Trade­marks of a mas­ter

In the first of a new se­ries, Anna Pa­vord vis­its Folly Farm, a famed Lu­tyens gar­den where over the past eight years de­signer Dan Pear­son has been re­vi­tal­is­ing the plant­ing

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

In the first of a new se­ries Anna Pa­vord looks at how Dan Pear­son has re­vi­talised one of Lu­tyens’ gar­dens with fresh, new plant­ing schemes

Folly Farm, at Sul­ham­stead in Berk­shire, is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the best gar­den that the fa­mous ar­chi­tect Ed­win Lu­tyens ever de­signed. He was first there in 1906, to en­large the orig­i­nal 17th-cen­tury farm­house, and came back again six years later to de­vise a com­pletely dif­fer­ent Arts and Crafts style ex­ten­sion for its new owner. The long el­e­gant lines that stitch the gar­den into such a close re­la­tion­ship with the house ex­em­plify his fa­mous say­ing that ‘Ev­ery gar­den scheme should have a back­bone, a cen­tral idea beau­ti­fully phrased’. Over the past decade, the sub­tle, com­plex work that Lu­tyens car­ried out at Folly Farm has been most beau­ti­fully re­stored by the cur­rent own­ers, who then com­mis­sioned de­signer Dan Pear­son to re­think the land­scape in which the house is set and to de­vise new plant­ing schemes for this im­por­tant gar­den. The gar­den lies chief ly to the south and west of the much-en­larged house. One long vista stretches from the lovely two-storey bay win­dow on the south front through a flowery parterre to end fi­nally in an acre of walled gar­den. This had spent much of its past life grassed over and grazed by a herd of sheep. It is one of the ar­eas that Dan Pear­son has com­pletely re­vi­talised, each quar­ter with a dif­fer­ent pur­pose. There are hand­some new per­go­las of oak, as­para­gus beds, and long bor­ders of laven­der ( La­van­dula x in­ter­me­dia ‘Grosso’) around a cen­tral square, set with low benches of oak.

On the south side of the house, clev­erly tucked into a cor­ner cre­ated by the link be­tween his two ex­ten­sions, Lu­tyens de­signed a wa­ter tank sur­rounded on two sides by mas­sive arched sup­ports. Th­ese cre­ate a shady clois­ter walk be­hind, but their main pur­pose is to hold up the great sweep of tiled roof that be­came an­other char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Lu­tyens style. A ref lect­ing pool is an­other fea­ture that has been painstak­ingly put back into work­ing or­der. Its calm, serene sur­face gives no hint of the ag­o­nies of try­ing to per­suade wa­ter to do what you want it to do.

Run­ning south from the cen­tre of Lu­tyens’ first ex­ten­sion, an H-shaped, faintly Dutch-look­ing build­ing built of grey and pink brick, is one of the gar­den’s most com­mand­ing fea­tures – a long canal end­ing in a semi­cir­cle of su­perbly com­pli­cated brick­work. The bricks Lu­tyens favoured are nar­rower than usual, just two inches thick at most, and this gives his de­signs an in­tri­cacy that he could never have achieved us­ing thicker, stan­dard bricks. It was for­tu­nate that he struck up a good re­la­tion­ship with the owner of the Daneshill brick­works near Bas­ingstoke, who was pre­pared to pro­duce what Lu­tyens wanted.

The canal is a mem­o­rable in­stance of the way Lu­tyens sought to knit house and gar­den to­gether in a sin­gle, unified design. Lined up with the cen­tre of the H, the canal lies par­al­lel with the her­ring­bone brick path, al­most three me­tres wide, that is cen­tred on the big bay win­dow of the 1912 ex­ten­sion. A fi­nal par­al­lel is formed by the long grav­elled path that runs along­side the gar­den’s east­ern bound­ary. Orig­i­nally des­ig­nated as a rhodo­den­dron walk, Dan has lined it with spe­cially de­signed oak con­tain­ers. In spring th­ese fea­ture beau­ti­ful yel­low-flow­ered Rhodo­den­dron lu­teum. In late sum­mer they hold ‘Annabelle’ hy­drangeas, un­der­planted with Asarum eu­ropaeum, Epimedium sul­phureum and Cy­cla­men coum.

At Folly Farm you can still see many of the de­vices that be­came trade­marks of Lu­tyens’ work: brick paths laid in a her­ring­bone pat­tern, f lower beds edged with stone pavers, old roof­ing tiles built up to make ris­ers for steps, the sweep­ing cir­cles and semi-cir­cles that he used to make the tran­si­tion from one level of the gar­den to an­other. You can see th­ese stylish grace­ful curves, for in­stance, in the cor­ners of the Sunken Gar­den where they lead down to the pool at its cen­tre.

The ini­tial plant­ing plans had been drawn up by the fa­mous plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll (see box on page 48), who worked with Lu­tyens on more than a hun­dred gar­dens. It was a strange re­la­tion­ship, for when they first met in 1889, Lu­tyens was just 20, although he had al­ready set up in a prac­tice of his own, af­ter the briefest of ar­chi­tec­tural ap­pren­tice­ships.

Jekyll by then was 45, well es­tab­lished and widely ad­mired as a painter, em­broi­derer and gar­dener. The strength of the part­ner­ship lay in their com­ple­men­tary skills. Lu­tyens be­lieved strongly that the best houses grew out of, and were deeply rooted in, their gar­dens and that the two should be in­di­vis­i­bly knit­ted to­gether. But he was not a gar­dener in the prac­ti­cal sense. He laid down the bones of a gar­den; Jekyll f leshed them out. But by the time the new own­ers took over in 2007, much of the orig­i­nal plant­ing at Folly Farm had ei­ther dis­ap­peared, or been sim­pli­fied. The com­plex, f low­ery parter­res had been grassed over, bor­ders re­duced in size.

Should the gar­den be re­turned to the way it looked in its Ed­war­dian hey­day? It would have been pos­si­ble. The orig­i­nal plans still ex­ist. Or should the new own­ers take the op­por­tu­nity to give a new lease of life to this sig­nif­i­cant site with more con­tem­po­rary plant­ing? They took the lat­ter course, com­mis­sion­ing Dan Pear­son to think not only about re­vi­tal­is­ing the his­toric core of the gar­den, but also about its wider set­ting. He first came to Folly Farm in 2009 and the fol­low­ing year started on the daunt­ing task of wrap­ping an outer land­scape around what had pre­vi­ously been an in­tensely in­ward-look­ing place.

Jekyll was not for­got­ten. “We were re­spect­ful of what she had done here and of the Arts and Crafts tra­di­tions,” says Dan. “But she was a bril­liant plantswoman and if she were alive to­day, she wouldn’t be us­ing old va­ri­eties of plants if bet­ter ones were avail­able.” There are echoes of her in Dan’s long lines of laven­der and the chubby leaves of berge­nia in the f lower parterre. Both were sig­na­ture plants for Jekyll. But, tri­umphantly, Dan has given the gar­den a fresh set of clothes, in­vig­o­rat­ing it with rich swathes of eu­pa­to­rium and per­ovskia, salvias and as­tran­tias, in­ter­spersed with ex­plo­sions of al­li­ums and bright pop­pies. It is a bril­liant achieve­ment.

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