A clas­sic beauty

Emma Keswick has lov­ingly de­vel­oped her Cotswold gar­den over more than three decades. The re­sult is a tri­umphant English gar­den on a grand scale, with ma­jes­tic top­i­ary and ex­u­ber­ant plant­ing

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Country Garden - WORDS AN­NIE GATTI

When Emma Keswick and her hus­band Si­mon bought Rock­cliffe House and the sur­round­ing farm­land in 1981, there was no gar­den to speak of. The house was sur­rounded on three sides by un­du­lat­ing Cotswold farm­land and, be­cause for the first eight years the cou­ple were liv­ing abroad, carv­ing out the gar­den was a grad­ual process.

But dur­ing re­turn vis­its Emma, who trained in gar­den de­sign at Mer­rist Wood (and is cur­rently work­ing on a re-de­sign for the first Mag­gie’s Cen­tre in Ed­in­burgh), started to cre­ate the struc­ture. She planted ev­er­green hedges and top­i­ary, built walls and laid York­stone paths to make a series of in­ter­con­nect­ing ar­eas. At the tran­quil heart of the gar­den is a wide, closely mown lawn framed with two lines of beech obelisks. On ei­ther side, ar­eas of pro­fu­sion, in con­trolled colour schemes, cre­ate an im­mac­u­lately tended gar­den of great beauty. I spoke to Emma about the gar­den’s evo­lu­tion.

What was your start­ing point? I’ve never had a mas­ter­plan; one area led to an­other in my eye. The house drops down to a lake at the back, which is not ours, so I re­alised the gar­den would have to go out front, where the cars were parked. The first thing I did was move the car park to the side of the house. I wanted a clean sweep to the view from the front of a per­fect Cotswold scene with graz­ing sheep, so we made a ha-ha. The only more or less level part of

the gar­den was next to the tithe barns so that’s where we made the kitchen gar­den, en­closed with a wall. It’s not ideal, as it’s in a frost pocket, but I had nowhere else to put it. What kind of gar­dens are you drawn to? My favourite gar­den is Rousham – I have been in­flu­enced by the beauty and pu­rity of Wil­liam Kent’s masterpiece. I like my plant­ing to be bil­low­ing and blowsy but the gar­den must have lots of struc­ture – as that’s what you’ve got to hold your in­ter­est in win­ter. From where do you get in­spi­ra­tion for your de­sign ideas? I find that what you have to play with – the lie of the land – dic­tates what the de­sign is go­ing to be. All my ideas are based on some­thing I’ve read about, seen or vis­ited. Most people adapt a mem­ory they’ve got – and there­fore the more gar­dens you go and see, the more you’ve got to play with. What has been the trick­i­est part and why? The plant­ing on the ter­race in front of the house, be­cause I look down on it from my bedroom. We pass through it 20 times a day and see it from ev­ery an­gle, so it has to look good all year round. I’m try­ing to get it to be all shrubby, to have hum­mocks of green and grey, with erup­tions of colour in be­tween. But it’s dif­fi­cult be­cause the plants fall over on each other all the time. My ad­vice is not to have too many small plants – they get lost. What is your favourite part of the gar­den? I love look­ing at the dove­cote ev­ery day. I knew I wanted a fo­cal point at the top of the or­chard and once I de­cided on a dove­cote I looked at end­less books, and had end­less ver­sions of it drawn by ar­chi­tect Rob Gard­ner un­til even­tu­ally we got it right. The birds sit on the gilded weath­er­vane, which I copied from Eton College chapel, and they are so beau­ti­ful, es­pe­cially against a blue sky. This is a high-main­te­nance gar­den. How do you cope with it? This is an in­cred­i­bly labour-in­ten­sive gar­den, with so much clip­ping and cul­ti­vat­ing, and I want to be on top it. I’m lucky to have a very com­pe­tent team of three full-time gar­den­ers and two trainees on the Work


The kitchen gar­den path, edged by cot­tage gar­den borders, is framed by horn­beam hedges and es­paliered med­lars ( Me­spilus ger­man­ica). Two lines of ex­u­ber­ant top­i­ary birds sit­ting on yew plinths draw the eye up to the Cotswold stone dove­cote, which was de­signed by owner Emma Keswick with ar­chi­tect Rob Gard­ner.

Right A curved yew hedge, sep­a­rates an area of long grass and cow pars­ley from the herba­ceous bor­der, where four Ir­ish yews, bought as ma­ture spec­i­mens, punc­tu­ate more for­mal plant­ing of Rosa ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’, Thal­ic­trum ‘Elin’ and Va­le­ri­ana of­fic­i­nalis.

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