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

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

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

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