Bed down in English gar­dens

Four English gar­dens to ram­ble through and stay the night

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - FRONT PAGE - CHRIS­TINE McCABE Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of Visit Bri­tain. • vis­itbri­tain.com/au

Most be­guil­ing is the wood­land and dell, de­signed to look like a lit­tle Scot­tish valley

With Eng­land’s gar­den sea­son kick­ing off in earnest this month and the Chelsea Flower Show loom­ing, trav­el­ling green thumbs are no doubt por­ing over their Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety guide­books. But in a coun­try so richly en­dowed with in­cred­i­ble gar­dens — just stick a pin in your road at­las and you’re bound to hap­pen upon some­thing green and pleas­ant — plan­ning an itin­er­ary is never easy. Be sure to add th­ese four to your list. All come with the added bonus of gar­den “beds’’ (on-site ac­com­mo­da­tion).

STOWE, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

Leg­endary 18th-cen­tury English land­scape de­signer Lancelot “Ca­pa­bil­ity” Brown cut his teeth at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, re­mov­ing 24,000 tonnes of top­soil us­ing just spades and wheel­bar­rows to cre­ate a Gre­cian Valley. This rad­i­cal 100ha gar­den marks the start­ing point for the English land­scape move­ment — sweep­ing away straight lines and for­mal French style in favour of a more nat­u­ral­is­tic prospect — that went on to re­cast grand es­tates across the coun­try.

But even be­fore Brown ar­rived in 1741 to suc­ceed an­other equally re­mark­able de­signer, Wil­liam Kent, Stowe and its owner, the hugely am­bi­tious sol­dier and politi­cian Lord Cob­ham, stood at the cen­tre of Ge­or­gian so­ci­ety; a prom­i­nent Whig he was a mem­ber of the Kit-Cat Club, an in­flu­en­tial lit­er­ary co­terie.

The poet Alexan­der Pope was a cham­pion of the gar­den and for ed­u­cated chaps of his mi­lieu Stowe stood as a po­lit­i­cal man­i­festo, alive with al­le­gory and al­lu­sion and dot­ted with an as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of neo­clas­si­cal tem­ples and stat­ues, each bear­ing a mes­sage if you cared to read it. To be dis­cov­ered in the Kent-de­signed Elysian Fields was a sear­ing cri­tique of Eng­land’s first prime min­is­ter, Robert Walpole. (A Cob­ham-led break­away fac­tion of bril­liant young dis­af­fected Whigs, “Cob­ham’s Cubs”, which in­cluded two fu­ture prime min­is­ters, met at Stowe and helped to top­ple the PM.)

Many 18th-cen­tury gar­den lovers were un­likely to have given two hoots for th­ese po­lit­i­cal shenani­gans, but want­ing to see Cob­ham’s ex­pen­sive im­prove­ments for them­selves, they be­gan mak­ing their way to Stowe in num­ber as early as the 1720s, putting up with long coach jour­neys and flea-rid­den digs. And they con­tin­ued to visit long af­ter Cob­ham’s death to stroll Stowe’s care­fully con­ceived paths of vice, virtue and lib­erty, through planted woods and by spade-dug lakes, past col­umns, grot­toes and a rav­ish­ing Pal­la­dian bridge, the lot hemmed by miles and miles of ha-ha. They paused to ad­mire the Tem­ple of Bri­tish Wor­thies and the breath­tak­ing Tem­ple of Con­cord and Vic­tory, to­day framed by a cedar planted by Prince Al­bert and an oak by Queen Vic­to­ria.

Cob­ham’s grand house be­came a school in the 1920s (alumni in­clude Richard Bran­son) that still stands at the heart of this won­der­ful, faux-nat­u­ral land­scape, care­fully main­tained by a small team and host of vol­un­teers (spe­cial­ists scour the coun­try search­ing for stat­ues sold off by Cob­ham’s heir who bankrupted the es­tate in the 19th cen­tury). Vis­i­tors can ex­pect all the mod Na­tional-Trust cons, in­clud­ing a restau­rant and ex­cel­lent shop. Be sure to wear sen­si­ble walk­ing shoes and bring a brolly; it’s quite a hike be­tween tem­ples on a rainy day. STAY: Just be­yond Stowe’s Pal­la­dian bridge lies a mag­i­cal Gothic Tem­ple, de­scribed by 18th-cen­tury aes­thete Ho­race Walpole as “pure and beau­ti­ful and ven­er­a­ble”, and to­day a hol­i­day rental man­aged by the Land­mark Trust. Al­ter­na­tively, for one week­end ev­ery sum­mer a sec­tion of the gar­den is open to campers (Au­gust 8-10 this year). More: land­mark­trust.org.uk; na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/stowe.

BOWOOD, WILTSHIRE

An­other Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown masterpiece with both house and grounds open to the pub­lic and a ho­tel and cham- pi­o­nship golf course part of this Wiltshire es­tate, Bowood, like Stowe, was con­ceived on a grand scale. Brown dammed two streams and moved an en­tire vil­lage to cre­ate a sin­u­ous 14ha lake and 40ha park­land over­looked by the house and its im­pres­sive Ital­ianate ter­races.

Bowood has been home to the Lands­downe fam­ily since 1754. The present mar­quis is very hands-on (his wife de­signed the ho­tel in­te­ri­ors), and while the Brown land­scape is im­pres­sive it’s the fam­ily’s pri­vate 1.6ha walled gar­den be­hind the house, en­tered through a se­cret door, that is most be­guil­ing, stuffed with saucer-size dahlias and neatly laid out to in­clude green­houses, for­mal bor­ders, a vine house and or­chards (pre-book a tour on­line).

