex­tend more broadly’ over its south-fac­ing back wall, ex­plains head gar­dener Lind­sey El­lis, but it’s pruned as im­mac­u­lately as ever and makes a won­der­fully sculp­tural padded frame to win­dow and door.

A bay tree is tightly clipped to form a dou­ble-storey but­tress in one cor­ner and there’s a cheerful, dancing row of the deep­pink Rosa John Clare (which flow­ers with the ‘re­mark­able con­ti­nu­ity’ promised by David Austin) un­der the draw­ing-room win­dow. A gor­geous mauve-flow­ered Abu­tilon x sun­tense Jermyns has rock­eted up to the eaves, break­ing any idea that this is a gar­den frozen in an over-po­lite past.

On the ter­race, an old stone trough by the gar­den door filled with di­anthus, tiny al­li­ums and the del­i­cate wiry-stemmed au­tumn snowflake (Acis au­tum­nalis) deep­ens the sense that this re­mains a per­sonal and much-loved gar­den.

Else­where, rad­i­cal change has been non­nego­tiable. The walled Rose Gar­den was de­scribed in June 1996 as the ‘cosiest and most in­ti­mate rose gar­den I know’ by Tony Veni­son. It was the fra­grant home to an enor­mous col­lec­tion of roses, but had be­come over­grown and dis­eased, so, in 2011, it was cleared and the soil re­placed to make room for new roses in the same, shel­tered space of ten­nis-court di­men­sions.

The new scheme is more dis­ci­plined. Roses are planted in groups of two or three for im­pact, but this area has the same ro­man­tic, highly scented, old-fash­ioned ideal. Volup­tuous clouds of blue-and-white Vi­ola

cor­nuta have re­placed laven­der as an edg­ing plant, a clever and long-last­ing so­lu­tion, and the eight weeks of hard graft-prun­ing and train­ing in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary are re­paid when a dreamy-look­ing visitor emerges sigh­ing: ‘It’s heaven in there.’

For the most part, how­ever, the gar­den has evolved gen­tly, guided by Miss El­lis’s pas­sion­ate and thought­ful ap­proach and her straight­for­ward way of find­ing a happy route be­tween ‘what Mrs Musters would have liked’ (‘more spec­i­men-y things, prop­erly la­belled’) and the pref­er­ence of Mr Bru­denell and his wife, Amanda, for a fuller, more ro­man­tic at­mos­phere (‘we’ve un­der­planted things a lot more in the past few years’).

Miss El­lis has worked in the nurs­ery and gar­den at Fel­ley for more than 20 years and knew her for­mer boss well: ‘Mrs Musters was bril­liant. She would al­ways be in the gar­den, ev­ery day, even at night­time. You would come round the cor­ner in the morn­ing and find a pile of cut­tings.’

In many parts of the gar­den, time has led to a nat­u­rally fuller, more ma­ture feel. Just as the no­to­ri­ously slow-to-get-go­ing, ev­er­green climber Pileoste­gia viburnoides now coats the house walls glo­ri­ously with its dark leaves and pan­i­cles of cream flow­ers, so a mul­berry tree planted in 1980 spreads out con­tent­edly on the up­per lawn.

The Shrub­bery, full of won­der­ful mag­no­lias, sor­bus and the exquisitely scented

Hep­ta­codium mi­co­nioides (time and again in this gar­den, you find your­self ob­serv­ing

‘The walled Rose Gar­den was de­scribed as the “cosiest and most in­ti­mate rose gar­den I know” by Tony Veni­son’

that Mrs Cha­worth-musters was a lady with a fan­tas­tic eye), is now be­ing thinned out and ex­tended, of­fer­ing the chance to se­lect new mag­no­lias, par­ro­tias and witch hazels, which will soon have the same ‘swingy’ mown paths as the ex­ist­ing Shrub­bery and of­fer swathes of snow­drops, frit­il­lar­ies and ca­mas­sia for spring.

As I take in the rounded bor­der against the low, moss-cov­ered wall at the bot­tom of the gar­den, which bulges with ma­ture tree pe­onies, helle­bores, hostas and pul­monaria, Miss El­lis gives me a whis­tle-stop tour of the sea­sons. The gar­den is open all year round and there’s al­ways some­thing to tempt vis­i­tors. There are 60 va­ri­eties of snow­drop in this bor­der alone; an up­per

or­chard spec­tac­u­larly un­der­planted with nar­cis­sus; a se­cluded blue­bell wood over the rolling field be­yond the gar­den; and a glam­orous tulip bor­der in which a vel­vety mix of pur­ple tulips (Ara­bian Mys­tery, Negrita, Car­avelle and Cum Laude) are grown among the vivid greens of Euphor­bias poly­chroma and cornig­era.

