In a world of its own
The high walls beside a main village street conceal a complex garden that tells a tale of its owners’ connections with far-flung places as well as their English home, finds Kathryn Bradley-hole
Kathryn Bradley-hole investigates the superb international garden at Seend Manor, Wiltshire
Set on gently rising ground in the broad-spreading pastures and arables of Wiltshire, Seend is one of numerous attractive villages and hamlets of the region that have benefited for millennia from both fertile land and plentiful water. Summer’s peacefulness, with the gentle accompaniment of ascending larks, bleating lambs and cooing doves, may occasionally be broken by the lightning passage of a scarcely seen jet —the county is famously home to the military—but peace generally reigns.
the manor house at Seend, one of several fine houses hereabouts, lies in the heart of the village, looking out from its north front over a turning drive and crisp stilt hedge, across the main road to fields that conceal the course of the picturesque Kennet and Avon Canal; several mature trees ensure there’s little interruption from the hustle and bustle of the village that spreads away on either side of this vista.
On the manor’s south side, stone terraces enclosed by stout yew hedges hug the house, but lead out to a broad lawn, itself enclosed by a crescent of hedging and a ha-ha, beyond which the hillside drops steadily away, revealing a seemingly infinite prospect of gently undulating farmland reaching out to the horizon.
the pretty mid-18th-century manor house, presenting two storeys to the street, but three storeys to the rear, was built by the Awdry family, replacing an earlier one built just two generations before by one Ambrose Awdry. He had bought the site in 1695, having made his fortune trading in nearby Melksham, a market town that prospered over several centuries through the extensive local wool trade and the weaving of broadcloth for markets both at home and abroad.
In the way that fortunes may be created, diminished, regained or established elsewhere, the Awdrys held onto their house at Seend for some two centuries, but didn’t always live in it and finally sold it in the 1920s, whereupon it passed through several different owners in the 20th century. the present owners, Stephen and Amanda Clark, acquired it in 1997 and, for the past two decades, the garden has been a continuous and absorbing project for them.➢ A view along one of the paths of ‘England’ reveals borders of cranesbills, Stachys byzantina, lavenders, pinks and irises, enhancing roses such as Tuscany Superb, Charles de Mills, Ispahan and Comte de Chambord
‘The garden has been a continuous and absorbing project for the past two decades’
A particular focus has been the rectangular walled garden, just to the west of the house. At first, Mr Clark envisaged it having an air of cool formality and symmetry, in the prescribed style of the late David Hicks, whose book Garden Design (1982) gives much good instruction and guidance in the planting of formal hedges and creating focused vistas in a pared-down, Classical tradition.
From the earliest days, the Clarks engaged the services of husband-and-wife design team Julian and Isabel Bannerman, who worked with them to achieve a garden of remarkable sympathy, both to the proportions of the walled garden and to the lives of the owners, and perhaps with more romance and theatre in it than was at first envisaged with the guidance of Mr Hicks.
From its entrance in the east wall, you’re greeted by high, stilt hedges of pleached hornbeam, trimmed with great precision and backed by stretches of yew hedge that tantalisingly conceal what lies behind. There’s a choice of directions to take: sharp left or sharp right into one of the formally arranged enclosures? Or straight ahead, along the green corridor to a central fountain and whatever might lie beyond?
Whichever way you go, what is immediately apparent are the high level of maintenance and skilful regular pruning that keep everything shipshape here. It’s something often overlooked by the casual observer and yet it’s crucial to the well-being of a garden as complex as this one. There's teamwork behind it, of course: their gardener, Andrew Higham, is responsible for the walled garden, his brother Joe runs the vegetable garden and Bill Painter maintains the grounds.
In fact, the walled garden is logically carved up into a four-square design, its central, eastwest path meeting a cross-axis at the halfway point. At that junction, a ‘spugna’ fountain of rough tufa stone has been placed, its allusion to a spring being not entirely out of place, for the water table is very high here, in spite of the hilltop location.
Take the right-hand path from the entrance and you’ll quickly find your way into the first quadrant, known as ‘England’. Here is a classic Renaissance design of squared-off patterns and playful geometry, its precise little beds edged with low box hedging, but in-filled with joyful summer things: roses, irises, geraniums, peonies and regale lilies, with trellis obelisks supporting noisette roses and clematis. A picturesque thatched summer house, ornamented with pine cones, nestles comfortably in one corner.
‘There’s a choice of directions to take: sharp left or sharp right?’
The central gazebo in the box parterre of ‘England’ is garlanded with the roses New Dawn, Awakening and Constance Spry