100 years of Rose­mary Verey

To cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of the birth of the writer and de­signer Rose­mary Verey, Anna Pa­vord vis­its her for­mer home at Barns­ley House, to see how this very par­tic­u­lar kind of English gar­den has changed

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS ANNA PA­VORD PHO­TO­GRAPHS JA­SON IN­GRAM

In the cen­te­nary year of Rose­mary Verey’s birth, Anna Pa­vord vis­its Verey’s own gar­den at Barns­ley House to see how it has changed


Rose­mary Verey was an im­por­tant in­spi­ra­tion for the gen­er­a­tion of gar­den­ers who took to their trow­els in the 1980s. Her book The English­woman’s Gar­den (1980) was the first she’d writ­ten, but it was a huge suc­cess and high­lighted a very par­tic­u­lar kind of English gar­den, with for­mal frame­work, bil­low­ing bor­ders, and as many bits of ar­chi­tec­tural sal­vage as could be man­aged.

The book, a col­lec­tion of es­says by gar­den own­ers, in­cluded one by Rose­mary her­self, set­ting out her thoughts on what a good gar­den should con­tain. ‘Use must be made of the long­est dis­tances to cre­ate vis­tas, to lead the eye on and on. Each area of the gar­den must merge smoothly into the next, each have dif­fer­ent moods and ar­eas of light and shade. The gar­den must be de­signed to look invit­ing even in win­ter, when ev­er­greens and shapes as­sume im­por­tance. Sweet smelling win­ter f low­er­ing shrubs should be near the house. An el­e­ment of sur­prise is es­sen­tial.’

Few of us now have gar­dens that can lead the eye ‘on and on’ with­out bump­ing into some­thing it would rather not see. But the lessons in that mas­terly es­say are still rel­e­vant to any­one mak­ing a gar­den for the first time. We can bor­row from Barns­ley, as Rose­mary her­self bor­rowed. Her fa­mous Labur­num Walk was mod­elled on one she had seen at Bod­nant in north Wales. Along­side a fine stone ter­race over­looked by a crenel­lated ve­ran­dah, she laid out a knot gar­den, a clever over-and-un­der pat­tern of box, both plain and var­ie­gated, in­ter­laced with Teu­crium, the de­sign taken from an early book by Ger­vase Markham. The com­plex potager that she made in a field ad­join­ing the gar­den was in­spired by a visit to Vil­landry. The de­sign was taken from a gar­den­ing book by Wil­liam Law­son, first pub­lished in 1617. She had a fine li­brary of an­ti­quar­ian gar­den­ing books, col­lected be­fore any­one else thought they mat­tered.

When Rose­mary and her hus­band, David Verey, first moved to his fam­ily home, Barns­ley, gar­den­ing was not a pri­or­ity. Rose­mary grassed over the bor­ders that had been laid out by his par­ents; space for cro­quet, ten­nis (at which she ex­celled) and ponies was more im­por­tant. But she was gal­vanised into ac­tion when her hus­band ar­ranged for the gar­den de­signer Percy Cane to ad­vise on a scheme. She would do it her­self, she said. And she did. She started work when she was in her mid-for­ties, tak­ing her first plant­ing in­spi­ra­tion from No­rah Lind­say’s work at Sutton Courte­nay. Barns­ley House sub­se­quently be­came so fa­mous, that 30,000 vis­i­tors each year made the pil­grim­age to see it. And Rose­mary’s own fame grew as she be­gan to de­sign gar­dens for some se­ri­ously fa­mous (and rich) clients, such as Prince Charles at nearby High­grove and Sir El­ton John.

Barns­ley House is now a ho­tel, but head gar­dener Richard Gatenby was hired by Rose­mary her­self, two years be­fore she died in 2001. “We both liked whip­pets. I think that got me the job,” he says. He ad­mits that his em­ployer was a woman of strong opin­ions, tren­chantly ex­pressed.

“The first time I mowed the lawn, I put stripes on it. Mrs Verey wasn’t very happy about that.” In­evitably, some things have changed, some plant­ings have been sim­pli­fied, but the iconic el­e­ments are all in place: the knot gar­den, the long stone-f lagged path that pro­vides the cen­tral axis of the gar­den, lined with drums of yew top­i­ary, the beau­ti­ful lily pool with its clas­si­cal tem­ple and tum­ble of ‘Ce­cile Brun­ner’ roses. And the Labur­num Walk.

The tun­nelled walk pre­sented Richard with his most anx­ious mo­ments at Barns­ley. The labur­nums ( L. x wa­tereri ‘Vos­sii’), which had been there for al­most 50 years, were be­gin­ning to fail. In Fe­bru­ary 2015, he stood in the tun­nel, chain­saw in hand, feel­ing, he says, “like an ex­e­cu­tioner”, and cut down the old plants. The sup­ports were shifted slightly so the new labur­nums could be planted in fresh ground and, for­tu­nately, they are all do­ing well. The ad­van­tage, as he points out, is that the un­der­plant­ing has ben­e­fited from the in­creased space and light. Hostas (a present to Rose­mary from gar­den writer and de­signer Pene­lope Hob­house) and epimedi­ums are grow­ing with re­newed vigour.

Here, a replica of what had gone be­fore was the only op­tion. The Labur­num Walk is an iconic Barns­ley im­age. But Richard “doesn’t feel shack­led” by how things used to be. By the time he ar­rived at Barns­ley, the gar­den had al­ready changed from the one Rose­mary had de­scribed in her ear­lier books. “Keep it vig­or­ous. That’s my aim.” Gen­tly, canopies have been raised on some of the fine trees that David Verey in­tro­duced – the snake-bark maple ( Acer capil­lipes), a beau­ti­ful Acer gri­seum, a var­ie­gated tulip tree ( Liri­o­den­dron tulip­ifera ‘Aure­o­margina­tum’) and Mag­no­lia x soulangeana planted in the 1960s in the pool gar­den. Hebe pin­guifo­lia ‘Suther­landii’ now edges some of the beds in place of blighted box. Some of the bor­ders, which had be­come in­fested with bindweed and ground el­der, are grad­u­ally be­ing ren­o­vated, with mixes of an­nu­als in place of peren­ni­als. And on the lawn, Richard has now dared to in­tro­duce stripes.

At the front of the house, much of Rose­mary Verey’s strong struc­ture sur­vives, es­pe­cially in the cup­cake-shaped yew col­umns that line the path. Within the struc­ture the plant­ing is kept soft in the Verey style with gen­er­ous groups of tulips ‘Flam­ing...

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