The mar­quis is a great mate of Prince Charles and they share an in­ter­est in sus­tain­able gar­den­ing; at Bowood a tim­ber plan­ta­tion feeds a biomass fur­nace to power the 43-room ho­tel and spa, and cut flow­ers, veg­eta­bles and fruit from the walled gar­den sup­ply the restau­rant. There’s also an im­pres­sive pine­tum, with many of Brown’s orig­i­nal 18th-cen­tury plant­ings, in­clud­ing sev­eral enor­mous Cedars of Le­banon and some very fine rhodo­den­dron walks (the mar­quis is mad about them).

Most fetch­ing of all is the cas­cade and her­mit’s cave built at the head of the lake to­wards the end of the 18th cen­tury. This is a swash­buck­ling boys’ (and girls’) own folly; to reach the thun­der­ing cas­cade you must first nav­i­gate a series of caves and grot­toes, some in com­plete dark­ness. Bring your torch app. STAY: If you’d pre­fer some­thing more in­ti­mate than the re­sort-style ho­tel, book the pri­vate Queenswood Lodge, a lovely Ge­or­gian house and gar­den tucked away be­tween the 16th and 17th fair­ways. The villa-style rental fea­tures four dou­ble en­suite bed­rooms, and comes with a chef and butler/host. More: bowood.org.

HO­TEL ENDSLEIGH GAR­DENS, DEVON

With reach­ing twin­ing, mossy-vel­vet branches across a nar­row wood­land path, an an­cient weep­ing beech at Endsleigh is the favourite tree of ev­ery­one who vis­its this en­chant­ing ho­tel. Set high above the River Ta­mar in Devon and built more than 200 years ago for the 6th Duke of Bed­ford, who owned a third of the county at the time, the fairy­tale lodge over­looks one of the last gar­dens de­signed by Humphry Rep­ton, fa­mous in 18th-cen­tury gar­den­ing cir­cles for pre­sent­ing to clients his ex­quis­ite designs bound in red Morocco leather.

Se­questered in a lonely valley at the end of a nev­erend­ing maze of coun­try lanes, the site is steep, fall­ing away to the river and en­velop­ing wood, and Rep­ton was ap­par­ently carted about in a sedan chair as he made his sketches. The prop­erty was res­cued 13 years ago by mother and daugh­ter hote­liers Olga and Alex Polizzi, who have since trans­formed the lodge into a quin­tes­sen­tial

coun­try house hide­away, all squishy sofas, creak­ing stairs, pots of tea and lash­ings of clot­ted cream.

The gar­den has been faith­fully re­stored and is much as Rep­ton left it. From the ter­race with its rus­ti­cated tree trunk pil­lars, a small for­mal parterre opens on to a large lawn ter­race, set about with cro­quet hoops, and great herba­ceous bor­der, thought to be the long­est in Eng­land. At the bot­tom there’s an ec­cen­tric folly, the walls lined with shells, crys­tals, quartz and co­ral; most be­guil­ing is the wood­land and dell, de­signed to look like a lit­tle Scot­tish valley, with its gush­ing stream and enor­mous trees.

STAY: There’s no need to be a guest of the ho­tel to visit Rep­ton’s gar­den — just pay £5 ($8.20) at re­cep­tion — but chances are you will wish you’d booked a room, even if it’s only one of the tiny, top-floor cham­bers, where case­ment win­dows of some open through the branches of a le­mon- scented mag­no­lia to of­fer one of the pret­ti­est gar­den views in Eng­land. A de­li­cious af­ter­noon tea seals the deal. More: hote­lend­sleigh.com.

SUDELEY CAS­TLE & GAR­DENS, COTSWOLDS

Torn straight from the pages of Wolf Hall, this pre­pos­ter­ously ro­man­tic Cotswolds gar­den is built around the crum­bling walls of a “slighted” cas­tle, smoth­ered with wild clema­tis and ram­bling roses, criss­crossed by dap­pled paths once trod­den by at least two of the luck­less wives of Henry VIII. Queen Catherine Parr is buried in the cas­tle chapel; Lady Jane Grey, Henry, Anne Bo­leyn and later El­iz­a­beth I all stayed here.

Af­ter be­ing de­stroyed on Cromwell’s or­ders, the cas­tle lay derelict for al­most two cen­turies be­fore be­ing re­stored by a pair of wealthy Worces­ter glove-mak­ers. For- tu­itously the prop­erty’s mid-19th-cen­tury chate­laine, Emma Dent, saw fit to re­tain the tow­er­ing walls of a ruined tithe barn and ban­quet­ing hall as part of the 6ha gar­den; the lat­ter, built by Richard III, is widely re­garded as the “best gar­den fea­ture in all Eng­land”, says head gar­dener Stephen Torode.

The soar­ing fa­cade pro­vides a whim­si­cal, al­most melan­choly back­drop to pud­ding-shaped yews and large se­cre­tive hedges; and a knot gar­den based on a pat­tern from El­iz­a­beth I’s frock as de­picted in a por­trait hanging in­doors. There’s a se­cret gar­den orig­i­nally cre­ated by Rose­mary Verey, the Queens’ Gar­den and a very in­ter­est­ing Tu­dor Physic Gar­den, brain­child of cur­rent cas­tle in­cum­bent Lady Ash­combe, not for­get­ting a col­lec­tion of rare pheas­ants sport­ing jewel-like plumage.

STAY: Smart cot­tage ac­com­mo­da­tion is set on the edge of the cas­tle es­tate a few min­utes’ walk from the pretty town of Winch­combe. More: sude­l­ey­cas­tle.co.uk.

Walled gar­den of Bowood in Wiltshire, top; Bowood House and its Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown gar­dens, top right; Ho­tel Endsleigh, above, and a water fea­ture in its gar­den, above right

Stowe House, top left; Sudeley Cas­tle, above, and its man­i­cured grounds, left

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