Rolling back the years

Ge­orge Plumptre en­joys the grounds of Lit­tle Myn­thurst, the Tu­dor farm­house in Sur­rey that was once the home of Lord Baden-pow­ell

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Clive Ni­chols

The most cel­e­brated oc­cu­pant of Lit­tle Myn­thurst Farm, Sur­rey, was Lord Baden-pow­ell, founder of the Scout move­ment. he moved there dur­ing the First World War and, al­though his only record of the place ap­pears to have been a charm­ing wa­ter­colour show­ing a typ­i­cally ed­war­dian fam­ily gar­den scene, his wife, Olave, de­scribed their ar­rival in her mem­oir, Win­dow On My Heart. ‘We looked at a num­ber of prop­er­ties dur­ing the next few months and even­tu­ally set­tled on Lit­tle Myn­thurst Farm near hor­ley, a dear quaint fif­teenth-cen­tury place… We took it on a short lease and moved there in Septem­ber of 1917—with three chil­dren, the staff, three dogs, two doves, pi­geons, rab­bits, ducks, chick­ens and gold­fish!’

With­out doubt, the most dis­tin­guished con­tri­bu­tion to the gar­den, el­e­vat­ing it from the ram­bling set­ting for the old house that had evolved over cen­turies, came 60 years later in 1976, when the gar­den de­signer Rus­sell Page was com­mis­sioned by the then own­ers, Mr and Mrs Stone. There have been al­ter­ations to Page’s de­signs and plant­ings in the en­sur­ing years, but his con­tri­bu­tion pulled the 12-acre gar­den to­gether with a struc­ture that flowed around the house and gave it the char­ac­ter of a mid-20th-cen­tury english coun­try gar­den, ex­am­ples of which are rel­a­tively scarce in his oeu­vre. Page has usu­ally been re­garded as the most el­e­gant of mid-20th-cen­tury english gar­den de­sign­ers, largely be­cause his rep­u­ta­tion was built on his work for a chic in­ter­na­tional clien­tele—es­pe­cially in France—and on his ad­mired mem­oir, The Ed­u­ca­tion of a Gar­dener. how­ever, as the ti­tle sug­gests, he con­sid­ered him­self a gar­dener first and de­signer sec­ond —he would al­ways join in the ac­tual plant­ing in the gar­dens that he de­signed—and this is per­haps most ob­vi­ous in his english gar­dens.

his most sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tion to the gar­den at Lit­tle Myn­thurst was a walled gar­den to the west of the house that was built from scratch and which he de­signed and planted.

Much of his work re­mains here (with al­ter­ations to the plant­ing de­tail). Its fea­tures in­clude a gen­er­ously deep, dou­ble herba­ceous bor­der on ei­ther side of the main path that leads in from the iron gate­way op­po­site the house and a pat­tern of square beds planted with a va­ri­ety of roses and, in par­tic­u­lar, an im­mac­u­late group of horn­beams, clipped into dis­tinc­tive cones.

Like the work of all good de­sign­ers, many of Page’s special touches in the walled gar­den are not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous, such as the de­light­ful shaded walk in one cor­ner, where shrubs, in­clud­ing philadel­phus and deutzias, spread over both sides of the path be­neath rows of crab ap­ples. His dis­cern­ing plants­man­ship is demon­strated by a lux­u­ri­antly large spec­i­men of the su­perb mid­sum­mer­flow­er­ing clematis, C. x triter­nata Rubro­marginata. Planted against the wall to one side of the iron gate­way, it now cov­ers both sides of the wall with its dis­tinc­tive pur­pleedged, small, star-shaped flow­ers.

On the other side of the house, Page used the long, low façade of the build­ing to plan his most char­ac­ter­is­tic ad­di­tion to the gar­den: a smart for­mal area in the fore­ground with a spa­cious view stretch­ing away across slop­ing lawn to a lake, shaded by an an­cient oak tree. The for­mal area was orig­i­nally a rose gar­den; more re­cently, it has been sim­pli­fied into an el­e­gant parterre—still framed by Page’s orig­i­nal yew hedges—but with two squares of sim­ple box pat­terns on ei­ther side of im­mac­u­late lawn.