There is a small, trel­lis-fenced White Gar­den, for which plant­ing lists are reg­u­larly re­quested, and a sur­prise Pur­ple Bor­der, em­braced in a sofa-like frame of yew, home to a shift­ing cel­e­bra­tion of al­li­ums and choice plants such as Lu­naria an­nua Ched­glow, with choco­late leaves and lilac flow­ers.

And then there are the Dou­ble Bor­ders them­selves, al­ways with the back­drop of vel­vety yew. Here, the colours are soft for most of the sea­son—pink, white and blue ‘with a lit­tle bit of apri­cot be­cause I’m a great fan of the way geums make other colours sing,’ ex­plains Miss El­lis. Her cur­rent favourite is Geum Blood Or­ange, which has pale yel­low-or­ange petals, fine red vein­ing and deep red stems.

There are slate-blue and cobalt-blue del­phini­ums, which have been in the bor­ders for decades, as has the rose­bay wil­low herb—white on one side and a won­der­ful pale pink (‘we call it Ital­ian Beauty’) on the other. It’s a bril­liant mid-height plant for adding gen­tly up­right blocks of colour. There is a suc­ces­sion of airy um­bel­lif­ers and cov­etable forms of cer­tain plants such as

Knau­tia mace­donica Fel­ley Seedling, which ‘doesn’t flop or suc­cumb to mildew’.

If you’re lucky, pots of these will be avail­able to buy in the Nurs­ery along­side care­fully nur­tured forms of the bronze Dig­i­talis

fer­rug­inea or Fel­ley-prop­a­gated spec­i­mens of the op­u­lent Hy­drangea vil­losa, which adds such a set­tled feel to var­i­ous parts of the gar­den.

A jaunty pair of hand clipped yew cas­tles stand on guard at the top of the Dou­ble Bor­ders. To their east, an el­e­gant av­enue of stilted hawthorn (Cratae­gus taneceti­folium)

is joined by an im­mac­u­lately chis­elled bar­rel-hedge of yew, a snaking hedge of box and fur­ther hand­some pieces: pea­cocks, swans and cake stands.

The top­i­ary cu­mu­la­tively guar­an­tees that the gar­den at Fel­ley Pri­ory will look as dis­tin­guished in the snow as it does at the height of sum­mer. It’s an up­lift­ing gar­den of en­dur­ing and year-round charm, which con­tin­ues to be gar­dened care­fully, knowl­edge­ably and from the heart.

Fel­ley Pri­ory, Un­der­wood, Not­ting­hamshire (01773 810230; www.fel­leypri­ory. The gar­den, nurs­ery and tea­room are open Tues­day to Fri­day, year round, from 9am to 4pm as well as the first and third Sun­day of each month from Fe­bru­ary 1 un­til Oc­to­ber 1. The an­nual NCCPG Rare Plant Fairs are held on the first Sun­days in June and Oc­to­ber

‘Time and again, you find your­self ob­serv­ing that Mrs Cha­worth-musters was a lady with a fan­tas­tic eye ’

View through a pair of yew pea­cocks up to the house. The arch is clothed in Rosa Blush Ram­bler and hon­ey­suckle and gives a glimpse of the av­enue of stilted hawthorn (Cratae­gus taneceti­fo­lia)

View to the house from the pond, with palepink-flow­ered rodger­sia on the far bank in front of Salix pur­purea Nancy San­ders

Above: The Left Bor­der. Right: The Pur­ple Bor­der: Stachys macran­tha Su­perba, Al­lium Miami, Achil­lea Sum­mer Ber­ries, Mathi­asella bu­pleu­roides Green Dream, Veron­ica Pink Damask

The Left Bor­der’s ex­u­ber­ant plant­ing in­cludes Eryn­gium x zabelii Big Blue, Eryn­gium Cobalt Blue, Geum Mrs J. Brad­shaw, Achil­lea Paprika and Cam­pan­ula lac­t­i­flora Dwarf White

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