The perfect arrangement
Chris Middleton visits the house of a florist who created displays fit for the Queen
There’s something almost regal about the approach to the Old Vicarage, tucked away on more than 10 acres of manicured lawns and groomed hedges, in the heart of the Essex countryside. In the landscaped grounds of the seven-bedroom Victorian property you’ll also find a swimming pool, cobbled courtyards and a garden house – all perfectly placed – and curiously, a snowdrop tree, which was a gift from Prince Charles.
The interior is as meticulously designed. The walls are not painted in standard, duck-egg blue, but subtle shades of ochre, sandstone and other warming colours, with splashes of floral soft furnishings. It’s traditional without being chintzy.
This is the house that, until his death last year, belonged to Michael Goulding OBE, who supplied flowers for Number 10, starting with Harold Macmillan through to John Major, and the Windsors on many a royal occasion. Unsurprisingly, attention to detail in both the home and the garden came naturally to the royal florist.
For 40 years, he was a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as the Hampton Court and Royal Horticultural Society shows; his last assignment for the monarch, before retiring, was to decorate the Queen’s private rooms at Windsor Castle, as part of the celebrations for the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday. Goulding also created the magnificent displays at Westminster Cathedral for the 1977 Royal Jubilee celebrations; his arrangements were 8ft tall and 4ft wide, for which he was awarded the OBE for services to floral life. Far from being a regal perk, Goulding’s work involved him in countless early dawn starts. “On many a morning, he would get up at 3am, in order to get to Covent Garden Market on time,” says his partner Michael Coates, who still lives in the converted vicarage. He was a perfectionist. It was only after three years of constant renovation, that they opened their gardens up for the National Gardens Scheme, and attracted 4,000 visitors in a single afternoon,
Goulding and Coates bought the house for £670,000 in 1999, when it was in a state of some dilapidation.
The pair ploughed £1 million into the house and the property is now worth £1.5 million.
“There were buckets collecting water, there was no insulation and the roof had to come off,” says Coates.
Although Goulding himself is gone, he is survived by a pair of enormous six-year-old deerhounds, Angus and Annie, who are as docile as they are large, but can manage speeds of 45mph when running at full tilt around the immaculate lawns, tended to by off-duty firemen.
The biggest attraction of the house is that from any window, you can look out over undulating countryside as far as the horizon.
The red-brick property, built in 1870 has eight bedrooms, vast amounts of entertaining space, and a baronially stocked wine cellar.
Despite its almost 5,400 sq ft the asking price of the house is roughly equivalent to that of a three-bedroom, semi-detached in suburban London.
Floral: the sitting room, above, and the Queen, left
Royal approval: immaculate gardens, top; Michael Coates and his deerhounds, above