On the slop­ing grass beyond and around the lake, a se­lec­tion of now ma­tur­ing or­na­men­tal trees were al­most cer­tainly sug­gested by Page, in­clud­ing a fine Pte­ro­car­pus as well as Liq­uidambar, Nothofa­gus, a pair of Me­tase­quoias and the un­usual golden-leaved fasti­giate beech, Fa­gus syl­vat­ica Dawyck Gold.

The iron gate­way at this end of the ter­race leads into the walled kitchen gar­den, which has re­cently been clev­erly re­designed to cre­ate a se­ries of square and tri­an­gu­lar beds care­fully planned to give easy ac­cess and to be filled with a sin­gle crop. The im­mac­u­late beds are filled with a va­ri­ety that in­cludes pota­toes, beans, ar­ti­chokes and sal­ads and the rows of soft fruit con­firm how re­ward­ing a wellde­signed gar­den for fruit and veg­eta­bles can be, es­pe­cially when the network of paths al­lows you to get in among the pat­tern of beds.

As well as the mouth­wa­ter­ing beds of pro­duce and oth­ers filled with an­nu­als for cut­ting, the kitchen gar­den has the lux­ury of an im­pres­sive va­ri­ety of glasshouses, with con­tents that are both ten­der and ex­otic. At one end, a new build­ing is di­vided into five ar­eas kept at dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures for to­ma­toes, vines, peaches, nec­tarines and apri­cots and or­chids.

Else­where, the hot­house has most of the real ex­ot­ica, in par­tic­u­lar, Stephan­otis jas­mi­noides, the lux­u­ri­ant Mada­gas­car jas­mine, which is trained up one wall and twined along the roof beams.

Mark Do­bell, head gar­dener at Lit­tle Myn­thurst for nearly 25 years, con­firmed that, since Page’s time, chang­ing own­er­ship had oc­ca­sion­ally led to ups and downs in the gar­den’s for­tunes, but, since the present owner took over in 2011, there has been vis­i­ble re­ju­ve­na­tion. In some cases, there has been re­plant­ing, as in the long Rose Walk, where al­ter­nat­ing Adélaïde d’or­léans and Madame Al­fred Car­rière trained over metal arches are un­der­planted with David Austin shrub roses.

The Rose Walk leads to the gate out to the Se­cret Gar­den, a peace­ful dell with banks of de­cid­u­ous aza­leas and hostas with pools of sun­light be­tween the shade cast by ma­ture trees.

Most prom­i­nent, how­ever, has been the ad­di­tion of some im­pres­sive for­mal bed­ding, in par­tic­u­lar, the sin­gle-colour dis­plays of petu­nias and fi­brous-rooted be­go­nias be­neath the per­gola, along the main house ter­race and in the parterre. Another new dis­play—my favourite—was a long L-shaped bed in front of one glasshouse, planted with spec­i­men dahlias in a co­or­di­nated pat­tern: 50 plants in all, metic­u­lously re­peat­ing the same pat­tern from each end to the mid­dle.

For some­one with a rep­u­ta­tion for re­strained smart­ness, it is per­haps sur­pris­ing that Page was an en­thu­si­ast for care­fully cho­sen sum­mer bed­ding. In The Ed­u­ca­tion

of a Gar­dener, he wrote of his own imag­i­nary gar­den, in beds planted in spring with tulips, for­get-me-nots and bach­e­lor’s but­tons: ‘In sum­mer I shall plant these beds with thick patches of half-hardy an­nu­als.’ One feels that, to­day, he would look fondly over the gar­den on which he had worked 40 years ago and ap­plaud the way in which its new ebul­lience has en­hanced, not ob­scured, the long-es­tab­lished ru­ral peace that so at­tracted the Baden-pow­ells a cen­tury ago.

Above: ‘A dear, quaint 15th-cen­tury place’: the Baden-pow­ells ar­rived in 1917 with their as­sorted menagerie. Right: Irises, nepeta, eryn­giums and roses are among the flow­ers in abun­dance in the re­worked bor­ders of the walled gar­den. Fol­low­ing pages: A greener out­look and glimpses of farm­land beyond the fringes of the lake

Be­low: The rose walk, with arches of Adélaïde d’or­leans and Madame Al­fred Car­rière ram­blers. Right: Sun­set min­gles in the dis­plays of ver­bas­cum, shrub roses and al­li­ums

Two of the David Austin English roses: soft-pink Eglan­tyne (above) and golden Jayne Austin (be­low)

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